American Art Pottery & 20th Century Design
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

 
QUESTION: I recently realized that I very much enjoy art pottery. How can I get started as a new collector?
Attend the pottery shows. Ask questions. Get permission to handle pieces, so that you can test their weight, examine their decorations up close, feel the different glaze textures. 

Read. Visit museums & working potters.

When you buy, buy what you like. 

It is usually a smarter plan to buy the single most expensive piece you can afford... and go home... instead of buying several less expensive items for the same overall cost.


 
QUESTION: What books do you consider essential to my personal library?

Your first "must-have" reference book should be Lehner's Encyclopedia of U.S. Marks on Pottery, Porcelain & Clay, published by Collector Books.

For a survey of the American potteries, the most highly recommended sources are, unfortunately, out of print... Kovels American Art Pottery, and Paul Evans' Art Pottery of the United States. You can sometimes find a used copy on the Internet. Another choice is Art Pottery of America, by Lucile Henzke, available from Schiffer Publishing.

Roseville is plentiful throughout the U.S. and has a major following among collectors. If you buy only one book on the company, you should own  Introducing Roseville Pottery. When you're ready to learn more, buy  Roseville in All Its Splendor (published by L-W Books) and Understanding Roseville Pottery.


 
QUESTION: Can I use the Internet instead of buying books?
No. Not if you want to learn about your subject in any detail. 

There are exceptional resources on the Internet! (For recommended sites, visit the Links page.) There are also some very unreliable Internet sites.

In addition, I have read dozens of inaccurate summaries of Roseville's history both in print and on the Internet--often based largely on speculation and hearsay.

Caution: Ebay auction listings can be accurate, or inaccurate--just like books can range in quality. Challenge authority!


 
 
QUESTION: If I order one of your books, when will it arrive?
Thanks for your support of my research! They're ready to ship on receipt of your check! 

About 50% of what I earn from the books comes from buying them wholesale and then selling autographed copies by mail or at antique shows. When you buy your copy anywhere else, I only earn royalties... about 25 cents to $1 per copy. 

My shipping/handling fee does not fully cover the cost of Media Mail and packaging. Media Mail is slower than First Class, but it keeps your costs down. NOTE: I usually sell the books for less than the cover price.


 
QUESTION: May I send you a JPEG of a piece of pottery? Maybe you can tell me who made it or how much it's worth (or both).
Sorry, but the answer to this question is "No."<>

I also teach full time and have a busy schedule--but no staff.

Sorry, but NO!


 
QUESTION: If a piece of pottery is not marked, how can its maker be identified?
Ahh, the national pottery lovers' sport. Sometimes it can't be done. But the probable makers can often be narrowed down to a small handful. (There is always the possibility that the maker was a company that has been forgotten!)

Some potteries marked over 90% of their output, including Fulper, Grueby, Newcomb College, Rookwood, Teco. Caution: Reproductions are usually marked too--with fake marks!

Clay color is a major clue. Most Zanesville (Ohio) firms used buff clay (although white was used with lustre glazes). Other companies using buff clay for some of their production include Camark, Rosemeade, Shearwater. 

White clay was the norm at Abingdon, AMACO, Ceramic Arts Studio, Cowan, Hampshire, Monmouth, Wheatley.

For molded shapes, you then identify the company that produced a mold of that identical shape and size.

Caution: No book is infallible. When doing research, weigh archival evidence more heavily than photographs of a personal collection.

Other clues include method of manufacture, quality of execution, surface decorations, glaze, etc.


 
QUESTION: Does a damaged piece of pottery still have any value?
Yes, but a damaged example never has as great a value as one in "mint" condition. (The term "mint"  means "factory new"--in the same condition as when sold by the maker.)

The value of a damaged item depends partly on the extent and location of the damage, and partly on the item's rarity, aesthetic or decorative appeal,  and current market demand. These variables make appraisal a challenging process.


 
QUESTION: Should I buy damaged pieces for my collection?
As mint examples of a rare shape become scarce, most collectors learn to be more tolerant of minor damage, such as small chips and losses, or a drill hole in the base (to allow a vase to be used as an electric lamp base). Hairlines are more bothersome.

Beginners should avoid buying damaged examples when they start their collection. After a year or two, they will know their collecting area well enough to reconsider that subject.


 
QUESTION: Should I have a damaged piece of pottery restored?
Experts differ on this score. Some believe that a pot should be left in its original condition as much as possible. Others prefer a "cosmetic" restoration for display purposes.

For posterity's sake, all restorations should be fully removable ("reversible"). The restorations most widely accepted (by museum curators) can be removed completely with acetone. These are usually made with the use of epoxy cement and acrylic paint. More aggressive measures are seldom necessary; some think them unethical.

© 2009 Mark Bassett
Updated 8/9/09