ATTENTION TO DETAIL MAKES ROOKWOOD A CUT ABOVE
Vase; vellum glaze; tapered form; winter landscape with buildings and moon in background; executed by Ed Diers; 1910; $10,575. Photo courtesy of Treadway Gallery
Odd as it sounds, china painting was one of the few respectable hobbies for ladies in the 19th century.
Maria Longworth Nichols didn’t plan on becoming one of America’s first female entrepreneurs because of china painting. She didn’t see herself someday managing a large manufacturing operation in Cincinnati either.
It started for Nichols in 1873 when a neighborhood kid opened up a package containing a set of china painting colors he got from an uncle in Germany. Nichols, fascinated by the hobby, used his paints until she could find some of her own.
In 1880, the amateur pottery club she formed turned into a successful ceramics company.
Nichols began by experimenting with glazes. Unhappy with the temperatures of the local kiln, she built her own. With her father’s help an old schoolhouse became a shop. Rookwood would be the new company’s name, after the family estate. The kiln was drawn on Thanksgiving Day.
Almost immediately Rookwood turned into a sanctuary for artistic women who loved decorating pottery. Wealth and leisure proved to be a recipe for success.
In the early stages Rookwood Pottery and later Rookwood Pottery Company attracted attention for a couple of reasons. The leader and most of its workers were women and their goal was to make and market art pottery. Money wasn’t the priority.
The Ohio clay was also perfect for turning out the distinctive green and gold of the early Rookwood glazes. Within a year, several thousand pieces dominated the pottery market.
At the World’s Fair in Paris in 1889, Rookwood received a gold medal.
By the early-1900s, Rookwood featured arts and crafts and art nouveau styles. With distinct glazes like Iris, Vellum, Sea Green, and Ariel Blue, Rookwood surpassed almost every other pottery company.
It was also one of the few potteries to mark items as seconds for even tiny factory irregularities. An incised “X” was used to mark them.
Nowadays Rookwood’s high quality speaks for itself. No two pieces are exactly alike and the earliest ones are some of the most desirable. They’re often decorated in relief on natural-colored clays like sage-green and pink
Rookwood is also well-marked, something collectors appreciate. On the base, factory marks including a symbol for, or the name Rookwood, plus a dating system are used. The R-P monogram is the most well-known.
The company employed over 120 artists and decorators during the years of operation. Once the Depression hit, luxury items like Rookwood failed.
People couldn’t afford them. After the Depression, cheaper look-alikes appeared and in 1941, the company filed for bankruptcy.
Nowadays, Rookwood’s high quality speaks for itself and prices for signed, hand-decorated Rookwood continue to climb. There’s attention to detail here that’s hard to match.
On June 5 and 6, Treadway Gallery in Cincinnati, Ohio, featured a selection of Rookwood in its Decorative Arts and American Art Pottery auction. Here are some current values.
Sign; cerulean blue mat finish; “Rookwood Cincinnati”; 1924’; 13 inches long; $2,938.
Vase; double vellum glaze; waisted shape; floral design; executed by L.N. Lincoln; 1922; 13 inches high; $3,525.
Vase; vellum glaze; scene of forest in winter; executed by Sallie Coyne; 1923; 8 1/2 inches high; $5,581.
Plaque; vellum glaze; scene of creek surrounded by snow covered trees; painted by Fred Rothenbusch; 1916; 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches; $9,988.
Vase; vellum glaze; tapered form; winter landscape with buildings and moon in background; executed by Ed Diers; 1910; 16 inches high; $10,575.
Vase; black opal glaze; swollen form; carved and painted design of three fish; executed by Kataro Shirayamadani; 1925; 11 1/2 inches high; $10,575.
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