After several days of back and forth phone tag the seller of this ca 1893 terracotta plaque made by the Union Pressed Brick and Terracotta Co of S.F. Calif we came to a meeting of the minds on this and for it’s shipping.
The panel measures 16x24x4″ and is made from red clay mined in Valejo where the factory had their brick production plant. The company history was interesting to read about, the founders happened to notice some high quality red clay by 5th street and Solano Ave in Valejo. One thing led to another and in 1889 they acquired 35 acres there and broke ground to build the new brick plant.
They began producing machine pressed brick of the highest quality, winning awards as well. They produced 8,000 bricks a day and the 40 workers hired in 1889 soared to 160 in 1893.
They also began making architectural elements, brackets and other decorative units, but also a series of panels depicting well known and famous people of the era. This panel is said to closely resemble a picture of Sarah Bernhardt, it certainly does bear a strong likeness of this exact picture from the August 28, 1891, Times:
By 1894 the workforce was reduced to 40 and in january 1895 the manager vanished with some of the company funds as his creditors were after him, some workers were not paid, and in April 1896 they shut down after filing for a dissolution.
Competitor Gladding McBean purchased the brick property for $10, they moved the equipment to their Lincoln plant and 40 workers lost their jobs.
The kilns and all the buildings on the site were eventually demolished and the land cleared for what looks like a mostly parking and industrial area today.
While I have not made molds of antique pieces for a number of years in favor of making my own original models, due to the fairly high cost of this artifact and the shipping, it’s difficult to justify a $1050 purchase just for something to add to my collection and have on display in the gallery, so I will probably make a mold of it to recoup the costs and put the original on public display in my gallery.
I’d really like to make these in hand pressed terracotta and by happy coincidence it’s size would perfectly fit in my present kiln.
One unique aspect of this piece is the fact that the maker’s name is actually stamped into the clay, of all the artifacts I salvaged in NYC not one of them had any form of identification on them.