Robertson Art Tile Company
Robertson Art Tile (1890-1983) is a bit of an enigma in the history of American tile. While the name appropriately honors one of the most influential and productive families in American ceramics, its founder, George W. Robertson, lost interest in the operation, staying less than five years. The company, on the other hand, withstood the numerous tests of time eventually closing its doors in 1983, one of the industry’s longest surviving works. Yet despite its longevity, the company never achieved limelight status with its tile products.
George W. Robertson, the eldest of three sons, came to the United States from England with his Scottish family in 1853; he was 18 years old. Having worked with his father James in at least one pottery in Boston, he and his father joined George’s brothers, Alexander and Hugh, in 1872 to form the Chelsea Keramic Art Works north of the city. One of the employees at the pottery was John Gardner Low, who when he left in 1877 to start his own company, encouraged George to follow along. He worked successfully at the Low Art Tile Works until 1890 when he moved to Morrisville, Pennsylvania, across the Delaware River from Trenton to begin anew. He was 55 at the time.
From all reports the costs involved in establishing the new pottery exhausted Robertson’s resources. Fortunately his creditors agreed to assume control of the tile works, keeping George as superintendent to run the plant. Perhaps all would have been well had George’s son not died prematurely in 1893. Despondent, he left for California in two years later.
The tile illustrated here was most likely made after George Robertson’s departure; the tile, marked “Robertson,” appears in an early undated catalog. In 1900 the company hired Fred Wilde, an experienced tilewright from England who had worked for a number of tile manufacturers in the East since his arrival in the States. He brought with him the skills to develop a new line of glazes and one of the best white-bodied wall tiles on the market. This may be one of his!
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