If your grandparents were living in this country back near the turn of the last century, then you may still have a few pieces of their pottery stashed away. Unlike pottery from much of the rest of the world, the clay used for American pottery is usually quite robust, with excellent strength and solidity and significant weight. American glazes were also quite thick and durable. Therefore, many pieces have managed to survive through generations of use.
A quick history on collectible American pottery
Most American pottery that is desirable today was made between the late 1800s and early 1900s. Common characteristics include exceptional heft along with creatively applied glazes that can range from thick and drippy to elegantly smooth, sometimes with hand painting. Some makers also made elaborately molded pieces depicting floral motifs and other subjects.
Pottery was made all around the country, and each region’s examples have their own unique flavor and charm. Fortunately for us in New England, some of the most desirable pieces were made right in our own backyard, so they tend to be more plentiful here than elsewhere.
American potters made many items aside from vases. There were also planters, jardinières, wall pockets, bowls, baskets, plates, mugs, and a host of other items that were sometimes decorative and sometimes utilitarian. Today, virtually all are collectible.
Which pottery pieces are most valuable?
While almost all old pottery has some value, only a small percentage of pieces command the big money. There are ways to figure out what’s what, and as always, a little research can go a long way towards making a profit on your antique items.
Certain makers are always desirable. Look for names like Grueby, Marblehead, Newcomb College, SEG, TECO and Rookwood. Other names can be valuable but do not always bring top dollar. These are makers such as Fulper, Hampshire, Roseville, Van Briggle and Weller. Pieces by companies like McCoy, Redwing and Stangl are usually lighter weight and made from chalkier clay. They tend to sell on the lower end of the price spectrum, and items marked USA or with similar generic marks usually go for very little.
Aside from the maker, other valuable features to look for include unique glaze treatments, any piece done in a matte green color, hand painting, artist signatures, unusual shapes, larger sizes and pieces in outstanding condition. Unsigned pieces can occasionally be valuable (some makers used paper labels that easily washed off), but most unsigned pieces are undesirable. It’s worth making sure, though, since the best examples of American art pottery can sell for $50,000 or more. You never know what treasures you might have!
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