Yet another book on American Art Pottery? Give me a break!
And that’s exactly what the authors here have done. They’ve given us a break. Given us entree to insights and opinions formed from their handling and viewing more than 100,000 pots and tiles over some 30 years. And they’ve done it in a refreshingly readable, yet authoritative style.
This work is aimed at the less experienced collector as well as those of us who will admit to still having a few things to learn. Whether new to the game or an old hand, if you love pottery, but your experience doesn’t quite stack up to that of the authors, we think you’ll find this a helpful -- and very enjoyable -- addition to your antiques library.
Longtime art pottery aficionados, dealers, auctioneers and, for the past five years, appraisers for the "Antiques Road Show," authors David Rago and Suzanne Perrault have taken a leaf from Albert Sack’s popular "Fine Points of American Furniture" to give us a look at "Good" and "Better" pieces from 43 American art potteries, from the popular and ubiquitous – like Roseville -- to the relatively obscure – like Walley.
Using a reader-friendly format, they present, for each pottery, a Good and Better example on facing pages, together with a value range for each -- 60 such combinations in all. Then, for each piece, they highlight and analyze the key features that distinguish it from its neighbor and tell us why they value one more highly than the other.
You may argue with some of the cited prices– which they readily admit reflect their own biases, to wit, "I like Grueby more than WheatleyÉand I like Weller less than Roseville" – but you’ll find the careful and thoughtful analyses nonetheless interesting and helpful. The prevailing biases of other collectors as regards their attitudes toward the effect on value of damage, one pottery vs. another, are but one example.
Encompassing 124 pages, this comparison section alone is more than well worth the price of admission. But the sections on Understanding the Market and An American Art Potteries Primer are equally helpful, as a learning experience for newer collectors, and a thoughtful refresher for those who’ve been to Zanesville more times than they care to tell.
Few antiques authors manage the authoritative and colloquial with such ease and aplomb, and to such enjoyable effect. It is in these sections where that effect is most evident.
Here we’re helped to understand and make sense of a market where, from 1975 to 2000, an 8" Rookwood Standard glaze, floral decorated vase increased in value by 450%, while a similarly sized and decorated Iris glaze vase soared by more than 1600%. And here we’re provided a thoughtful analysis (though not without bias) of the essential elements which serve to distinguish the producers and the products of the Ohio Valley, New England, the South and California.
The one fault we found is in the brief section on How to Clean a Pot. Recommended is soaking "for at least 24 hours in a bucket of very hot tap water to which is added a cup of sudsing ammonia and at least a half a cup of Spic and Span. After the soak, remove the pot and soak for at least another 24 hours in clean hot tap water." Perhaps inadvertently deleted in editing is any caveat restricting this approach, at best, to non-porous pots. DO NOT try this on porous pots – like Peters & Reed Moss Aztec -- or cracked or crazed pots.
With only slight and otherwise forgivable puffery, the book jacket heralds this as "a master class in appraising art pottery." And a "master class" it may be. But as anyone who’s earned and gone forward with a "master’s" will attest, you have to get your hands dirty before it pays off. "The best you can do," say the authors, "is to learn enough about pottery to form your own biasesÉ learn to appreciate the beauty of the objects, and integrate the history that fueled the kilnsÉ(and) Allow the works of these great potteries to enter your life and delight your soulÉ" as they have quite obviously done for the authors.
And take this book along.