Kovel's Antiques: Rookwood pottery has storied history

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rookwood Pottery was started by a group of women and grew into a large company that made art pottery as well as commercial products and architectural lines. It operated in Cincinnati from 1880 to 1967. The economic troubles of the 1930s led to changes at the pottery, and it discontinued artist-decorated pieces in 1937. Rookwood was sold in 1941. When production started again in 1943, the company's output included parts for water conduits to be used at U.S. Army camps. Near the end of World War II, the production of artist-decorated pottery resumed and continued until 1949. Years later, all of the company's old molds, formulas and trademarks were sold. Collectors today pay very high prices for the best of Rookwood's "artist" pieces. Most of these are marked with the name of the company and the initials or logo of the decorator. Jens Jensen (1898-1978) moved from Denmark to the United States in 1927. By the following year, he was a decorator at Rookwood Pottery. He worked there from 1928 to 1948 and later opened his own pottery. His work has become popular and expensive, perhaps because it is in a modernist style. He painted nudes, animals and flowers in a blurry, multicolored glaze. The style is not at all like other Rookwood pieces made in the 1930s.

Q: I bought four Windsor chairs at an antique sale 40 years ago. The label on the bottom of each chair says "Quaint Furniture of Character, Stickley Bros. Co., Grand Rapids." What can you tell me about the chairs?

A: Five Stickley brothers made furniture: Gustav, Albert, Charles, John George and Leopold. Gustav is the most famous, and his furniture brings the highest prices. Albert and John George established Stickley Brothers Co. in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1891. Its "Quaint" brand name was introduced in 1902. The company linked "Quaint" with various furniture lines, including "Quaint American," which dated from the 1920s and featured Windsor and ladder-back chairs like yours. Your chairs can be dated even more precisely because Stickley Brothers used the phrase "Furniture of Character" on its labels for only a few years, from about 1926 to 1928. The value of your set depends on the condition of the chairs, but a set of four in excellent shape could bring $500-$700.

Q: I own a doll that looks a lot like Barbie. My mother gave her to me in the 1960s. The doll is marked "Mitzi, Ideal Toy Corp., MCMLX." I wouldn't sell her, but I would like to know more.

A: Your doll was Ideal's substitute for Mattel's Barbie doll. The Christmas toy to get in 1960 was the Barbie doll, introduced by Mattel in 1959. Stores could not order enough stock to fill orders. So Montgomery Ward asked Ideal Toy Co. to make a substitute that resembled Barbie. The dolls were sold in December 1960 and marked with the maker's name and the Roman numerals for the year. The box that held the doll had a sticker that explained that the doll was similar to Barbie. It sold for $1.27. Mitzi was sold again in 1961, then was discontinued. A Canadian company, Reliable Toy Co., made a slightly different version of Mitzi and used a different mark. Many dresses and outfits were available that fit Mitzi. Unfortunately, those who received Mitzi instead of Barbie now own a doll that does not sell for as much money as the original Barbie. A well-illustrated book about Mitzi is currently in print and gives more history.

Q: What is "freehand" glass? I have a vase made by Imperial that a friend said is in the freehand line.

A: "Freehand" or "off-hand" glass was made by glass artists without the use of a mold. That means pieces may be similar, but no two are exactly alike. Imperial Glass Co. of Bellaire, Ohio, began making this type of glass in 1923. The company president had encouraged some glass artists to move to Ohio and make the glass. They designed and made vases, candlesticks and more. Some had contrasting glass strands on the outside of the piece. Some were hand cut after being formed. Most were made in particular patterns that featured dragged loops, spider webs or leaves and vines. The glassware was expensive because of the handwork, so Imperial created a less-expensive line made by blowing glass into a mold. It was called Lead Lustre. Even the Lead Lustre line was discontinued in 1929.

Q: We own an old meat saw designed to be used in a butcher shop. A stamped mark on the frame says, "Empire Saw Co., Albany, N.Y." There's also a patent date, May 28, 1901, and a serial number, 6892. The saw's handle is wood and the frame steel. Can you give me any information?

A: Empire Saw Co. was in business in Albany during at least the first decade of the 20th century. The patent noted in the saw's mark is No. 675333. It was granted to Arthur L. Joslyn of Albany for his invention of a method of easily replacing worn blades in a butcher's saw. He must have at some time signed an agreement with Empire Saw Co. to manufacture his saw. Butcher's saws the age of yours usually sell for $25 to $50.