A Look Back in History: 1763 Oley Valley clay tile attracts antique dealers

A single Oley Valley Clay roof tile inscribed with two tulips drains rain water onto the next roof tile and is placed on a steep roof hung on wooden lathe.

Discovered at Lobachsville, a 1763 curved ridge roof tile was originally on a quaint Oley Valley building at 1745 Lobachsville founded by Peter Lobach, where Adam Weidner had a clay tile manufacturing business in the Colonial period.

This was one of several rare antiques sold by antiquarian auctioneer George Miller IV this spring. Beltznerís Hall was overcrowded May 3, with a number of collectors who had a chance to bid on unusual folk art items as well as very rare artistic Americana objects. One of the highlights of this Americana auction was a wooden carved bird tree made by folk artist ďSchtock-schnitzeler SimmonsĒ (1817 to 1890) from the Carlisle area who was known to have peddled his folk art carvings in the Berks County area, as mementos for local farmers.

Realizing that major American museums have examples of Wilhelm Simmonís folk carvings, Auctioneer George Miller attempted to start the bidding on a folk painted bird tree at $50,000. However, since few antique dealers were familiar with bird trees by Simmons, George had to begin the bidding at a lower amount among the huge crowd. But two single Simmonís type carved birds soon brought five and ten thousand dollars respectively. However, the colorful bird tree not as tall as most others did bring thirty thousand dollars from an ardent dealer of folk art.

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A more famous local oil painting by Berks County artist, Sharadin was eagerly bid to a few thousand dollars, being more familiar to antique dealers. But the fact that the clay ridge tile was dated 1763 on its plain curved top without any other folk artistry did not prevent a historic minded dealer from Fleetwood bidding it up to $3000; an unusually long roof tile it must have been on a massive clay tile roof in Lobachsville.

Previously, an Oley Valley clay tile was discovered with a date of 1756 and initials T. B.P. owned by Stephen Kindig who lived in Lobachsville founded by Peter Lobach. But the largest clay tile roof near Lobachsville was Jacob Keimís Manor house, whose huge clay tile roof was torn down years ago. However, the date of the Keim Manor House is thought to be 1753, an approximate date by the Preservation Trust of Berks County, its current owner. The Keim Manor House has a massive truss timber roof to support the weight of its original clay tile roof.

Having purchased hundreds of Oley Valley roof tile for the Pennsylvania Folklife Society in the 1960s for a museum restoration in Lancaster County I was impressed by this unusually rare 1763 Colonial ridge tile. Which was authentic and judging from its very long length must have been on the ridge of a very important Colonial home near Lobachsville. Usually the Oley roof tile on the sides of the roof are inscribed with large tulip designs which drain rain water to the middle of the tile so that each tile will have its rain water centered on the top of the clay tile immediately below it. So the rain water will systematically reach the eaves of the roof.

Few potters had the time to design unusual clay tile patterns since their main purpose was to have roofs shed water without leaking it to the interior of the home. Thus, few potters of the early American period were historic minded enough to scribe a date on the top curved ridge tile of 1763 to actually date the roof for posterity. By any roofer who may make the time to actually notice the potterís craftsmanship.

However, Brad Hamilton a local antique collector from Fleetwood was the lucky bidder to have acquired this prize ridge tile. In the Lobachsville area the Jacob Keim manor house dates from 1753, which originally had a clay tile roof. But whether this 1763 ridge tile was originally on this roof is up to historians to decide!

Richard H. Shaner is director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.