The History of the W. Nelson McCoy’s Blue Bird Pottery
By Dewayne Imsand
An Old “Blue Bird” Pot Shop
W. Nelson McCoy was born in 1820 in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, which is located in West Virginia. In January 1848, he and his wife Ester moved to Ohio’s, Muskingum County, Springfield Township, in a community called Putnam. At that time, Putnam was a suburb of Zanesville, but in 1872, it became incorporated into Zanesville.
During the same year as W. Nelson and his wife arrived in Putnam, they had a son whose name was James W. Years later J.W. would go on to establish a well-known pottery, the “J.W. McCoy Pottery”.
W. Nelson came to Putnam as a farmer. He acquired some land and built a house. In addition to farming, he also built a small, log building to produce stoneware during the warmer months. The pottery was a small, “Blue Bird” type shop, which was like the ones many of the farmers had at the time. It was primitive in its equipment, and the ware it produced was rough and unfinished. Although during that period, most of the home-owned, “Bluebird” shops operated under primitive conditions.
W. Nelson only produced pottery for a few years, not eight as previously believed. In January 1853, a notice was published in the “Zanesville Daily Courier” stating that a partnership that W. Nelson had with Jeremiah Elder was dissolved. The partnership was in a Putnam grocery store, named Elder & McCoy, which had been established at some uncertain prior time.
On the same date that W. Nelson ended his partnership with Elder, a second notice was published reporting that he had taken another partner, Norman Dodge, in the grocery business. Later W. Nelson bought out Elder, and the name of the grocery was changed to “McCoy & Dodge”.
Considering his job at the grocery, and the labor involved in farming, maintaining his household, supplying clay and firewood for his kiln, one would imagine that W. Nelson only had a small amount of time for actual pottery production. Surely, the volume he produced was small, and it was undoubtedly unmarked, since none that is attributable to him has been found.
Prior to 1853 a grocery store in Zanesville was owned by “James Benjamin & Co.”. Sometime after 1858 W. Nelson acquired the major share in the “Benjamin & Co.”, and the name of the store was then changed to “McCoy – Benjamin & Co.”. Hugh McDonald was another owner besides McCoy and Benjamin.
In addition to the operation of the store itself, James Benjamin had other interests; he was a wholesale dealer in stoneware. The newspaper “Zanes Times Signal” carried an article in 1957 by Norris F. Schneider, who, quoting old sources, said that during the 1870’s Benjamin was one of the three major stoneware wholesalers in the region. The other major stoneware wholesalers at the time were J.C. Gillespie, and Hudson C. Ward.
The crock shown is an example of Benjamin’s wares. The inscription on it is stenciled in blue ink, and reads, “Jas. Benjamin Wholesale Stoneware Depot Zanesville, O”.
W. Nelson is not known to have been associated with James Benjamin in the pottery business in Zanesville. However, he and Benjamin were associated in the pottery business located in Cincinnati. (See the article, “The History of the James Benjamin Potteries and his Connection with W. Nelson McCoy”, which is contained on this Web site).
W. Nelson as a long-time, Zanesville businessman, became respected and popular. In 1881, he was elected the mayor of Zanesville, and in 1883, he was reelected. W. Nelson continued managing and working in his grocery and dry goods store until the early 1890’s. He died in 1894.