Article by John Harbinson
O
ne of the more interesting aspects of collecting historical artifacts is contemplating their history and the people who may have been associated with them. This large circular flask or harvest ring, as it is sometimes called, is an intriguing example that invites the viewer to turn back the clock. On one face the maker has incised his name “John Elliot Manufacturer of this Jug. When this you See remember Me”. On the reverse side, the inscription reads “May the 8th 1846 Upper Canada North America”.

When John Elliot crafted this harvest ring, he clearly intended to create an exceptional example of his work that others could admire and enjoy, thereby ensuring that he would indeed be remembered. This form, which is not commonly found in Canadian earthenware, is more decorative than functional and serves as a showcase for the potter’s skills. Each side is further decorated with incised birds and trees and the entire surface is enhanced with an abstract green glazed pattern that may have been inspired by the green shamrocks of John Elliot’s native Ireland. The circular edges are defined with a finely moulded bead and a subtle base has been applied to the bottom for stability.

John Elliot emigrated from Ireland to Canada in the mid-1840s and founded his pottery workshop shortly after, by the shore of the St. Lawrence River in the community of Aultsville. He and members of his family went on to commercially produce pottery goods and building bricks until the early part of the twentieth century at different locations in Eastern Ontario. The harvest ring surfaced at Sotheby’s offices in England and was consigned in 1986 to Sotheby’s Toronto office for sale by auction. May of 1846 would have been shortly after John Elliot’s arrival in Upper Canada and possibly he made this harvest ring for a friend
returning back to the old country or for his family back home to let them know he had arrived safely and
established his business.

Upper Canada, North America must have seemed a world away from Ireland at the time and one can easily imagine the challenges of setting out for a new land with the hope of establishing a new enterprise and a new life. We are fortunate that this harvest ring has survived, and as the only marked example of John Elliot’s work in addition to being one of the most memorable examples of Canadian earthenware to have
been discovered, it is certain that he will be remembered in a manner far beyond anything he imagined in May of 1846.

John Harbinson is an avid collector of Canadian historical furnishings.
Photographs by the author.

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