Stangl Pottery Mold Rescue – 1997                           

By Diana E. Bullock-Runge

In October, 1997, Rob was given the unique opportunity as a Stangl Pottery historian and preservationist to remove the original Stangl molds which had been stored in a turn-of-the-century warehouse in Millville, NJ since the cease of Stangl production in l978. This building was slated for demolition and for the sake of preserving the last of Stangl and Fulper history; Rob embarked on a Stangl mold rescue.  But how did Stangl's come to be in South Jersey ~ so many miles from the Stangl factory in Trenton?

Frank Wheaton Preserves Stangl Heritage ~ Frank Wheaton of Wheaton Industries and last owner of Stangl Pottery, never abandoned his “hope” for Stangl.  After Stangl's close in 1978, he planned to one day begin production of Stangl products again, but in a manner that would allow him to control manufacturing.  Because Frank Wheaton’s true passion was American history, particularly New Jersey’s early industrial heritage, he spent countless amounts of money and energy recreating an authentic early New Jersey industrial community.  The Museum of American Glass and Wheaton Village in Millville, New Jersey, are enduring testimony to Wheaton’s devotion to historic preservation.  Frank Wheaton had a true appreciation of Stangl’s place in American history.   

During the waning months of 1978, Frank Wheaton had a team of movers carefully pack Stangl molds, models, records, stencils, ware boards and even the electric rolling kilns, for the seventy-five mile trek to Millville.  It required nearly sixty full size tractor-trailer truckloads to accomplish the move.  It was the molds, representing over sixty years of Fulper and Stangl product lines that comprised the bulk of the move.  Frank Wheaton was primarily interested in saving the block molds and case molds, the “master molds”, from which production molds were made.  Most of the production molds were abandoned in Trenton, as new production molds could be made from the case molds when needed.  The only production molds brought to Millville were for a few of the bird figurines and some of the dinnerware shapes, such as Kiddieware, Town & Country and Maize-Ware.  The molds being shipped were all carefully stacked from two to four feet high on pallets and shrink-wrapped together.  Literally thousands of Fulper and Stangl molds were shipped to Millville.  Upon arrival in Millville, two of the kilns and most of the Town & Country and Kiddieware production molds were set up for immediate use in the production of Royal Cumberland, but everything else was stored in ancient Wheaton Glass Company warehouses to await a future embodiment of Stangl Pottery.

Frank Wheaton’s Royal Cumberland ~ During 1979 and 1980, Frank Wheaton contracted with the American division of Royal Copenhagen to produce dinnerware and vases inspired by Stangl motifs.  Frank Wheaton set up a ceramics operation at one of his Dorchester Industries plants in Millville and brought in Stangl designer Irene Sarnecki to create several new motifs and instruct the new decorating staff.  Frank Wheaton’s new ceramics were trademarked “Royal Cumberland”, named for the New Jersey county in which they were produced.  The line featured adaptations of Stangl’s Town & Country, Fruit, Grape, Holly and Kiddieware dinnerware designs and several bird and animal shapes.  The Royal Cumberland pieces were made from Stangl molds, and the quality of the product was comparable to Stangl.  However, by 1981, this incarnation of Stangl Pottery was also ended.  The Stangl Pottery molds and equipment stored in the warehouses were left to languish into oblivion…

By 1997, nearly twenty years of neglect and a leaking roof had taken their toll.  Our first view of the interior of that vast warehouse of history was breathtaking!  What we experienced at that moment was a sensation that must have been akin to Howard Carter's first glimpse of King Tut's tomb!

Rob and I, with the help of Rob’s 77-year-old grandmother, made several trips during that first year to rescue as many historically important molds as possible.  It was dank, dirty, wet and musty from rot and bird droppings in that warehouse.  It was filthy, backbreaking work, but the result was utterly fulfilling and I felt honored to be involved in such a rewarding project!

The effects of twenty years of neglect and a leaking roof and the improper packing in 1978 left many of the molds in slimy wet and damaged, condition but in spite of this, there were still thousands that were spared from ruin.  Considering the sheer tonnage of the plaster molds, the decision-making was difficult as to which molds to rescue for their historical significance.  For the most part, each heavy, moisture-laden mold was carried by hand down a dark and dilapidated staircase.  We trucked several loads back to the Flemington area where they are safety stored on family property. 

In addition to the Stangl molds, saggars, kilns and ware-boards stored in this building, Frank Wheaton jammed it full of fantastic architectural relics, bits and pieces of Americana gleaned from local historic dwellings, post offices, commercial buildings and railroad stations. Realizing the full value of the contents of this building, which included local New Jersey railroad station scales and waiting-room benches; showcases, cabinets and fixtures from early general stores and ice cream parlors; a large collection of Victorian columns, doors, gingerbread, mantles and brackets; early hand-forged iron tools of early New Jersey glass manufacturing; and several mountainous piles of Wheaton glass collector bottles.  I contacted Mr. Wheaton and proposed a liquidation of these goods under our company’s direction. He quickly agreed and the historic relics were transported off-site to be auctioned. Despite torrential rainfall on auction day, we attracted hungry bidders from seven states and the sale was a great success.  Rob and I purchased the remaining contents of the warehouse so that preservation and distribution of the molds would be at our sole discretion.  In addition, we were at the early planning stages of our Hill-Fulper-Stangl Museum and knew that the molds would play an important role in our future displays.  Many of these historic salvaged molds were distributed to the Trenton City Museum and the State Museum of New Jersey for their historic collections. Once again, history was preserved as these wonderful things found new homes and did not suffer the wrecking ball. 

Besides the molds distributed to the two Trenton museums, several hundred were donated to the Stangl/Fulper Collectors Club for their use, but they face an uncertain future as continuing funds for their storage may no longer be allocated. Still, hundreds more have been safely stored on family property for Rob’s ongoing research for his various historically important educational projects and future books.

  

Follow this link for the NEXT CHAPTER....

The following photos show some of the warehouse liquidation conducted for Frank Wheaton.