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Juniata Freshman Writes Boook on Regional Pa. Potteries

(Posted December 10, 2001)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- In an age where many college students are shocked at having to read more than 10 pages for homework, Juniata College freshman Matthew Miller has written a 176-page comprehensive history, "Decorated Stoneware of Cowden and the Stoneware Potteries of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 1852-1924."

Miller, the son of Glen and Karen Miller of Marysville, Pa., self-published the coffee table-sized book, which is intended as a reference and a guide for those interested in Pennsylvania history or in collecting stoneware. Miller, who wrote, researched and took most of the 400 photographs used as illustrations in the volume, also designed the Web site where interested customers can order the $39.95 book: www.harrisburgstoneware.com.

"I became interested in these potteries through my parents, who have collected antique blue decorated stoneware from Pennsylvania potteries for about 15 years," Miller says. "We were at an auction one day talking about how there wasn't a recent book written about Harrisburg stoneware and a friend said that I should do one."

"I am pleased that Matt's appreciation of Harrisburg pottery has prompted him to put this book together," says Jack Troy, Juniata College associate professor of art and author of books on salt-glazed ceramics and wood-fired pottery. "The dozens of largely anonymous Harrisburg potters would be proud and probably amazed to know how many appreciative people have cared for all those crocks and jugs over the years."

For the past two years Miller has worked diligently on his book, doing the bulk of the research, writing and photography during his senior year at West Perry High School. He also designed the entire volume on his home computer using Adobe Pagemaker. After his college classes are over, Miller checks traffic on his Web site from his Juniata dorm room.

"We printed 3,000, and it's been selling well so far," he says. "It's really exciting to me that I worked on it without public knowledge for more than a year and people are really showing an interest."

Stoneware pottery is utilitarian pottery, often called blue decorated stoneware because many are decorated with cobalt decorative designs. "Before the invention of the canning jar, people used stoneware to store, serve and preserve food," Miller explains. "Stoneware was produced all over the state and all over the country by local potteries."

Miller concentrated his history on a series of potteries owned by Harrisburg businessman J.W. Cowden and his heirs. Miller also includes histories of stoneware produced by Harrisburg potteries owned by T.H. Willson, John Young and William Moyer.

Miller, who is studying biology at Juniata, says blue decorated stoneware is highly collectible. He estimates that pots, crocks, jars and pitchers from these Harrisburg potteries can range in price from $50 to $100, on up to tens of thousands of dollars.

The first-time author researched his book at the Pennsylvania State Library and the Pennsylvania State Archives. He also drew on a previously published guide to central Pennsylvania potters by Jeannette Lasansky, published in 1976. The 19-year-old Miller also traveled to local historical societies and to the homes of more than a dozen private collectors to gather photographs for his book. But he says astute collectors can still find newly discovered examples of the stoneware.

"The book has very extensive photography of all the different styles of stoneware, but there still is a lot of stuff out there that has not reached the public eye," Miller says. For those interested in collecting stoneware, he suggests checking auctions, estate sales and antique markets -- after studying his book, of course.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.