All About Pottery Markings

Why are pottery markings important? Throughout time, pottery artists have signed their work. For example, an exquisite ancient Greek vase called "Lekythos with Boar Hunt" was signed -Made by Xenophantos the Athenian' circa 380 B.C. Today, potters continue to mark their work. Obviously, they are important because markings tell us which line or who a piece of pottery is from. But markings can tell us much, much more.

If you turn over a piece of pottery, you will probably see a mark stamped, incised, painted or printed on the bottom. Some manufacturers use printed labels. You may also have a piece that was never marked or where the label has fallen off. An unmarked piece of pottery can be either good or bad. It is good if you recognize it and the piece has been under-priced. It is bad if you do not recognize the piece and have no idea of its value.

Manufacturers change their logos and marks over time. Some marks reflect changes in a company's name. Red Wing operated as Red Wing Stoneware Company, Red Wing Union Stoneware Company, and finally as Red Wing Potteries from 1878 to 1967 in Minnesota. It had more than 35 different marks, some of which documented the metamorphosis of the company. Other marks showcase a featured designer. For example, sculptor Carl Romenelli designed some figures and figurines for Metlox Potteries (1927-1989) in the early 1940's. You will find his signature impressed close to the bottom on some of his creations, as well as the usual Metlox stamp on the bottom of the piece. Sometimes a company simply marked the name of the pattern of dishware that they were making. Knowles, Taylor, Knowles (1854-1931) marked several of their lines without naming themselves as the manufacturer, including their "Montana," "Cornell" and "Maine" patterns. Decorators also left their marks on pieces at companies including Weller Pottery (1872-1948) and Brayton Laguna (1927 1968). In Brayton Laguna's case, sometimes the only identifying mark is that of the decorator.

What does all of this tell you? By learning the marks of your favorite pottery, you will be able to get a feel for the date of manufacture. You might also find a very valuable piece that someone has overlooked because the piece is only marked by the designer. Or, you may find yourself entranced by the way a single decorator works and only look for pieces on which he or she worked. Lastly, and very importantly, knowing marks can help prevent you from buying a fraudulent piece. Some manufacturers have made molds from existing pieces, then made new pottery and attempted to sell it as new or "reproductions." Knowing marks can help you from buying a fake.

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