by Christine Girello

As seen in Antiques & Art Around Florida, Summer/Fall 1997

Rookwood Pottery
Iris Glaze of Blue Irises,
by Albert Valentien
Rookwood pottery has enjoyed increasing popularity and value over the last ten years. Annual Rookwood auctions have been held at the Cincinnati Art Galleries since the early 1990s. This, and several well written books on the subject, has increased collectors' awareness and appreciation of the quality of Rookwood pottery. Easy to identify due to the excellent markings , Rookwood compares with and usually exceeds the quality of other late nineteenth and early twentieth century potteries in the US and European countries.

During the 1870s, wealthy women painted blank china as a hobby. Maria Nichols Storer, founder of Rookwood, was one who enjoyed this pastime. She began experimenting with glazes and it was her dissatisfaction with the temperatures of the local kiln which lead to the building of her own kiln and the beginning of Rookwood Pottery. Over the ensuing years, she hired several good chemists, superintendents and excellent artists who helped make Rookwood a high quality pottery.

The earliest Rookwood was usually decorated in relief on natural colored clays, such as sage green or pink. Early pieces could be gilt, have a simple stamped design or be carved in high relief. These early pieces could also be painted by someone who bought the greenware (an unfinished piece) and then decorated it at home. These personally decorated pieces are not considered to be Rookwood.

Above left to right: Standard Glaze, Matte Glaze,
Floral Early Vellum Glaze, Poppies Standard Glaze,
Mug Portrait, Sea Green Glaze with Egret
Rookwood Pottery, various glazes
Under the guidance of Maria Nichols Storer, many new glazes and decorative methods were developed. One common treatment was the Standard glaze, deep yellow, orange and red over dark brown with a high gloss, usually in a flower or leaf motif. American Indians and portraits were also done with this glaze. Matte glaze is a flat textured glaze usually painted on soft colored clays. The glaze, Sea Green, is often applied to fish or floral scenes. It is a blue green glaze painted on soft blue, yellow and red. Vellum glaze is a matte glaze, often pale blue, put over lightly colored clay. Quite often this is used for landscapes. The Iris glaze, often painted in a floral motif, is a glossy white glaze covering grey, pink, soft blue and yellow. An uncommon glaze is Tiger Eye which left gold streaks from goldstone in the glaze. It was an early and unstable glaze. Ombroso, developed in 1915, is a matte glaze with shades of grey and brown. It was used on incised pieces.

Left to right: Standard Glaze, Ewer with
Daisies Sea Green Glaze, Scenic Raised, early,
Garfield Vellum Scenic
Rookwood Pottery - samples of various glazes
Rookwood won many international awards in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Artist Kataro Shiriyamadani of Japan created superior work which commands very high prices today. Other artists with great skill were Carl Schmidt, Matt Daly, A.R. Valentien and William McDonald. Each had a signature mark which can be found on the base of the pieces they decorated. Gorham applied silver overlay to pottery from the Rookwood company. Rookwood was sold in stores such as Tiffany, Ovington and other large department stores in major cities across the country. The company developed an architectural department where large parts to decorate entrances and buildings were made.

Financial problems in 1907, the Great Depression, and two World Wars lead to a slow decline in quality, and, finally, bankruptcy in 1941. Rookwood was purchased by Walter Schot but closed for good in 1967.

Left to right: Vellum Glaze, Wood Scene - Standard Glaze,
Ferns - High Glaze, Birds - Standard Glaze,
Daisies - Green High Glaze, Wisteria
Various samples of Rookwood Pottery Glazes
One reason collectors like Rookwood is because it is so well marked. On the base you will find factory marks, including a symbol for or the name, Rookwood, and a dating system. One of the most famous symbols is the R-P monogram begun in 1886 with a flame added around the symbol each year after. Charts of these marks are found in popular books on Rookwood. There are also clay or body marks indicating which color or type of clay the piece was made of. "P" stands for soft porcelain, begun in 1914. Shape numbers and size letters correspond to the thousands of shapes used over the years. "S" identified a special piece. "Z" required a matte glaze. Vellum glaze was marked with a "V"while trial pieces were marked "T". Imperfect pieces were incised with an "X" and sold for a reduced price.

Left to right: Iris Glaze with Poppies - Vellum Glaze, Scenic - Standard Glaze, Floral - Matte Glaze with high relief, Flowers
Sample Rookwood Pottery and Glazes
When you're collecting Rookwood, look for early marks, the quality of decoration and popular artists marks. Watch out for seconds marked with the incised "X" or cracked and repaired pottery. Blemishes and other imperfections also decrease value. There are no two pieces of pottery decorated exactly alike, so observe many pieces from shops and auction catalogs to discover what makes a good piece of pottery and what you would like to collect. The Cincinnati Art Galleries had their latest auction in June, 1997.

All photos are from the catalog of the David and Katherine Glover Collection of Rookwood Pottery Auction, Cincinnati Art Galleries, June 1991.

About the author:
Christine Girello is the owner of Antique Appraisers of America, Inc. She is an active member of The International Society of Appraisers.

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