I've lived in Arizona for 70 years (Tucson, Glendale, and Sedona). I love writing about Arizona history, antiques, books and travel.
How Frankoma Pottery Began
What is red, gold, green, white, blue, black, yellow, lavender, turquoise, and brown and can take thousands of shapes? Although the question sounds like a 4th-grade riddle, the answer is Frankoma pottery.
The concept began with John Frank, who had graduated from the Chicago Art Institute in 1927. He was then hired by the University of Oklahoma to establish the Ceramic Art Department.
Not long after his arrival in Oklahoma, he married Grace Lee, and together they began producing a line of fine art clay pottery and sculpture which would be affordable to most people. Grace Lee made the suggestion that because they were the only commercial pottery in Oklahoma, they should use their last name Frank and add the letters O, M, and an A for Oklahoma for the name Frankoma Potteries.
By 1938, the Franks had moved their young family to Sapulpa, Oklahoma, and they began building their pottery business, but after several months, the building and the master molds were destroyed by a fire. Although their loss was great, they built a new plant and began producing dinnerware which would become the backbone of their business.
The Franks' daughter, Donna, always credited her mother Grace for having the business sense to realize that open stock dinnerware would be an ongoing source of business rather than a one-time purchase. It helped that they placed a large billboard along Route 66, hoping to entice buyers to their Frankoma pottery and showroom. In 1942, Frankoma introduced the Wagon Wheel Line of dinnerware, and in 1947, introduced the Mayan-Aztec line of dinnerware.
Later, they introduced the Oklahoma Plainsman, Lazybones, and Westwind dinnerware patterns. John Frank's principle of having a one-firing process that kept production costs low. Of great importance to those who continue to use Frankoma dinnerware is the fact that the type of glazes used on Frankoma dinnerware continues to be free of any lead or metal poison.
Collecting Frankoma Pottery
While most people think of Frankoma pottery as being produced in the popular colors of Prairie Green and Desert Gold, Frankoma produced many items in Woodland Moss, Brown Satin, Peach Glow, Clay Blue, Red Bud, Sunflower Yellow, Robin Egg blue and other colors. In addition to their lines of dinnerware, Frankoma produced jewelry, plaques, wall pockets, vases, animals, souvenirs, and historical, political and religious commemoratives. An entire article could be devoted to collecting the adorable Frankoma Kids that were first issued in 1942.
Collectors prize Frankoma Christmas "cards," which are miniature, flat, ceramic pieces bearing a Christmas message and the year. The Franks began sending the Christmas "cards" in 1944 using miniature items from their current stock, but from 1953-1973 special Christmas card molds were developed to be sent to the Frank family members, friends and Frankoma dealers. Since the cards were never intended to be for sale, no records exist on how many Christmas cards were produced. The Christmas cards from the 1940s and 1950s are rare finds.
Dating Frankoma pieces is fairly simple. Look at the bottom of the piece. First, if the clay used appears to be a tan color, then it was created pre-1955 from Ada clay which was mined near the southern Oklahoma town of Ada. After 1955, most pieces were produced from the local Sapulpa red clay. It is also helpful that most Frankoma is clearly marked with the name Frankoma and/or has a number or logo on the bottom of the piece.
Keep in mind that most popular dinnerware pieces were reissued a number of times. A good source of information on Frankoma is the guidebook Collector's Guide to Frankoma Pottery by Gary Schaum or the guidebook, Frankoma and Other Oklahoma Potteries by Phyliss and Tom Bess. Donna Frank has written a wonderful book Clay in the Master's Hands which I recommend to those wanting to know more about John and Grace Frank and the history of their business. A strong sense of faith always guided their decisions.
Frankoma, like most vintage and antiques, has suffered a drop in values from the current economy; however, that said, many of their early pieces have increased in value.
John Frank died in 1973, but his generosity to his community, his faith and willingness to help those in need, and his pottery are a fine legacy. The Frank family sold the pottery in 1991, and several other companies have bought and then sold the plant. The Frank sisters, Donna and Joniece, have produced some special ceramics using their mother Grace's former studio. The ceramics that they have produced bear the marking FRANK X 2.
Questions & Answers
Question: I have 4 green and brown Plainsman bowls. I'm not really interested so much in the value, but I am curious as to what decade my pattern dates? Bottoms after marked 4xl
Answer: I'm not an expert on the Plainsman pattern but I believe that as a general rule, that in the early 1940s the light colored clay from Ada Oklahoma was used for dinner patterns, but after 1946 the red clay was being used. Try looking for the Frankoma Collectors Society on line and asking them if your mold mark can be traced to a particular year.
© 2011 mactavers
mactavers on August 26, 2020:
Sorry, I don't know. I have tons of their dinnerware and vases, but only a few of their political. Check the color of clay on the bottom of the piece. If it is light beige, it could be 1939, but if the clay is red then it is probably newer. Just a guess.
cateide on August 23, 2020:
I have the donkey (Democrat) political small planter similar to the Elephant planter shown above. Mine has the date shown but the glaze is think and I can't make out if it's 1939 or 1989? Do you have a clue?
Mactavers on January 25, 2020:
It sounds like you have a good start. I hope you are able to complete your set.
Natalie Gwen Maples on January 25, 2020:
Hi! I’m very interested in the Aztec sand white. If anyone sees some for a reasonable price. I’d appreciate the info. I have the butter dish and eight plates, also a saucer plus a very small serving dish. Thanks so much!!
Natalie Gwen Maples
Mactavers on April 28, 2019:
Sorry Amber, newer Frankoma can be found on sites like Ebay or at Replacements, but since I collect the old Frankoma, I can't tell you what the letters and numbers mean.
Amber Brown on April 28, 2019:
Searching for a newer collection. In 2007, I purchased a 4 piece dinner/salad set from a boutique, which closed weeks later. The code is CW303 and CW304. In the 94-95 catalog CW is for the colorworks collection. The dinner plate is a navy But the rim has a metallic copper glaze and the salad plate is solid copperpaint/glazed. Ive been searching for years...can u help?
mactavers (author) on February 25, 2015:
A local antique dealer? Ebay? Replacements Limited? Those sources are worth a try. I'd start with Ebay to at least get some general prices.
NannettC on February 24, 2015:
I have many many Frankoma Pottery Plainsman Gold pieces. I am interested in selling them all. Do you know who I could contact?
mactavers (author) on October 28, 2012:
Yes because it is older
shaydac on October 27, 2012:
I have a green and brown full-size Frankoma 94D wagon wheel pitcher made with Ada clay. Is it worth more than pitchers made with the red clay?
Mactavers on July 06, 2011:
No sorry I don't know of one, but you might want to check ceramics supply companies for what you are looking for.
Castlepaloma from Blue rocks Nova Scotia , Canada on July 06, 2011:
I am looking at starting up small clay high releif sculptures art display, not more then 12''x12'' works of art.
Do you know of a good value, low cost system to consider to kin clay in?