Art Pottery, Politics and Food
Sunday, July 24, 2005
A most interesting antique American tile auction that threatened the tranquility of my postoperative recovery occurred on Ebay on July 18th.
The tile, missing its mate, hammered for an astonishing $283!
One can assume that a perfect matched pair of these tiles could have easily sold for over $600.

This February 14, 1884 image, from a recently discovered 1919 church publication, looks from the city of Covington’s Riverside District across the flooded Licking River to the city of Newport, Kentucky. Tapering towers, visible above the paddlewheel boat Lily at the center right of the picture, depict the only known photographic image of the wood and rope 4th & 5th Street suspension bridge. The Kensington plant would have been directly behind the bridge’s towers.

The breakout Ebay auction was for a 6” square relief portrait of a woman sculpted by Hermann Mueller, a designer for the Kensington Art Tile Company [1883-1893] of Newport, Kentucky.

Mueller, a pivotal figure in American ceramics, was born in Rodach, Germany in 1854 and was classically trained at the Nuremberg School of Industrial Arts and the Munich Academy of Fine Arts in Germany.
Mueller immigrated to the United States between 1875 and 1878 and by the early 1880’s had settled within the large German community of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Before working at Kensington, Mueller worked at the important but short-lived Matt Morgan Pottery [1882-1884] across the Ohio River in Cincinnati, Ohio.
At both Matt Morgan and Kensington, Mueller worked alongside other American ceramic luminaries such as Mary Louise McLaughlin, Clement Barnhorn, Nicholas Hirschfeld, Matt Daley and Otto Metzner, son of Hamilton Tileworks founder and Civil War battlefield illustrator Adolph Metzner.
Without doubt, Mueller also rubbed shoulders with other itinerant designers and ceramic workers employed in the bustling port city of Cincinnati’s thriving ceramic industry through its equally thriving saloons and guildhalls.
Mueller later worked for the American Encaustic Tile Company of Zanesville, Ohio alongside former Rookwood Pottery ceramic chemist Karl Langenbeck.
Mueller and Langenbeck later founded the Mosaic Tile Company of Zanesville in 1894.
In 1895 Mueller lectured on Industrial Arts at Ohio State University and in 1899 he was one of the twenty charter members of the American Ceramic Society.
Mueller went on to work with Robertson Art Tile in Morrisville, Pennsylvania before founding the Mueller Mosaic Company in Trenton, New Jersey in 1908.
During the 1920’s Mueller became friends with the eccentric Moravian Pottery and Tile Works founder Henry Chapman Mercer and collaborated on the October Harvest mural in Mercer’s Fonthill mansion.
Mueller died in 1941 at the age of 87.
The extraordinary price achieved by the lone Kensington portrait tile in July 18th’s Ebay auction clearly signals both the rarity of these tiles and their increasing desirability among American ceramic collectors.

The site of the Kensington tile works at the corner of Elm and Lowell Streets in Newport, Kentucky, presently a vacant and unused former industrial strip along the city’s western edge along the Licking River, would be a marvelous site for an archeological dig as these ancient factories tended to pitch their seconds out the window.
The mind boggles at the treasurers that could be relatively easily unearthed at this location.
The city of Newport, which has made tremendous strides in renovating its Ohio River front, would greatly embellish its tourism and development plan by establishing a commission to consider the archeological exploration of this presently unused site, appallingly rumored to become an adult entertainment area, and the possible creation of a small museum focused on researching the relatively unknown history of ceramic tiles in northern Kentucky, southeastern Indiana and southwestern Ohio.

Sources: American Art Tile, Norman Karlson; American Art Pottery, Dick Sigafoos; Bob and Mary Ellen Seery; Rookwood Pottery Potpourri, Virginia Raymond Cummins

Images: sean, Ebay, MapQuest
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