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For much of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Trenton was one of the major US centers for ceramics of all kinds, including tile and pottery. This industry leaked away from the heavily unionized (and environmentally regulated) northeast after WWII, and eventually went overseas. Today, there’s virtually no ceramics manufactured in Trenton. But there is one, unique remnant of this local industry about 45 minutes away in Doylestown.
Moravian Pottery & Tile Works was founded in 1898 by Henry Chapman Mercer — a key figure in America’s Arts & Crafts movement. He directed its operation until his death in 1930, and the factory remained in business until the mid-1950s. It reopened in the 1970s as a “living museum”, subsidized by Bucks County.
Reproduction tiles are made today using Mercer’s original molds, clay that is obtained locally and has properties similar to those of Mercer’s original source, slips and glazes that follow Mercer’s final formulations, although some have been modified to reduce heavy-metal content. The tiles are absolutely beautiful, make fabulous additions to any home, and spectacular gifts. I admit to loving this stuff and being biased: when we renovated our Trenton home, we installed a fireplace mantle facing designed by Mercer using Moravian Tile.
If you visit Doylestown and the tile works, try to get a tour of Mercer’s home, Fonthill, which shares the same grounds. Mercer was a true Victorian eccentric genius, and the tour reveals many of his eccentricities along with his incredible personal collection of tiles and objets d’art.