Kingston Collector Invests 15 Years to Write History of 19th Century Ontario Pottery Makers.

On the face of it, one wouldn’t expect a bespectacled, reserved investment manager to be the author of a voluminous reference book on the history of 19th century Ontario pottery. 

Yet Moe Johnson, a financial investment manager from Kingston and collector of pottery for over 40 years, recently celebrated the publication of his book: The Potter’s Reach, in 19th Century Ontario. 

Johnson travelled 18,000 kilometres throughout Ontario, with photographer Jonathan Sugarman, studying and photographing pottery in 120 private and public collections.

Dr. Sandra Campbell, Pauline Jewett Institute (retired), Carleton University, commented on the book: “Moe Johnson’s The Potter’s Reach masterfully examines the history and nature of 19th century earthenware and stoneware. His readable account embraces Ontario’s early business, labour, urban and women’s history — for example, in his discussion of the key role of women in the home dairy industry, a key part of the pottery market.”

Johnson’s ode to the struggles and success of Ontario 19th century pottery manufacturers is colossal in scale: 55 chapters,150,000 words. It is, by far, the most definitive and comprehensive publication on the topic in the last 40 years and will remain as such for many, many years to come. It has become, in short order, the “bible” to which all pottery collectors refer. 

In the beginning, the first-time author, thought it would take him two years. In the end, it took him 15! 

“When I started, I had no idea that it would take me as long as it did. I might have stopped dead in my tracks if someone had told me it would take 15 years”, he said.

Long time pottery collector Dr. Alvin Cameron describes Johnson’s work as the definitive book on antique Ontario pottery, the opus. “Far more than mere page after page of ceramic eye candy, this book is a history of the integral role played by pottery in the early history of Canada, its home dairy industry in particular”. For any antique collector, either ingenue.or experienced, this book is a must have”, he said.

Johnson’s book has been met with rave reviews from collectors all over Ontario. Over 45 historic pottery makers are detailed in the book. Far from being simply a reference work, Johnson’s research carefully describes the different pottery makers, their product lines and the evolution of their firms. The book abounds with photographs, 1,200 of them, all in colour. 

I should note that The Potter’s Reach is not a value guide for collectors. It does make mention of the top prices paid recently for two of the rarest forms of Ontario pottery. However, Johnson’s book is an indispensable guide to the historic potteries of Ontario and the products they made for the farmhouse and homes in 19th century Ontario. Collectors of all types need accurate and comprehensive guides to the objects for which they search. Moe Johnson has given stoneware and earthenware pottery collectors a printed resource that will be useful to them for years to come.

Shaun Markey

To order a copy of The Potter’s Reach in 19th Century Ontario visit:

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