Collecting, Buying and Selling: Vintage Pottery

Vintage pottery piece next to words,

Pottery has existed for thousands of years, with one of the earliest ceramics dating back to 28,000 BCE. Over the years, pottery designs, colors, styles and influences have evolved, but its allure remains. Today, centuries-old, hand-crafted techniques, unique motifs and signatures, historical cultural influences, and authentic materials make pottery pieces more desirable. With research and knowledge, you can invest in vintage pottery that's a prized and worthwhile asset.

Is Pottery Valuable?

Like any other kind of art, the value of pottery is based on several factors, including:

1. Condition

The condition of pottery can decide its value. If a piece of pottery is in excellent condition — it does not have scratches, cracks, chips or dents — it's more valuable than a piece of pottery with signs of damage. Still, depending on the item and its rarity and significance, you can still sell pottery that has issues with its condition.

2. Authenticity

Pottery or antique dealers can value pieces depending on authenticity. Deciding on a work's origin requires skill and expertise. Dealers inspect pottery color, texture and design and consider markings like the date and signature.

For example, genuine markings from vintage pottery designers like Newcomb Pottery or Grueby Faience Company can be extremely valuable. The period and the artist also decide the authenticity. Pieces from renowned artists like George E. Ohr that date back decades can be worth more. Hand-crafted pottery can be more genuine than mass-produced pottery and also influence higher values.

3. Rarity

Rare pottery is often unreplicable, offering a higher value. Availability can decide the rarity. Limited edition pottery pieces like crystal stemware can have high demand, increasing their value. Parts made during a specific period that are no longer produced can have more allure, increasing your selling or buying price. Collectibles with distinctive designs, shapes, sizes, finishes and textures can also be more appealing and valuable.

4. Demand

The more desirable a pottery piece, the higher its value. If you're selling a piece, consider how in-demand it is before you set a price tag. For example, look at auctions and other marketplaces to see how much similar or exact items are selling for over the past few months. Pottery items can be highly valued if many people are interested in them.

5. Brand Name

People often seek pottery pieces from famous manufacturers or artists like Rookwood Pottery and McCoy. Their pottery items come with distinct quality, designs, influences, colors, shapes and sizes, making them more attractive.

6. History

Some pottery pieces have rich histories. For example, if someone notable owned the piece before you, it can be more valuable. Heirloom pieces passed down through generations can also have high status and value.

7. Design

Design can decide a piece of pottery's value. Pieces with eye-catching, clean, and symmetrical finishes, hues, color palettes, and patterns can be valuable. Patterns, lines, glazing and textures representing specific cultures, periods or eras can also be unique and appealing.

How to Identify Vintage Pottery

How to Identify Vintage Pottery Visualization

While you might need to consult a pottery dealer when deciding on pottery quality and authenticity, many pieces have signs you can look at to identify their origin.

1. Markings

Valuable pottery marks include genuine signatures, dates and stamps. Artists often mark the bottom of pottery pieces with their unique signatures.

Markings can be challenging to identify and require some research. However, artists often use the same or similar stamps on all of their designs. Once you know what to look for, you can identify pottery pieces from centuries back.

For example, Rookwood Pottery manufacturers marked their designs with distinctive “R” and “P” letters and a symbol for flames. They added a new flame each year and used Roman numerals to indicate the year.

2. Clay Type

Clay types are another way of identifying vintage pottery. While older pottery is made with genuine clay, manufacturers today can make pottery items with alternatives. Though it can require some pottery knowledge, you can tell the age of a pottery item by inspecting the unglazed bottom piece. Authentic pieces often have more wear and discoloration and look dated. Mass-produced pieces can look new to brand new.

3. Design

Vintage pottery can have distinctive designs, with notable and unique colors, textures, weights and shapes. A pottery dealer can help you identify genuine pottery based on its style.

4. Color

Various artists use unique color palettes to create their pottery. For example, Teco pottery, created by American Terra Cotta and Ceramic Company, has a light green color or glaze. It's a color unique to the brand and one of their most notable identifiers. You can identify various brands by their pottery's colors, hues and glazes.

5. Style

When identifying vintage pottery, you can look for similar or distinct designs, like a pattern or glaze, to figure out who made it. For example, various Susan S. Frackelton pottery works feature identical designs, with a blue motif or glaze striped around a white clay vase structure. Another example is Brouwer pottery, which has distinctive glazes made with an open fire technique.

6. Shape and Size

While pottery pieces can have varying sizes and shapes, some designs can be more defined. For example, early Marblehead Pottery pieces were often tall with a carved pot shape.

7. Origin

Various pottery designs can represent cultures and eras. A pottery dealer can help identify the source based on cultural influences. For example, Japanese heritage influenced early Newcomb Pottery art with various cultural motifs like Lily pads.

Examples of Collectible Pottery Brands

What vintage pottery companies do most collectors look for when buying pottery? Here are some notable examples:

Grueby Faience Company

Pottery made by Grueby Faience Company are highly renowned collectibles often found in art museums. In particular, items from the company's lamp collection with Tiffany Studios can be worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Newcomb Pottery

Pieces from Newcomb Pottery are rich in history and importance. The pieces have a particular soft texture, earthy motifs and multiple influences, such as Japanese and United States Southern culture.

Depending on the inspiration, Newcomb Pottery items can feature various glazes, from high gloss to vellum. This pottery can also reflect considerable social significance — many women played a role in the creation of this company's pottery when work opportunities were limited. Newcomb Pottery pieces can be scarce, often valued up to $4,000.

George E. Ohr

George E. Ohr is one of the most notable pottery artists in the craft's history. Ohr's pieces feature varying shapes, sizes and values and are known for their unconventional textures and color glazes. Because of these pieces' immense value, many people try to replicate authentic pottery pieces made by this artist. Speaking to an expert before selling or buying a George E. Ohr piece ensures authenticity.

Discover Vintage Pottery With Fontaine's Auction Gallery

At Fontaine's Auction Gallery, we help you buy and sell vintage pottery in the USA and worldwide. We provide various ways to participate in pottery auctions — online, in person, by phone and via absentee bidding. We can help you buy and sell valuable pottery pieces conveniently at competitive prices.

Whether you're interested in buying a specific piece or would like to sell an item in your collection, our team can help you do so for the best price possible. Contact us today to get started.

Vintage pottery pot next to words,