Riley Bratton jug (photo courtesy of Columbus’ Garth's Auctioneers & Appraisers)
Ohio Life

Ohio Finds: Riley Bratton Jug

Not a lot is known about this Ohio potter, but a bit of detective work found the origins of this jug he made that is decorated with an incised heron.

Riley Bratton remains a bit of a mystery when it comes to Ohio potters, but some of the utilitarian stoneware he produced in Muskingum County in the mid-19th century has an intriguing characteristic: incised designs that make them of considerable interest to stoneware and folk art collectors.

Born in Guernsey County around 1816, Bratton established a pottery on an 80-acre tract acquired in 1841 by Edward Bratton, presumably his father. Stoneware dug from the pottery’s waste dump in 1980 included marked and decorated fragments depicting birds, fish and a sailing ship. Two of the shards were dated 1848.

Historian James L. Murphy acquired those items, and over a 30-year search found four marked vessels, including one dated 1849. This unmarked, two-gallon jug featuring an incised heron staring at a fish with an owl on the opposite side, was attributed to Bratton by matching the gallonage mark to an example found in the pottery dump.

Murphy’s research turned up little on the pottery itself, but it appears the operation was short-lived. The 1850 census lists Bratton as working for another nearby stoneware-maker. A year later, he went to California during the gold rush. 

Sold at Auction: $2,000

Richard Jeffers is the owner of Garth’s Auctioneers & Appraisers in Columbus.