Despite being one of the oldest potteries in America, Fulper arrived rather late to the art pottery movement. It was originally founded in 1814 as Samuel Hill Pottery in downtown Flemington, New Jersey and built its initial success on producing drain tiles and other utilitarian objects. It was acquired by Hill’s partner, Abraham Fulper in 1860 and after his death in 1881, the firm was shepherded to greater heights by his son, William. William was interested in the technical aspects of ceramic production and began designing shapes and studying glaze technology via the writings of Professor Charles F. Binns of Alfred University. It took years of experimentation, but in 1909 the Fulper Pottery Company finally released its first art line, dubbed Vasekraft. It was an immediate success.
Fulper had hit upon the perfect combination of high quality wares and expedient production. Unlike many of the other nearly 200 companies and studios creating art pottery in America at the time, Fulper was production-oriented and focused almost exclusively on simple, molded forms adorned by a myriad of unique glazes. There were six categories of glazes—Mirror, Flambé, Matte, Wistaria, and Crystalline—and colors within those ranges were given their own names, such as Elephant’s Breath, Cat’s Eye, Blue of the Sky, and Mirrored Black. An almost infinite number of combinations could be achieved by combining or overlapping different glazes on one form.
Fulper was staffed by about seventy-five people by 1911 and business remained strong through the late 1920s. The firm offered a variety of vases, bowls, candleholders, bookends, and other forms, but perhaps the finest objects they made were lamps. Gorgeous but incredibly fragile, not many have survived. The bases and shades were entirely made of pottery (an impressive technical achievement) and inset with jewel-toned glass, creating a beautiful juxtaposition of colors and textures. They were first introduced around Christmas in 1910 to great fanfare, praised by one writer as “possessed of a beauty not to be escaped or ignored by anyone with a normal love of things lovely.”
William Fulper died in 1928, the year in which operations expanded to Trenton, New Jersey. J. Martin Stangl, superintendent of Fulper’s technical division, bought the firm in 1930 and continued to produce art ware in smaller amounts through 1935. The Fulper Pottery Company was formally registered as the Stangl Pottery Company in 1955 and remained in operation until 1978. Though Stangl attained success in his own right, the level of quality achieved in the 1910s and 1920s was never repeated.