Monday, January 3, 2011

Tucker porcelain at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

1830's Tucker high-handled pitcher hand-painted with flowers and scenic view and trimmed in gold.

The oldest American made porcelain one could collect today would have to be from the Tucker porcelain factory in business from 1826-1838. Over the years I have collected bought and sold Tucker porcelain. The factory was the first American porcelain manufactured on a commercial scale. Other attempts were made at making porcelain in America starting in the 18th century but porcelain factorys before Tucker opened for very short periods and very few examples of porcelain made of theses early attempts are now in major museums and private collections.

In 1826, William Ellis Tucker a Quaker in his 20's opened his porcelain factory in Philadelphia, marking yet another chapter in the effort to develop a fine American tableware industry in this country and thus reduce Americans’ dependence on costly foreign imports.

Tucker was not the first Philadelphian to challenge foreign imports; the American China Manufactory, begun by Gousse Bonnin & George Anthony Morris in 1770, had turn out blue-and-white porcelains in the English style of Bow and Worcester for two years before their business failed. Despite the fact that porcelain was made in quantity by the American China Manufactory for almost two years, today only nineteen intact examples of their work survive and if you find one piece it is worth millions.

Tucker had worked in his father’s china store, decorating the plain white wares they imported from abroad. In those days importing blanks/half finished undecorated porcelain was a lot cheaper then finished decorated porcelain. The taxes and duty was cut more then half on items considered unfinished . In his factory, he experimented first with making creamware, then with porcelain. After trying more than 20 different formulas, he eventually devised a porcelain recipe (using kaolin from nearby West Chester and feldspar from Wilmington, Delaware) that produced a dazzling white product that was the equal of European wares.

The early work from this factory copied greatly from popular French and English porcelains. Tucker painted brown or sepia landscapes on cups and plates. In 1827, he won the prize at the Franklin Institute "for the best specimen of porcelain to be made in Pennsylvania." The following year he received a silver medal for 100 pieces of his china. Latter work from the factory depicts American subjects. Tucker painted views of Philadelphia, a view of his porcelain factory, views of Mount Vernon and President Jackson. He sent examples of his porcelain to be used in the White House under Jackson. And petition the President to put a band on European porcelain being imported into American so that his business could thrive.

In 1828 Thomas Hulme formed a copartnership with Tucker, under the style of Tucker & Hulme, but retired from the firm in about one year. In 1832 Joseph Hemphill was admitted as a partner, and a few months later suddenly Mr. William Tucker died not yet in his mid-30's. The business was then carried on by Hemphill alone for several years. In 1837, Thomas Tucker, a brother of the founder, became sole proprietor. During Hemphill's proprietorship the ware was greatly improved. Potters and decorators were brought from Europe, and for a few years the manufacture was eminently successful. The ware resembled the French hard-paste porcelain of the same period, in body, shapes, and painted decorations. During the best period landscapes and wreaths of flowers were painted on the glaze in refined colorings, and the quality of the gilding was superior to that of the imported wares. The products of the factory were table-services, decorative jugs, vases in the French style, fruit-baskets, ornamental figures, ornate cologne-bottles, night-lamps, and a multiplicity of shapes, both useful and ornamental.

A business card printed while Hemphill ran the factor provides a glimpse into the wide array of products manufactured: "Where is constantly kept on hand a superior assortment of china, comprising Dinner sets, Tea sets, vases, mantel ornament Pitchers, Fruit baskets, etc., etc., either plain or ornamented."

During its brief life (the factory closed in 1838), the Tucker factory distributed china to buyers in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Virginia, and many of these pieces migrated westward as the country was settled.

Surviving Tucker porcelain is both rare and expensive. You can find cups at a few hundred dollars, pitcher 3-7 thousand and large vases with cast gilt-bronze griffin handles at three hundred thousand for a pair. The most recognizable Tucker form is a high-handled pitcher hand-painted with flowers or a scenic view and trimmed in gold. More magnificent were large two-handled classical urns based on contemporary European models. The Tucker factory also made a variety of coffee and tea wares, including a veilleuse, a small teapot on a warming stand. Many large services are plain white simply banded in gold, occasionally with an added wreath or monogram. Condition, as always, affects price. After years of heavy use, gold trim is often worn or missing.


  1. Very interesting post. And very informative. I am working on a Tucker post of my own, an "is it or isn't it?" piece regarding a mug/vessel that I found in a group shop years ago, that I suspect could possibly be Tucker, but also could be English. Thanks, Reggie

  2. Good morning Reggie, Thanks for your comment. I love Tucker porcelain. I have owned pieces over the years but have sold off the best stuff. I still have a few pieces in my collection. I will look forward to seeing your post about your mug.

  3. I have a dish set of what I believe to be Tucker, no discerning marks, beautiful spanish style landscapes with gold gilding....

  4. Hi Liz email me at

  5. Can you recommend a good book re: the history of Tucker porcelain and other Quaker-owned businesses in the Philadelphia/Germantown area c. 1800?

    Thank you
    Barb Kubik

  6. Hi Barb, there is no up to date definitive book on Tucker porcelain although a few people are working on one. I recommend the book "American Porcelain: 1770-1920 by [Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen]. This book has the best info on porcelain made in Philadelphia. Thanks for your comment.

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  8. Thank you so much for your article! For many years I have been attempting to identify a tea set, cups,saucers, small plates, small bowls, sugarbox, creamer, and waste bowl, although the teapot is missing, without any success at all. Until today, that is, when I found your blog and also photos of a partial Tucker tea set at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the exact shape and similar gold decoration as ours, although the red and green painted flowers are a bit different. None of the pieces has any factory marks, only what seem to be makers marks etched before the porcelain was fired. This set belonged to my great-great-great-grandfather, David Faust, a Philadelphia businessman before the Civil War, afterwards President Emeritus of the Union National Bank for many years. Would you be interested in seeing pictures? Thanks, Sarah

  9. Yes Sarah, I would love to see photo's of your set. You can email them to

  10. Thanks, Andrew, I just sent the photos this morning! sorry it took so long, Sarah