Gordon Blaker dons white surgical gloves to handle what he reverently calls one of the rarest items acquired by the Augusta Museum of History.
"It is flawless," he said, hoisting the 5-gallon pottery jar from its resting place in the museum's collections room.
"It has no cracks, no chips whatsoever. Someone took really good care of this piece."
The Edgefield pottery jar, donated by a Florida man with ties to Augusta, was made around 1850 by Collin Rhodes, whose pottery works once thrived in today's northern Aiken County near the Edgefield County line.
The jar is exceptional, both because of its maker and because of who it was made for, said Mr. Blaker, the museum's curator.
Rhodes was among the noted potters famous for the alkaline glaze pottery made throughout the Edgefield District from the early to late 1800s.
The museum's new addition is finely decorated and inscribed to H.A. Kenrick, Hamburg, S.C. - which only adds to its mystery and appeal.
"We don't know anything about Kenrick," Mr. Blaker said. "We think he may have been a grocer, though, because they're the sort of merchants who would use a jar like this one."
Hamburg, established in 1821 by a German immigrant, occupied a bluff across the Savannah River from Augusta.
Its founder, Henry Schultz, developed the town to compete with Augusta's then-lucrative cotton and tobacco trade.
By the 1840s, Hamburg had a railroad line to Charleston and many permanent residents. However, when the railroad was extended across the river into Augusta in 1853, Hamburg floundered and soon vanished.
The jar had been owned by the same Augusta-area family since before the Civil War, Mr. Blaker said. Dr. Joseph Dicks, a family member, recently donated a 600-piece collection of Augusta-area memorabilia, including the jar.
The vessel could have contained preserved meat, produce, lard or some other commodity. The tops typically were covered in cloth and sealed with wax.
Edgefield pottery is nationally known for its historical and artistic appeal. Quality pieces are sought by collectors and museums such as the McKissick in Columbia and the Smithsonian in Washington.
Mr. Blaker would not name the jar's appraised value. However, such pieces have sold for $10,000 or more at auction, and a jar inscribed for a Hamburg merchant would command a higher price than average, according to collectors.
The jar will be displayed for the public to enjoy later this summer, Mr. Blaker said.
"It will be part of an exhibit tentatively named 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,'" he said, laughing. "This, of course, would be part of 'the Good.' "
Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119,
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