A Lesson In History – Figural Tiles

Southern Accents Architectural Antiques

Last week we talked about our jaw dropping reaction when we first saw pictures of the two historic houses in Little Rock and were contacted about our interest in salvaging them. We knew we had to come to the rescue of the antique artifacts that lay within, the most impressive being the seven unbelievable mantels and the figural tile sets they encased. In our 44 years of business we have rarely seen a tile collection housed under one roof the likes of these. Each of the seven fireplaces framed beautiful glazed tile, many showcasing incredible figural tiles from the American Encaustic Tiling Company dating back to the 1890’s.

Southern Accents Architectural AntiquesMost of the figural tiles were sold on location to local residents, many of whom have a keen interest in preserving a piece of their city’s history. We do however want to share a few pictures, as well as a bit of history surrounding these tiles, in an effort to create an awareness of the antique artifacts that are needlessly lost when property owners demolish old structures without allowing salvage companies, like Southern Accents, the opportunity to rescue objects of historical significance.

These magnificent tiles came from the American Encaustic Tiling Co. (A.E.T.) in Zanesville, Ohio. At one time this company was reported to be the largest tile manufactory in the world. Founded in 1875, the company produced a wide variety of wall and floor tiles as well as very decorative art tiles. By 1890 there was a need to expand the rapidly growing company. A new plant was built in Zanesville, Ohio and dedicated on April 19, 1892. The celebration was attended by 20,000 people, arriving by foot, train, boat and horse-drawn carriage. The company remained a boom to the Zanesville community for the next 40 years, closing in 1935, being a victim of the Great Depression.

Southern Accents Architectural Antiques

During this time, A.E.T. had a major presence in New York City, not just as a producer of floor and wall tiles, but also as a creator of art tiles and tiles used in architecture. Leon V. Solon became the artistic director of the company and created impressive showrooms at the 41st street location in Manhattan around 1912. In the 1920’s, Solon re-designed the A.E.T. showrooms, making them a “virtual tile museum”. Preservationists were unsuccessful in their attempts to landmark the building in 1993. Most, if not all, of the tiled interior has been demolished by tenants and landlords over the previous years.

Southern Accents Architectural Antiques

This image is the American Encaustic Tiling Co. stamp located on the back of several of the figural tiles. Stamps and what we call “maker’s marks” are paramount in helping us track the history of antique artifacts.

We view these colorful, glazed pieces of earthenware as incredible works of art. We feel privileged to be given the opportunity to save these works for future generations to appreciate and enjoy. In our continuing mission to promote the preservation of our architectural heritage through rescuing, restoring, and protecting artifacts of historical significance, we are thrilled to be able to share our mission with you each week through pictures and stories via our newsletter.

The first image above shows one of the seven tile sets and surrounding mantel before it was removed from the historical 1890 Bruner house in Little Rock, Arkansas. This set is available for purchase. Click Here for details.

Written by: Lisa Jones

Edited by: Garlan Gudger, Jr.

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