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Milburn, Benedict Calvert
Place Made:
Alexandria Virginia United States of America
Date Made:
salt glazed –stoneware
HOA: 6 1/2″; WOA: 4 1/4″
Accession Number:
This candlestick is attributed to Benedict Calvert Milburn (1805-1867) who worked as a stoneware potter in Alexandria, Virginia. On November 18, 1840, Milburn adverstised in the Alexandria Gazette, “Clay Candlesticks, neatly made, safe and cheap, for the Whig Illumination,” referring to the planned celebration of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler’s victory in the 1840 presidential election. A stronghold of the Whig Party, Alexandria planned formal celebrations with a parade of all the town’s tradesmen, a speech by George Washington Parke Custis, and an evening with torch-lit streets, candle-lit houses, and a bonfire by the Potomoc River. The zig-zag cobalt decoration on the candlestick closely resembles the decoration seen on many of the jars produced by Milburn’s pottery at the same time.

Made of stoneware clay thrown on a potter’s wheel, this salt-glazed candlestick has two ovoid bulges between the base and the candle holder at the top. Salt glazing was a technique used by stoneware potters to create a glassy surface. When the pottery kiln reached over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, salt was introduced into the kiln, creating a vapor. This vapor adhered to the silica in the clay, forming a glassy appearance on the pottery. Because of the high temperature at which the pottery was fired, the clay often became non-porous, or vitrified. This, combined with the salt glazing, meant that potters did not have to apply a glaze to the interior of the vessel. It could hold liquids and not seep, unlike earthenware storage vessels.

MAKER: Born in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, Benedict Calvert Milburn (1805-1867) may have worked with John Swann at the Wilkes Street pottery in Alexandria prior to 1831, but records show that he was certainly working for the stoneware manufacturer Hugh Smith by 1833. Milburn purchased the Wilkes Street pottery himself in 1841, and his sons continued the business after his death, until 1876.

Magid, Barbara H. “‘Stone-ware of excellent quality, Alexandria manufacture’ Part II: The Pottery of B. C. Milburn.” CERAMICS IN AMERICA (2013) 77-119.

Credit Line:
The William C. and Susan S. Mariner Collection