Henry Chapman Mercer and the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works

Who was Henry Chapman Mercer?
Fonthill, HCM's tile-filled home.
The Mercer Museum, home to HCM's collection of early American artifacts.
The Moravian Pottery and Tile Works.

The Legend of Henry Chapman Mercer

Who was this Henry Mercer, the visionary who traveled the world and pedaled a bicycle to direct construction of his museum? To many he was an enigma.

Henry Chapman Mercer was historian, archaeologist, collector and ceramist -- a Renaissance man of the early 20th century. He was born and died in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, at the heart of historic Bucks County. His one-man building boom, leaving a legacy of three structures on the National Historic Landmark register, began when he was 52. Mercer traveled the world on the largess of a devoted aunt and studied law and ancient history. He graduated from Harvard and was curator of American and Pre-historic Archaeology at the Museum of the University of Pennsvlvania from 1894 to 1897. Mercer conducted site excavations in the Yucatan Peninsula and in the Delaware, Ohio and Tennessee River valleys.

In 1897, while searching for fireplace tools in a junk dealer's barn, Mercer found a jumble of objects made obsolete hy the Industrial Revolution. He realized these pre-1850 work related implements might one day be the prized findings of future archeologists. Mercer seized upon this priceless opportunity to preserve the endangered artifacts and display them in their diversity.

Mercer himself went to work on his collection, which he called "The Tools of the Nation Maker. " He pledged it would be "worth its welght in gold in a hundred years hence. "

The Mercer Museum

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Henry Mercer had a boundless collection of early American every day objects and ancient artifacts at the dawn of the 20th century. In a stroke of genius, he built the Mercer Museum to contain it, preserving the past in timeless fashion.

The Mercer Museum's expanding collection contains more than 50,000 tools and artifacts. It represents the soul of early America and the heritage of Bucks County, while hinting at the men and women who experienced the era.

The architecturally significant building completed between 1913 and 1916 by Mercer, eight laborers and "Lucy" the horse is a National Historic Landmark. Rising seven s tories and constructed entirely of reinforced concrete, its towers, gables and parapets announce the diversity inside. You will find more than 60 Early American trades represented, including a wealth of woodworking, metalworking, agricultural, textile and dairy tools. The oldest artifacts in the museum are Native American implements dating from 6,000 B.C. to 8,000 B.C.

The Mercer collection - and the period of history it preserves - embodies the character that created the nation: ingenuity, vision and hard work.

The Spruance Library, located in the Mercer Museum, is a research library containing primary source material for historians, genealogists and students of Bucks County history. More than 20,000 volumes of books, periodicals, pamphlets, maps, prints and photographs are preserved in the library, including the papers of Henry C. Mercer.

84 South Pine Street
Doylestown, PA 18901
215 345-0210

Mon., Weds. - Sat. 10-5 p.m.
Sunday 12-5 p.m.
Tuesday 10-9 p.m.

Located at Mercer Museum

Tuesday 1-9 p.m.
Wed. - Sat.10-5 p.m.

Museum & Library:

Adults $6.00
Sr. Citizens (age 60 and over) $5.50
Youth (age 6-17) $2.50
(Under age 6 - Free)
Discount admission for groups of 10 or more, call ext. 23 for details.
Audio Tours: Hand-held wands are available for free with your visit.
Free hours at the Mercer Museum. On the first Tuesday of each month from 5-9 p.m., the Mercer Museum and Spruance Library will be open free of charge.

Mercer Museum Shop Hours:
Mon. - Sat. 10-4:30 p.m.
Sunday 12 4:30p.m.

The Mercer Museum, Fonthill and Spruance Library are closed New Year's Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Spruance Library is also closed Folk Fest weekend (second full weekend in May).


One man's dream house is the world's castle.
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Fonthill, built between 1908 and 1910, is a testament to Henry Mercer's vivid imagination. He designed it, "room by room, from the interior, the exterior not being considered until all the rooms had been imagined and sketched," Mercer wrote. The result was spectacular. The structure is distinctly etched in the historically significant architecture of Doylestown, Pennsylvania and the collective memory of generations of visitors.

Built entirely of hand mixed concrete, Fonthill has 44 rooms, 18 fireplaces, 32 stairwells and more than 200 windows of varying size and shape. The National Historic Landmark contains more than 900 prints and other objects that Mercer gathered throughout the world, creating an intensely personal statement of his genius. The lavishly embellished interior surfaces show an incredible array of Mercer's original decorative tiles.

Mercer dubbed Fonthill a "concrete castle for the New World," which he left as "a museum of decorative tiles and prints." Guided tours provide educational opportunities for visitors of all ages and add insight to the world class collection that surrounded Mercer during his life.

East Court Street & Swamp Road (Route 313)
Doylestown, PA 18901
(Guided Tours Reservations Advised)

Mon. - Sat. 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Sunday 12 p.m. - 5 p.m.
(Last tour 4:00 p.m.)

Admission: Adults $7.00
Sr. Citizens (age 60 and over) $6.50
Youth (age 6-17) $2.50
(Under age 6 and members free)

The Moravian Pottery & Tile Works

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While collecting American antiquity was in and of itself unique during Henry Mercer's time, his vision transcended mere collecting: He set out to revive the native Bucks County craft of pottery-making in the late 1800's. His attempts failed, but he turned his attention to hand-crafted tiles instead and became a leader of the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century.

The Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, completed in 1912, produced tiles and mosaics for floors, walls and ceilings.

Mercer's artistry and abilities produced floor tiles for the rotunda and halls of the Pennsylvania State Capitol, depicting 400 scenes in the Commonwealth's history. His tiles adorn buildings throughout the United States and the world.

As in his other concrete buildings, Mercer makes the edifice as worthy of preservation as the contents. The Tile Works construction reflects the Spanish influence on mission architecture. Offering self guided tours and other programs, the Moravian Pottery & Tile Works operates as a living history museum today, making reproductions of Mercer's original line of tiles in a manner similar to that of the master.

The Moravian Pottery and Tile Works is administered by the Bucks County Department of Parks and Recreation. The Tile Works offers ceramist apprenticeships and tile workshops. A gift shop, seasonal events and a facility rental program are available.

130 Swamp Road (Route 313)
Doylestown, PA 18901
Self-guided tours every half hour.

Open Daily 10-4:45 p.m.
(Last tour 4:00 p.m.)
Closed selected holidays.

Adults $3.00
Sr. Citizens $2.50
Youth $1.50

Moravian Tile Shop:
Open daily 10-4:45 p.m.

(Admission fees and operating hours for all facilities are subject to change. Please call to verify any information.)

General Information

The Bucks County Historical Society administers Fonthill, the Mercer Museum and the Spruance Library, and is accredited by the American Association of Museums. The Society offers a series of family programs, craft demonstrations, summer camps and special events for members and visitors. A museum shop and facility rental program are available.

This information originally appeared in folder titled "Castles Full of Treasures" published by Bucks County (PA) Tourist Commission. Fontihill photo © Barry Halkin. Other photos courtesy The Bucks County Historical Society.

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