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China Syndrome

Examples of premium Buffalo Pottery on display at Burchfield Penney Art Center

The Chris Collins pottery collection at Burchfield Penney Art Center

For those of us who only know him as the area’s chief philistine, it may come as a surprise to learn that Erie County Executive Chris Collins, when he isn’t cutting life supports to struggling arts organizations, is a collector of local origin historical fine china.

A display from his collection of Buffalo Pottery premium lines is currently on exhibit in the main corridor of the Burchfield Penney Art Center.

Buffalo Pottery was established in 1903 as an offshoot of the Larkin Soap Company to produce utilitarian china for distribution as premiums—prizes—for the purchase of given quantities of Larkin soap.

The premium, or high-quality, lines were produced beginning a few years later, and were probably not given out as prizes but sold commercially through retailers.

During World War I, Buffalo Pottery limited its production to commercial ware, mostly for hotels and restaurants. After the war, the company changed its name to Buffalo China, which made a tentative move to bring back some of the premium lines, but eventually abandoned such efforts. In the 1980s, Buffalo China became a subsidiary of Oneida, Ltd. In 2004, Collins and other investors bought Buffalo China from the Oneida company.

The works on show include Deldare, Emerald Deldare, and Abino ware, as well as some Buffalo Pottery specialty items, such as a Miles Standish pitcher and Roosevelt Bears jug.

The Deldare line was produced beginning in 1908 and depicts merry England (where there are captions on the depictions, “the” always comes out “ye”) and landed class diversions such as the hunt, with particular attention to the sumptuous pre-hunt tavern breakfast and rowdy post-hunt supper and general carouse, both meals seeming to feature copious alcoholic beverages.

The harmonious Deldare colors are subdued but intense reds and oranges and browns against a characteristic background olive green, the product of a mix of various clays and chromium oxide.

Emerald Deldare ware was produced in 1911 and typically features decorative borders with an art nouveau flavor and illustrations by Thomas Rowlandson, an English artist from the early 1800s, of scenes from a kind of comic epic about a character by the name of Dr. Syntax. How the art nouveau accords with the illustrations from a century earlier is a bit problematic.

Other Emerald Deldare pieces feature just art nouveau decorative patterns. Or depictions in a more fine art (versus the Dr. Syntax caricature) style. For example, a large vase in deep tones of green depicting (barely visible amid the overall deep green) an English seaside village.

The Abino line (named after Point Abino, Ontario) was painted with some of the finer art type Emerald Deldare imagery, such as sailing vessels on the water, but without the characteristic Emerald Deldare borders.

Also on display are two examples from the 1930s of Buffalo China’s half-hearted efforts to reprise the Deldare line. And for a glimpse into the taste of the times, a plate entitled “Lost,” depicting a group of shaggy sheep huddled together in a snowstorm, in obvious danger and distress, while off to the side, in the near distance, a cross is visible through the flurries. Are they lost in a cemetery? Or is the cross a sign from on high? Does it mean the sheep will be saved?

jack foran

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