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Modest Treasures: Five Midcentury American Pottery Companies

Updated on July 6, 2017

If you are a midcentury decorating enthusiast, your decor will not be complete without a few examples of American art pottery, which may include figurines, vases or planters, lamps, and decorative kitchenware.

Below I have highlighted some simple examples from five different makers. Similar relatively inexpensive ceramic pieces can be found in antique malls and shops, as well as many online venues such as eBay and Etsy. Often these are in remarkably good condition, despite the fact that many are nearing 70 years of age.

Awareness of the history of American art pottery makes the treasure hunt more exciting and productive. You may find the name of the company stamped on the bottom of a vase, for example, but often the only marking will be something like “USA,” “Made in USA,” or nothing at all. Some were originally marked with paper or foil stickers which may have been removed over time. Online research can help a great deal with identification, even by typing a description of the piece into the browser.

Midcentury ceramic items are comforting and familiar to me, as well as complementary to my midcentury home. These are the types of things I grew up with in the 1950s and 1960s, and they bring back warm memories. I have become an "accidental collector," gathering a few appealing pieces over the years, little reminders of a long-ago time. Some of these belonged to my mother, and some were purchased at antique malls or garage sales.

Noticing that many of the pieces were marked USA, I wanted to learn a little more about the pottery factories where they were made, so I did a little background research on ceramic ware production in the United States.

Ohio and Illinois Potteries

Eastern Ohio was home to many pottery factories over the years, and
East Liverpool, Ohio, eventually became known as the pottery capital of the USA. With abundant clay soils in the area along the Ohio River, many potteries have flourished there from roughly the mid-1800s up to the present day.

A ceramics museum was opened in 1976. The museum’s website lists a large number of companies which were established in East Liverpool throughout the years.
http://www.themuseumofceramics.org/

Most of the pieces shown below were produced by companies in Ohio, including Spaulding, McCoy, Hall, and Shawnee. However, I also include a couple of examples by Haeger, a company which was located in northern Illinois.

Awareness of the history of American art pottery makes the treasure hunt more exciting and productive. You may find the name of the company stamped on the bottom of a vase, for example, but often the only marking will be something like “USA,” “Made in USA,” or nothing at all. Some were originally marked with paper or foil stickers which may have been removed over time. Online research can help a great deal with identification, even by typing a description of the piece into the browser.

Examples of pottery marks
Examples of pottery marks

Company Profiles

Spaulding China Company

This company operated in Sebring, Ohio, from 1942 to 1957.
Royal Copley was the most popular line of Spaulding China, and represented a large part of the company’s output from 1948 to 1957. Many of the figurines and planters depicted animals, particularly birds and dogs, and were sold through dime stores and department stores. Numerous examples can be still be found at antique shops and online venues.

More information about collecting Royal Copley is available at the following website:

One of my earliest memories is of this Royal Copley puppy/mailbox planter.  It sat on my mother's dresser, and now it resides on mine.
One of my earliest memories is of this Royal Copley puppy/mailbox planter. It sat on my mother's dresser, and now it resides on mine.
Royal Copley Mallard Duck Planter
Royal Copley Mallard Duck Planter

McCoy Pottery

Founded 1910 in Roseville, Ohio, McCoy Pottery later moved to Zanesville, Ohio, as part of a merger with other pottery companies. McCoy is one of the most recognizable American pottery brands sought by collectors, and styles evolved greatly over the years. The company was sold to Designer Accents in 1985, and closed in 1990. Collectors’ forums and indexes are compiled at:

McCoy Brown Drip Glaze Cookie Jar from the 1970s
McCoy Brown Drip Glaze Cookie Jar from the 1970s

Hall China Company

Hall China was established in 1903 in East Liverpool, Ohio.
An affiliation with the Jewel Tea Company began in the 1930s, and Hall China produced the Autumn Leaf line for them. With the end of World War II, Hall refrigerator ware was produced for appliance companies such as Hot Point, Westinghouse, and Whirlpool.
The company was purchased in 2010 by Homer Laughlin China (HLC), notable for its iconic Fiestaware line. HLC continues in operation today, with the following website:

Hall China collectors’ group on Facebook:

Hall Candy Dish
Hall Candy Dish
Early examples of the Autumn Leaf line for Jewel Tea by Hall China
Early examples of the Autumn Leaf line for Jewel Tea by Hall China

Shawnee Pottery

Shawnee operated in Zanesville, Ohio from 1937 to 1961, producing figurines, cookie jars, lamps, and dinnerware. Some of the most collectible Shawnee pieces include its cookie jars and the Corn King dinnerware line.

Some Shawnee examples from my own collection are pictured below.

Shawnee Salt and Pepper Shakers
Shawnee Salt and Pepper Shakers
Shawnee Small Planter
Shawnee Small Planter

The Haeger Potteries

Founded in 1871 in East Dundee, Illinois, on the Fox River not far from Chicago, the company evolved from a brickyard. Haeger Potteries finally closed in 2016.

The Royal Haeger ceramic line was introduced in the 1930s by designer Royal Hickman, famous for his very popular black panther statuette design, later copied by other companies, and also used as a base for planters and “TV lamps” in the 1950s.

Over the course of its long history, Haeger produced many styles of lamps, vases, and figurines, some of which have become quite collectible.

Facebook pages:

History page:

Haeger Floral Planter and Royal Haeger Small Vase
Haeger Floral Planter and Royal Haeger Small Vase

In Conclusion

Serious collectors of midcentury pottery can find some magnificent pieces out there, and the amount of investment can vary considerably. However, for a beginning collector and/or a shoestring budget, modest treasures for your home are still readily available.

Collectors' Poll

What types of midcentury American pottery do you collect?

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    • KT Dunn profile image
      Author

      KT Dunn 5 weeks ago from United States

      I'm very glad to hear that. Thanks for your comments!

    • susieq52 profile image

      Susan Sullenberger 5 weeks ago from Lakeland

      We sold some McCoy vases to an antique store once. I like to look at yard sales for antique vases, etc. but I'm not very knowledgeable about pottery companies. You have been a great help to me. Thanks!

    • KT Dunn profile image
      Author

      KT Dunn 6 weeks ago from United States

      I will check that out. Thanks for your comment!

    • mactavers profile image

      mactavers 6 weeks ago

      I know that there were too many pottery companies to list, but my favorite is Frankoma, located on Route 66 in Oklahoma. Check out my Hub on Collecting Frankoma to see all the mid-century shapes. Thank you for this great Hub.