Written by Robert L. Matthews
posted on January 13, 2012 07:29
The Wheelock family began selling china in Wisconsin well before the Civil War. In the early 1890’s one of the many Wheelock children, Mr. Charles Wheelock, had the vision to expand their business into the latest craze, souvenir china. The business grew quickly and soon they employed over thirty salesmen selling souvenir china in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The Wheelock mid west business was no longer regional. It had grown to international proportions.
Wheelock was not the manufacturer of souvenir china, as some believe, but the importer. Because Germany and Austria had the raw material to produce high quality hard paste porcelain, those two countries were the major source of souvenir china. The procedure was as follows. The scenes or pictures were selected in the area where they were to be sold, usually from postcards. They were then sent to Europe for processing. The next step was to make a transfer print of the picture which was then applied to the china. Initially the pictures were black and white but later many were hand colored at factories. Eventually transfer prints were done in color eliminating the step of coloring by hand.
This helps explains the picture but it didn’t stop there. Many porcelain pieces were color tinted and some were decorated in a variety of motifs such as flowers or leaves. All of which added their beauty. Finally, the piece was glazed and fired in a kiln before being sent to the United States .
Not all souvenir china has the importer’s mark on the bottom as many have no mark at all. Some were marked with the store’s name where the item was to be sold along with the word “Germany.” The McKinley Tariff Act of 1891 required that all imported items be marked with the country of origin. It seems logical that unmarked souvenir china date before the McKinley Act.
Charles Wheelock and his right hand man John Roth were astute business men and quickly developed a turnaround time with foreign manufactures which other importers were unable to duplicate. The result was Wheelock was able to fill orders faster than their competitors. The Wheelock souvenir china business was second to none.
In my opinion the golden era of souvenir china coincided almost exactly with the golden era of the Thousand Islands. World War One led to the decline of souvenir china’s popularity and availability at about the same time the Thousand Islands began to lose its appeal as a tourist destination. The sale of Wheelock souvenir china continued to hang on until 1922 but the glory days were long gone.
After the importer’s mark, many consider the picture as the second most important factor in determining value. Probably the Thousand Island House was the most common image. Visitors to The Islands loved to show their neighbors back home where they stayed or a steamship on which they sailed. The design or shape of the china is definitely a factor in assessing the value – the more unique, the more desirable. The variety of images, shapes and colors of souvenir china seems almost inexhaustible. Take a look at the different shapes and colors included in this article. It’s only a small sample but you get the idea.
There were at least two other importers of souvenir china who sold their wares in the Thousand Islands during that time. P.C.C. [no idea what the initials stand for] also imported their china from Germany and may have been the first to do business in the Thousand Islands. The other importer was John Roth who left Wheelock in 1909 to form his own business which he named Jonroth. Obviously, he was well qualified having worked over fifteen years with Wheelock. It’s a matter of personal preference but my favorite souvenir china is Wheelock.
Collecting was an enjoyable hobby for many years but my attitude recently changed and I now regard souvenir china as a link to the early history of the Thousand Islands. Once those pieces are gone, they can never be replaced.
By Robert L. Matthews, Fishers Landing
This the third of three articles Robert L. Matthews will write this winter giving us a sample of Thousand Islands memorabilia. The first, TI Collectables, Part I Squiggle Glass, appeared in the November 2011 issue and last month TI Collectables Part II, Four Track Series Brochures was published.
Robert is the author of two popular books: Glimpses of St. Lawrence Summer Life: Souvenirs from the Thousand Islands: Robert and Prudence Matthews Collection, and A History of the Thousand Islands Yacht Club, published in 2009. Bob presented five articles last winter. He and his wife Prudence ( well known River artist whose work was presented in Hooked on Prudence in 2009) have one of the most extensive collections of Thousand Islands memorabilia. When not at their beautiful River cottage at Fisher’s Landing, they live in St. Petersburg, Florida.
NOTE: Do you have a favorite Thousand Islands souvenir story? If so tell us about it in our comment section.