Where Yesterday Meets Tomorrow
You might think of the pottery universe as being divided into four or five strata. These strata follow production technique and chronology rather than company names.
The first strata is really stratospheric - in rarity, beauty, and price, mostly produced in the late 19th to early 20th century. It was all hand thrown pottery. Every piece was made individually by a skilled artisan. The decorations and glazes were applied by hand. It was carefully fired in small groupings. The pieces represent the finest arts and crafts or art nouveau design. The pieces are characterized by extremely fine glazes or excellent painted decorations. Examples can be worth anywhere from the high hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars. It is these pieces which are most properly called "art pottery". This pottery was marketed to the upper classes through high end magazines and stores. It was always considered high quality. It was produced by companies such as Rookwood, Grueby, Newcomb, Fulper, Teco, and a dozen or so others.
By the 1920s, the cost and difficulty of production made the truly hand-made pieces less and less feasible. Molds were created for many of the earlier shapes and many new designs were created. The pieces were still hand smoothed and hand decorated. These lines are sometimes called "art-ware". Nice pieces in this strata can be worth many hundreds to a few thousand dollars. Some "art-ware" was produced in the first and second decades but most dates from the mid 1920s to the early 1950s. This pottery was also marketed to the affluent segment of society.
Some of the earlier companies such as Fulper, Van Briggle, and Weller continued to produce beautiful pottery using the newer techniques. Companies, such as Roseville and Hull became more important. McCoy produced a more utilitarian line during this period but some of their pieces certainly rise to the level of "art-ware"
There is a third strata of pottery, less hand worked, more machine formed and decorated, more commercial, but still exhibiting high quality design, which is now receiving serious collector attention. This is mainly pottery designed during the 1940s through the 1960s. Companies such as Haeger, Abingdon, McCoy, Hull, Sascha Brastoff, and many more produced fine and collectible pieces. This pottery has much less hand work. It is machine molded and decorated. It was created by some of the finest designers of the period and also marketed to the affluent population. Prices today range from around $20 to several hundred dollars.
A fourth strata is also being collected today. It's pushing it a little to call it "art pottery" but some of it is so finely designed, crafted, and decorated that it deserves a place in any collection. Give it a few more years and no one will be quibbling about including it in the fine pottery category. Companies such as Royal Copley, Maddux of California, and other of the California potteries produced some beautiful, artistic, finely designed pieces. They show a 50's deco influence which is very popular today. Prices range from around $10 to about $50.
Also popular today are the "cutsey" 1950s ceramics made by companies such as Holt-Howard, Lefton, Inarco, Enesco, and Napco. In no way can we call this art pottery though some of it is very nice. Head vases, kitchen prayer ladies, planters, birthday angels, etc. are quite collectible and prices are rising rapidly. Don't be too quick to banish the nicest of these pieces from your collection.
There is a final strata of pottery which brings us back full circle to where we started. There has been a great renaissance of hand potteries, producing marvelous pieces with wonderful shapes and glazes. This type of pottery is called "studio ware." Any collection of art pottery will be well served by a few carefully selected pieces of modern studio ware.
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