Antique pottery can add a beautiful touch to your home furnishings, and it also imparts an elegant touch to your antique collection. In addition to its visual appeal, antique pottery is highly collectible, and some pieces are quite valuable. While an expert assessment is always a smart idea, there are details you can look for on your own to identify a quality piece to add to your collection. This knowledge can assist you when you’re shopping for antique pottery online and bidding on EBTH’s extensive listings of these collectible items.
Researchers believe the earliest pottery vessels were crafted around 9,000–10,000 B.C. Advances in the firing process over time changed the appearance and durability of the finished pieces. For example, adding a glass-like finish to pottery became possible around 8,000 B.C. due to hotter kiln temperatures.
The color of antique pottery comes from the mineral content of the clay used to create it. Redware, yellow ware, and stoneware are primary examples. Redware is crafted from clay rich with iron and turns a deep reddish-brown when fired. More modern yellow ware is crafted from light clay used primarily by pottery companies in Ohio, such as Roseville, Rookwood, and Watt. Many types of antique pottery were also decorated with glazes and paints to create bold, vibrant colors and images. Pottery produced before the 19th century typically features lead glaze, which you can identify by its opaque white finish, or tin glaze, which is clear, brittle, and prone to fracturing.
You can use and display collectible antique pottery bowls, and they come in sizes and colors that fit in with many décor styles. Some examples of common forms you’ll find are mixing bowls, serving bowls, and crocks originally used to ferment and store food. Utilitarian forms often have little to no embellishment, while more decorative works have added details like scrollwork and decorative finials.
Like bowls, antique pottery vases come in a variety of styles and sizes and are highly collectible. Wide-topped urns, pitchers, and wall-mounted sconce vases hold top-heavy bouquets and create bold centerpieces even without flowers. Or, you can stick a single flower or branch in an Art Deco bud vase to create a simple, elegant display on a counter, table, or bookcase.
Antique pottery marks are identifiers that artisans and craft pottery companies use to claim their work and are helpful in determining the value of a piece. To find these identifying marks, look at the bottom of the bowl or vase. EBTH includes photographs of a piece’s identifying marks to assist you. In some cases the mark will be easy to see and read. Other times, determining the identity of the maker takes a bit of detective work.
Marks on pottery come in three varieties:
1. Spelled out: These are the easiest to identify because the maker’s name is present in its entirety. This eliminates the guesswork of identifying who made the piece.Sometimes these marks include a date indicating when the piece was created.
2. Initials: If you’re willing to do a bit of research, finding initials on the bottom of the piece you’re looking at buying is almost as good as having the full name inscribed there.
3. Symbols: Some companies and artisans replaced names and initials with representative symbols. Written guides are available to help you identify the maker. With practice, it gets easier to pick out each symbol when you see it again.
Unmarked pottery is the hardest to identify, but this doesn’t make artist identification impossible. Aspects like the clay or glaze used and unique scrollwork or finials can point you to a specific maker. For example, Roseville vases are known for the trademark shape of their handles and floral designs, making it possible to identify one without a mark.
In addition to marks and clay, you can glean some information about the pottery by looking at the glaze. Some companies used standard glaze, which comes out shiny and brown after being fired. Many companies added vibrant colors and bold designs to their glazes in a mix of glossy and matte finishes. You can combine what you observe about a piece’s glaze, finish, featured artwork, and materials used to identify the maker without a maker’s mark.
Details like the size, quality, period of production, maker, and rarity all affect the value of these fragile antiques. In addition to knowing the piece’s value, you’ll want to be sure it’s real before investing in it. Beware of fakes! Because of the popularity and high selling prices of these popular vintage items, there are faux pieces in online marketplaces, and some of them are hard to spot. When in doubt, stick to known, reliable sources. Fortunately, trustworthy sellers like EBTH will have already identified which pieces are genuine works before listing them online.
You can also look for some identifying characteristics that are typically present on antique pottery. Although EBTH verifies authenticity before listing antique pottery pieces for sale, there are other indications you can use to judge a piece’s age—after all, that’s part of what makes it antique.
• Rust Spots: After time, pottery may slowly start to rust as the iron in the clay is drawn to the surface. Tiny reddish-orange speckles typically indicate the presence of rust.
• Beige Interior: Pieces of pottery or stoneware that started out relatively light in color may still appear that way. However, if they have visible chips where glaze has been removed, the unglazed area will turn a darker beige color over time.
• Cracks: Antique pottery often has hairline cracks in the clay itself or areas of crazing, which is an area of tiny, chip-like cracks in its glaze. These are due to typical wear and tear and can often indicate a piece’s age. If there’s extensive fracturing that looks symmetrical or intentional, however, this may be a sign that the pottery is a modern reproduction.
As you’re shopping for antique pottery online, take the time to closely inspect the listing’s images, looking for maker’s marks and checking the designs carefully. Anytime you’re buying antiques online, be sure you know the site’s reputation and policies. Buy from a trusted site that evaluates antiques before listing them, like Everything But The House, to ensure you’re getting what you pay for when you invest in antique pottery bowls or vases.