Pottery

Pottery is one of the oldest art forms known to human history. Over 6,000 years ago in Ancient Egypt, people discovered that when fire and clay joined forces, they could create pottery. Pottery is one of those rare art forms that has survived the test of time relatively intact. Whether pottery is handcrafted in an artist's studio, a residential basement, or at a factory, people want the stuff today just as much as they did a long time ago. And that's where the collector comes in.

Christopher Columbus discovered the New World in 1492 and subsequently has had more things named after him than any other figure in human history—countries, cities, parades, you name it. Even pottery produced in the Americas prior to his arrival on the scene is called Pre-Columbian.

The Pottery We Collect

Earthenware pottery is porous. This means that it's fired in a kiln at low heat and is very permeable. It has a softer body than its kiln kin—stoneware and porcelain. It is earthenware, however, that leads the way in the pottery field. The dishes in your kitchen cabinet are more than likely made of it, unless, of course, you use paper plates all the time. Because of its permeable nature, earthenware requires glazing to be waterproofed. And the various glazing colors and techniques play an essential part in the look of pottery and in its subsequent appeal to collectors.

Collectors of pottery find themselves searching high and low in a whole host of categories. Different countries, ethnic cultures, time periods, and styles are just some of the distinctions made in pottery. Art pottery is especially popular. Decorative pieces of all sorts have been produced through the years and many of these styles are in great demand. The one dark cloud in the pottery-collecting hobby is reproductions. This is not a collectible field to dive into headfirst. A little diligence on your part is a must.

How can you tell the difference between porcelain pottery and earthenware and stoneware?

Porcelain is translucent. Also, if you tap the item in question and it makes a ringing sound, you have a porcelain piece on your hands. If you hear nothing but a hollow thud, porcelain it ain't.

The following sections include some popularly collected American-manufactured pottery. But it's worth noting that pottery's long arm also reaches into private homes and small studios. And the products that come out of these cozy lairs often find their way onto the collectors' radar screen. In fact, some of this pottery is in very big demand, particularly if the potter achieved some acclaim at some point in time. It's something akin to a now-famous author's early books, published when he or she didn't have a pot to cook in—books that nobody much wanted. But now, those formerly untouchable books, which didn't exactly fly off the shelf when they initially saw the light of day, are coveted in book collectible circles. Pottery made yesterday by an unknown, who by some twist of fate gets known today, makes the previous day's formerly undesirable pottery very desirable.

Cowan

This Ohio pottery operated between the years 1909 and 1931. It is recognized for its unique glazes and designs of noted artists, including the founder, R. Guy Cowan. If you're a collector, or just want to know what all the fuss is about with this pottery, visit www.cowanpottery.org.

Very often in the collecting of pottery and its related fields, you'll come upon references to hairlines and cracks. Hairlines are very confined, almost invisible cracks that are at least a quarter of an inch in length. Some hairlines run through entire items. This is one important condition qualifier that you should keep your eyes open for—wide open. In addition, any piece of pottery that's been glued back on should be termed broken as opposed to cracked.

Fulper

Fulper began pottery-making in the early 1800s and turned to artware in 1909. This pottery is known for its hand-thrown assembling, vibrant glazes, and intricate decorating by studio artists. A company called Stangl took control of Fulper after a fire devastated its plant in 1929. Collectors generally prefer the pieces fashioned prior to the change in ownership.

Grueby

Grueby began spinning its wheels in the last decade of the nineteenth century. This pottery is most known for tiles and hand-thrown art pottery in the Arts and Crafts style. The Arts and Crafts method is recognized for its matte green glaze.

What is a pinhead chip?

A pinhead chip is an infinitesimal chip in a piece of pottery that is no larger than the head of a pin. It sometimes is called a flea bite or a chigger bite.

Hull

Hull is another Ohio-based pottery that was in the business from 1905 to 1985. Hull manufactured a whole host of products including artware vases, dinnerware, kitchenware, and cookie jars. These items are very popular with today's collectors.

McCoy

From Roseville, Ohio, this company's existence spanned the years 1910 to 1981 and churned out quite a variety of stuff—all of which is feverishly collected today. Among many things, it is known for its leaf and berry motifs and earthy tones of brown and green. If you're interested in this popular brand of pottery, surf on over to www.mostlymccoy.com.

Rookwood

In business for almost a century, from 1879 to 1967, this Ohio pottery produced fine art pottery that is in great demand today. Its flat, textured glazing on soft-colored clays makes these items quite appealing to collectors. Some of the oldest pieces from Rookwood are extremely valuable.

Roseville

From 1892 to 1954, this company with locations in both Roseville and Zanesville, Ohio, produced copious art pottery lines. It's been called by some the Pottery Barn of the 1930s and 1940s. Today's collectors covet these attractive and quality pieces.

Van Briggle

This Colorado pottery opened its doors in 1901 and is alive and well today. Its earliest pieces were stamped and dated up until 1920. They've subsequently reissued some of their early designs, which can be very confusing to novice collectors. Before buying Van Briggle pottery, it is critical that you know whether you're looking at an original item or a reissue of the same style. Remember that while they may look the same, there's a big difference in their worth to collectors.

