Saturday, August 29, 2015

POTTERY IN CONTEXT: AN UNEXPECTED DISCOVERY



  Guest Post by David Hoexter
August 2015


Coastal Sonoma County and the Pacific Ocean
I inspect properties for environmental hazards.  Recently a project brought me to rural Sonoma County, California, about 65 miles northwest of San Francisco.  That is, 65 miles as the crow flies, much further (and slower) as the truck drives.  The site was located at about 1,400 feet in elevation along a ridge paralleling the coast, was populated by an old apple orchard and an alpaca, and was surrounded by vineyards, redwood groves, and fields with dramatic views of the Pacific Ocean, way below.  Slopes on either side of the ridge were precipitous.  Rarely have I been paid to visit such a lovely place.


Sonoma Apple Orchard

The property was occupied by an old house, which turns out to have been a hotel and stagecoach stop in the second half of the 19th century on the route from the inland town of Santa Rosa to the coastal town of Gualala, via the out of the way town of Bodega.  The prominent industry was logging of redwood trees, and the roads, such as they were, would have been deeply rutted by logging equipment and transport.  The trip today, along the Russian River and bypassing Bodega, is about 67 miles and according to Google Maps, takes about two hours (often steep and curvy), but in the 1870s the route was much longer and required three days with two overnight stops.  To the traveler, it probably felt like six.


1870s photo of the house


Notice the stagecoach!

So at any rate, here I was in the home of the current resident, a delightful 90 years or so lady who had lived on the property since the early 1950s.  I’ll call her Clara (not her real name).  But so what?  The point of this is, that on a wall facing the front door, was a delightful array of items, and prominent (to me at least) was a lovely American advertising calendar plate.  I spotted it from across the room.  


Can you see the calendar plate on the wall?

Further perusal quickly established that the merchant, who had given away the plate to his customers, was W. A. Wernecke, “The” Butcher, whose phone was Main 84.  Location not evident.  I recognized the pattern from 1910, and thought I recognized the name “Wernecke”.  On returning home, I found that my eBay research of calendar plates (conducted religiously since November 2010) had already netted two examples of the same plate, and that one of the eBay sellers identified Wernecke’s location as Santa Rosa, California.  A quick Internet search resulted in confirmation from two Google Book sources:  I found a 1902 advertisement for W.A. Wernecke, “Dealer in all kinds of Fresh and Salted Meats, Sausage, Lard, etc”; and a 1910 listing in a May 1910 publication of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows of the State of California (IOOF), announcing W.A. Wernecke’s death.  So sadly, Wernecke was not able to benefit from his advertising give-away. 


Advertising calendar plate

W.A Wernecke The Butcher! (hard to see advertising on the plate above).

Returning now to the owner of the plate, I learned that the plate had belonged to Clara’s mother, who had in fact lived in the Santa Rosa area.  Most likely, Clara’s mother, or perhaps her grandmother, was the recipient of the plate, directly from the hands of the butcher, W.A. Wernecke.

For those who may have missed it, I discussed advertising calendar plates in a previous Dishy News posting.  Briefly, advertising calendar plates were American-produced and widely distributed between 1906 and 1921, with production peaking in 1910.  They were complimentary gifts from merchants to their customers, and although some of the merchants were located in cities and larger towns (such as Santa Rosa), many were located in extremely remote and very small towns, often with only a few hundred population and a few hundred more in the surrounding area. For more information, read my earlier blog.

For nearly five years I’ve documented the American advertising calendar plate, and now have about 1,500 in my database.  The endeavor is time consuming but academically and aesthetically pleasing, and I’ve purchased not a few as examples.  But for all the research and buying, nothing has given me more pleasure than to see a treasured example in the living room of a 90 year old lady living miles from the nearest real town on a ridge overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  

Sonoma County Coastline


Sea Life at the mouth of the nearby Russian River/Notice seals and birds (pelicans, cormorants and seagulls).


Resident Alpaca Resting in His Apple Orchard





2 comments:

  1. Delightful post David! Knowing how you love these plates and the research that goes along with cataloging them, I feel your excitement at finding an example in such an unexpected place.

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  2. Thanks Susan! I appreciate your comment.

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