CAMPBELL, ROBERT, potter; b. 1826 in the parish of Tullanisken, County Tyrone (Northern Ireland); m. 22 Feb. 1845 Margaret Dillworth, and they had four sons and four daughters; d. 3 Jan. 1898 in Hamilton, Ont.
Robert Campbell, like his father, learned the pottery trade in County Tyrone. Immigrating to New Jersey in 1846, he moved to Wellington Square (Burlington), Upper Canada, six years later and entered business with his brother, William, who had established a stoneware pottery between 1847 and 1851. In 1859 or 1860 the brothers moved to Hamilton, where they operated as W. and R. Campbell. The firm won prizes for its pottery at the provincial exhibitions of 1864 and 1865. The following year the partnership was dissolved, though each brother continued in business on his own. Robert’s operation was known in the early 1870s as the Hamilton West Pottery and from 1874 as the Hamilton Pottery. According to an advertisement in 1875, it manufactured fire-brick for stoves, earthenware, and stonewares with Rockingham (brown), yellow, and terracotta glazes.
Campbell was one of the more industrially minded pottery producers in Ontario, a group that included Franklin P. Goold and William Erastus Welding in Brantford and the Harts in Picton. By introducing new materials and production methods, they brought the factory system into a largely craft trade, as represented by such well-known potters as William Eby of Conestogo, David Burns of Holmesville, Valentine Boehler of Egmondville, and Jacob Ahrens of Paris. Campbell’s operation quickly became the largest pottery in Hamilton and, by the 1890s, at the height of competition among Canadian moulded-ware makers, the largest factory-pottery business in the dominion. It specialized in restaurant, kitchen, and toilet wares, and for stoves it produced mouldings, linings, and decorative tiles. Unlike other potteries in the province, the Hamilton Pottery used clays from New Jersey and Pennsylvania to produce wares of superior quality; it was thus able to compete successfully in Canada with American goods. The clays also produced bodies that closely matched the glazes favoured by the Campbell pottery, cane (yellow) and Rockingham. Pottery was produced in large quantities by jiggering (using a turning mould and a tool to shape flatware), moulding, forming, and the casting of slip (liquid clay) rather than by the traditional hand-turning technique. In its use of these methods the works resembled the large factory potteries of Great Britain and the United States. The Hamilton Pottery is of additional interest because of the survival of photographs and documents, including catalogues, that provide valuable insight into its manufacturing techniques and the type of wares it produced between about 1890 and 1947.
A political Reformer and a member of Main Street Methodist Church in Hamilton, Campbell was well respected within the city’s business community. He drew up his will in November 1897 and died on 3 Jan. 1898, leaving an estate valued at more than $48,170. Campbell bequeathed his business to three sons, Robert Wesley, John Dilworth, and Colin Cole, who had formed R. Campbell’s Sons two days before their father’s death. By May 1928 the Hamilton Pottery had passed out of family control. The business closed in 1947 after a major fire destroyed the works.
AO, Coll. of photographs and docs., including catalogues, concerning the Hamilton Pottery; RG 22, ser.205, no.4511. Hamilton Spectator, 3 Jan. 1898. Hamilton directory, 1875–88. J. E. Middleton and Fred Landon, The province of Ontario: a history, 1615–1927 (5v., Toronto, [1927–28]), 3: 256–57. D. L. Newlands, Early Ontario potters: their craft and trade (Toronto, 1979). D. [B.] Webster, Early Canadian pottery (Toronto, 1971). D. L. Newlands, “The Hamilton Pottery,” Canadian Collector, 13 (1978), no.2: 29–34.