Weller

In business in Zanesville, Ohio, from 1882 to 1948, this company produced many lines of art pottery. They also manufactured figural pieces. Why not take a moment and pop on over to www.wellerpottery.com and see what you've been missing all these years.

Collected Dinnerware

Plates and their companion pieces mean a lot to a lot of people. For dinnerware collectors, dinner served on something with character and beauty is a must. These folks believe that attractive plates, cups, and saucers add further flavor to a repast, whether it's a choice French recipe or a kabob cooked in Ron Popeil's Showtime rotisserie oven. The following sections list some of the preferred dinnerware sources that have fashioned what many collectors desire today.

At www.collectics.com you'll find glass and crystal, pottery, jewelry, and a whole lot more. This site offers a mix of educational information on a variety of collectibles, plus ample buying and selling opportunities.

Blue Ridge

This hand-painted pottery operated for about twenty years, from the late 1930s to the mid-1950s. In conjunction with Southern Potteries, this company put out over 2,000 unique patterns of dishware. Most of the patterns sport attractive floral designs. If you're interested in learning more, visit www.blueridge.com. You can even subscribe to the Blue Ridge China Quarterly if you like.

Coors

This company produced a line of artware and dinnerware known as “Rosebud.” This vibrantly colored pottery was made prior to 1939 and is in great demand today.

From the 1890s through the 1930s, America imported many items of pottery from Japan, which were branded Nippon, the Japanese name for Japan. The pieces were of very high quality and are quite valuable today. Unfortunately, they have been reproduced through the years since, and the reproductions are not of comparable quality. Buyer beware.

Franciscan/Gladding McBean

Franciscan/Gladding McBean is a company known for its embossed dinnerware. “Desert Rose” is one of its popular lines.

Hall

Established in 1903, this china company is still going strong a century later. It's famous for its restaurant ware and teapot designs.

Haddon Hall dishware

Homer Laughlin China

Founded in 1871, this company is still around in the twenty-first century. Among the dinnerware patterns manufactured by them are “Fiesta,” “Serenade,” “Harlequin,” and “Virginia Rose.”

The next time you see a piece of pure white ceramic ware, the kind called bone china, keep in mind what went into the making of it—bone ash. Oxen bones are popular. Bone china is softer than hard-paste porcelain, but firmer than soft-paste porcelain.

Metlox

Metlox was prolific through much of the twentieth century in churning out dinnerware. They also produced popular cookie jars.

What is a glazed flake?

A chip in the transparent glaze of a piece of pottery that does not make its way through the colored underglaze and onto the surface proper is called a flake, or sometimes a glazed flake.

Russel Wright

Russel Wright is a designer operation that contracted out its work to other companies. Wright designs on dinnerware always sported the Wright name. Wright is famous for trailblazing amorphous shapes and surrealistic influences in dinnerware.

Vernon Kilns

The Vernon Kilns doors were open from 1931 to 1958 in the Golden State of California. They are known for producing dinnerware and souvenir plates.

What is enamel?

Enamel is the blending of glass and metal at very high temperatures. Enamel wears many faces. It can be translucent or opaque. It may be colorless or multicolored.

Watt

This pottery company, located in Ohio, began churning out kitchenware and dinnerware when flapper dancers were doing their thing. They closed shop because of a fire when President Johnson was in office. Watt is known for its glazed solid colors and warm-hearted, hand-painted designs with moon and star patterns, arcs, loops, and diamond and grooves.

How to Clean Your Pottery

If not excessively manhandled, pottery is a collectible that essentially maintains itself. Archeologist digs unearth so many intact pieces of pottery—and in snappy condition, to boot—because the baking process that these items have been put through ensures their durability, come hell or high water.

Pottery that expresses itself as crockery, jugs, and such are called stoneware. Stoneware is a heavy pottery that is utilitarian in nature. Wedgwood, an English pottery that's been around since 1759, has produced a ton of stoneware through the centuries. Lusterware is a type of pottery that sparkles with iridescent glazes. This lustrous look is the result of adding metals to the glaze and firing away. Different metals will make for different looks.

Pottery doesn't require a lot of care. Just do a few common-sense things and you and your pottery will be happy together for a long time. For example, dusting your pottery is always a good idea. Aside from the aesthetic benefits, dust buildup is both unhealthy for you and your collectible.

You are the only dishwasher your pottery ever needs or should see in its lifetime. Crazing (the small cracks in the clear overglaze of a piece of pottery) occurs sometimes when exposed to too much heat. When this happens, the defect manifests itself with stains creeping into the once-virgin glaze. You'll encounter various terms used in describing the extent of crazing. If you absolutely have to wash your pottery, do it by hand and in lukewarm water. Use a mild soap—no harsh detergents. And never leave pottery soaking in a pool of dishwater.

Crazing occurs on recently manufactured items just as frequently as it does on older pieces. So, trying to judge the age of an item based on the extent of its crazing is, well, crazy.

Earthenware, the most popular form of pottery, is not vitrified. The vitrification process, which it does not undergo, leaves ceramic objects with a glassy and impermeable surface. Earthenware, for instance, can be cut with a file, but true porcelain—which is vitrified—cannot.

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