Collector's Corner: California Pottery
By Michele Alice
Though not as famous as their eastern cousins (McCoy, Roseville, Weller, etc.) from the Ohio region, California potteries have developed a steadily growing coterie of enthusiasts.
Credited with merging Mexican, Spanish/Moorish, Asian, and Modernist designs and with introducing solid, color-saturated palettes to the rest of the United States, California potteries are now being awarded the recognition they deserve.
The early 20th Century is regarded as the golden age of California potteries. Between 1900 and 1950, the state was home to over 600 commercial potteries alone. And though they produced practical and decorative items for mass market, many were distinguished by aesthetic standards usually associated with studio pottery. Vernon Kilns, Metlox, Catalina, Bauer, and Pacific Pottery are but a few of the enterprises that employed such noted designers as Esta James, Beatrice Wood, and Rockwell Kent. They produced pieces that are today considered worthy of being included in public and private collections.
Barbara Willis was another designer especially noted for her innovative work. In 1943 she founded her own enterprise, the Barbara Willis Pottery, and began mass marketing studio-quality pieces. Today, collectors willingly pay $100+ for Willis designs that originally retailed for as little as $5.
Luckily for collectors, many fine examples of California pottery can still be found for very little at yard, rummage, and estate sales. Many people are either unaware of the growing demand for the pieces they are selling or just don't know what it is they have. Many items were either never signed or properly marked, and in such cases, identification can depend upon familiarity with a designer's style or with a company's various lines.
California pottery did not end with the mid-century. Many companies are still in production, and a number of individual potters, like Howard Pierce, either worked until relatively recently or are still working.
One caveat: you will see many items for sale online mistakenly identified as having been made by "California Pottery". As far as has been determined, no such company existed. The words "California" and "Pottery" were often used as parts of companies' full names, and therein may lie the reason for the confusion. (Potteries of California, in the Resources section below, has a discussion of this on their FAQs page.) "California Pottery" is a descriptive term, not a name.
Would you like to learn more about California pottery? Check out the resources listed below, and
California Pottery: From Missions to Modernism - Link - Exhibition of ceramic pieces made during the first half of the 20th century.
Franciscan Newsletter and Collectors Web Site - Link - Dedicated to the preservation of the history of Franciscan Ceramics.
Howard Pierce Ceramics - Link - Official site has articles, slide shows, more. Check out the "Price Lists from the past."
Metlox - Link - Picture gallery of "pre-war Prouty-era Metlox potteries."
Potteries of California - Link - One of the best sites on the subject. Hosts extensive gallery and identifying marks pages and more.
Vernonware - Link - Check out the "Pattern ID Gallery" and the "Q&A" page.
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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