Rookwood pottery is, primarliy, hand decorated pottery, which was made at the Rookwood factory from 1880. It is highly collectible in America and can command large suns at auction.
Rookwood pottery was founded in Cincinnati in 1880 by Maria Longworth Nichols, who was very wealthy and had a keen interest in art pottery. A favourite among pottery collectors; Rookwood is so prized because of its quality.
Collectible Rookwood pottery was hand decorated by a select yet diverse group of artists. There were between 20 and 25 artists working for Rookwood at any given time. Among the most notable are Kataro Shirayamadani, Sara Sax, Albert Valentine, and Jens Jensen.
The Rookwood artists were highly creative and imaginative, altering the way in which art pottery was produced and designed. Kataro Shirayamadani covered entire pieces with elaborate decorations instead of only decorating the front of any given piece, as had previously been the norm, while Laura Fry created the atomizer, allowing artists to evenly apply glazes and use colour gradations. In the early 1900s, Rookwood began using matte finishes and vellum glaze, a translucent matte glaze.
Plainer, mass produces pieces were also manufactured during the Depression, though these are naturally not so sought after by Rookwood collectors. The company was heavily influenced by the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements, and its pieces are still considered very fine examples of pottery from these periods.
Rookwood was sold at the factory showroom and shop, as well as at jewellery and department stores across America.
Rookwood is known for its signature vases, however, it also produced tiles as well as smaller items such as figurines, paperweights and bookends.
Very early pieces say “Rookwood,” and later pieces (from the mid-1880s onwards) feature the Rookwood logo: a backwards R and P side-by-side.
Rookwood closed its factory in the 1960s, but the copyright has been continuously enforced.
Collector Riley Humler mused on the success of Rookwood: "Rookwood’s success came from a couple of things. They were very conscientious about always trying to continuously improve their product, quality was always on their mind. They wanted to be profitable, but they also wanted to do things the right way. They also had a constant supply of well trained artists working at Rookwood because of their proximity with the Cincinnati Art Museum and the training facilities at the museum’s art academy. Finally, they also had a general manager, William Watts Taylor, who was very, very sharp and interested in promoting the product internationally, and he did a great job of doing that."
Artist decorated Rookwood is fairly unique, although individual artists often reused favourite designs and motifs. These pieces are inherently more valuable than what were known as production pieces, which were simple, single colour forms that were made en mass and sold for more affordable pries.
On popular artists, collector Riley Humler stated: "Kataro Shirayamadani would be at the top of anybody’s list. He was a consummate craftsman who could do just about anything, and he did some amazing work. Albert Valentine, who ended up in California about 1907, was a great artist, particularly wonderful when it comes to flowers. Sara Sax, who worked at Rookwood for a long time, really didn’t come into her own until after World War I and started to produce some very beautiful modern things. Jens Jensen, a Scandinavian immigrant, did some fantastic Picasso-esque pieces in his lifetime. There are a number of very significant people who worked at Rookwood and produced a consistently good body of work."
It is thought that approximately 100,000 Rookwood pottery pieces remain intact today. Limited supply combined with increased demand has pushed the prices of these pieces up.
Rookwood pottery is, on the whole, very clearly marked. Pieces labelled "unmarked Rookwood" are probably not Rookwood.
Early Rookwood bears the mark "Rookwood". From the mid 1880s onwards, pieces were labelled with the Rookwood logo: a backward R and a P placed one next to the other. Variations of the logo along with the artist's name, initials or signature are also common Rookwood signifiers.
A dating system using shaped numbers, as well as indicators as to the glazes used were also marked onto many pieces. Rookwood employed a thorough system that remains fairly transparent.
Museums have always been interested in Rookwood because it was a first-class product, and there certainly were collections put together, some of which were dispersed. Now that Rookwood is very much back in the public eye, museums that have acquired pieces to augment their collections. The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a fabulous collection of Rookwood as does the Cincinnati Art Museum.
Interest in Rookwood is almost the sole preserve of the US.
There’s a lot of Rookwood that can be bought for under a thousand dollars. But if you’re going to buy in the 500-dollar range, buy good 500-dollar pieces, and if you’re going to buy in the 5,000-dollar range, buy good 5,000-dollar pieces. That’s where becoming an informed collector is important.
Rookwood was such a good product and such an expensive product to produce that there’s very little in the way of reproductions.
A rare and extremely important Black Iris glaze vase with electroplated metal mounts done by Kataro Shirayamadani in 1900, quite possibly for the Paris Exposition, sold for $305,000 at Humler & Nolan in June 2006.
Important Rookwood 18.75" Plaque by Artus Van Briggle, 1893, sold for $50,000 at Cowan's in June 2006.
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