Modest Treasures: Five Mid-Century American Pottery Companies
If you are a mid-century 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, secondhand shops, or online venues such as eBay and Etsy. Oftentimes, these pieces 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. Start by typing a description of the piece into your preferred search engine.
Mid-century ceramic items are comforting and familiar to me, and they complement my mid-century home's style and decor. 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 that serve as little reminders of a long-ago time. Some of these belonged to my mother, and others 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 areas along the Ohio River, many potteries have flourished there from roughly the mid-1800s up to the present day.
A ceramics museum now occupies the former Post Office building located in East Liverpool. Exhibits in the Museum of Ceramics illustrate the history of the pottery industry in general and provide a showcase for notable examples produced locally and elsewhere.
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.
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.
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.
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. There is currently Hall China collectors’ group on Facebook.
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 above.
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. There is currently a Haeger collectors' group on Facebook.
Serious collectors of mid-century 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.
What types of midcentury American pottery do you collect?
Questions & Answers
Have you, the writer of this article, heard of VB Athena California, and can you please point me in the direction of any history about this company? One reference said it was active in the 1960s, but I’d like to know more if possible.
No, I'm sorry, but I'm not familiar with that company and don't have any additional information. Googling brings up various examples of it for sale on eBay and elsewhere, but that's really all I can find. You've inspired me to do more research into California pottery, though!
I have a small green bowl, possibly in the shape of a cabbage. It is green in color, with a lily, frog, and tulip sculpted on the side of the bowl. It has no markings from what I can tell. Any ideas?
I'm afraid I don't have any information, but it may be useful to post a photo on one of the pottery collector websites or Facebook pages.
I have a ceramic girl holding a basket of eggs with a paper label but I cannot read it. Any ideas on how I can find out who made it?
You may be able to learn more about the origin of the piece by posting a picture of it on one of the pottery collector Facebook groups. Several of them specialize in pottery identification.Helpful 3
Have you heard of Cameron Clay Products of Cameron, WV?
I had not heard of them before, but an online search tells me the company existed from 1936 to 1964. I have never seen any of the pieces that I am aware of.Helpful 2
Have you heard of Burley & Company? Where can I find the marks they used?
I don't know of a comprehensive list, but some of the marks can be found through a Google "images" search for Burley & Company Chicago. I found a few on steinmarks.co.uk, as an example.Helpful 1