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Article Archive >> Community

Ask About Antiques/ Weller Pottery I - Early Beginnings Of A Giant

by Budd A. Moore, Ed.D.


This begins a two-part story of one of the most successful and prolific potteries in the United States, the Weller Pottery Company of Zanesville, Ohio, which, along with Roseville Pottery and Rookwood Pottery, made Ohio the center of some of the most beautiful art pottery pieces ever seen in this country and has given rise to a whole category of collectable art work today.

Samuel A. Weller was born in 1851, the seventh child of an Ohio farming family. He started a one-man pottery in a log cabin in Fultenham, Ohio in 1872, initially handling all aspects of production from digging and mixing the clay, throwing the pots, firing them, and transporting them to nearby Zanesville where he sold them. (See All About Weller, A History and Collector’s Guide to Weller Pottery, by Ann Gilbert McDonald, 1989.)

Weller’s early utilitarian ware included flower pots, crocks, cookware, and cuspidors. In 1888 he moved production from Fultenham to Zanesville, building his first factory there two years later. Weller began to make art pottery in 1895. By 1905, his plant employed over 500 people and shipped an astonishing three railroad cars of pottery per day! In 10 years, Weller had become the largest maker of art pottery in the world.

Weller’s initial success was due to his partnership with William Long, who had formed the Lonhuda Pottery with investors W.H.Hunter and Alfred Day in 1890. “Lonhuda” combines the first letters of the partners’ last names.

In 1892, Laura A. Fry, an important and innovative American potter who had pioneered the use of the atomizer at Rookwood, joined Lonhuda where she and Long developed Lonhuda Ware, a line featuring hand-decorated florals and portraits against a shaded brownish or greenish backgound. The ware was the first successful imitation of Rookwood’s pioneering Standard Ware.

Sam Weller noticed Lonhuda Ware at the 1893 Chicago Exposition, and acquired an interest in Long’s company. Long relocated to Weller’s plant, and began to produce Lonhuda Faience there in 1895. A year later, having learned the Lonhuda process, Weller reduced Long’s role, possibly forcing him out of the company. Weller renamed the ware Louwelsa after his newborn daughter Louise and himself. Louwelsa was Weller’s first art pottery line, and the foundation of his pottery empire. The mass production of Louwelsa in Zanesville established art pottery as an important commercial venture in the United States.

Weller introduced the Eocean line in 1898. It differed from Louwelsa by using shades of gray or cream as background for the decoration. Weller later simplified these two lines with his Floretta (1904) and Etna (1906) lines. Both of these used embossed florals in the mold, which removed the artistry from the decorator’s hand, and allowed less skilled decorators to produce many more pieces a day.

Charles B. Upjohn became Weller’s head designer in 1895. His greatest accomplishment at Weller was the magnificent Dickensware II line (1900), which used a technique called graffito (Italian for scratched). Upjohn drew paper templates based on illustrations from the novels of Charles Dickens. These were used to outline and color the scene on the unfired ware. The lines were then incised with a metal tool, leaving a relief effect on the finished piece.

After Upjohn’s departure in 1904, Karl Kappes added to the non-Dickens designs for Dickensware II including neo-classical dancers, Native Americans, golfers, monks, and others. The graffito technique was also used on simpler, yet elegant lines such as Etched Matt and Hunter (both ca. 1904-1905). However, even these simplified lines were expensive to produce, and Weller turned to embossed molded lines such as Burntwood (1908) and Roma (1912) that replicated the graffito-look at a lower cost. Developed by Rudolph Lorber, Burntwood, Claywood, and Roma and other variations must have been produced in huge quantities as evidenced by their ready availability, and the substantial mold wear of many examples. These lines were probably among the first mass produced American art pottery products imitated by the Japanese for export to the USA.

Clement Massier, a French maker of majolica ware, had developed Reflets Metalliques, an iridescent, metallic glaze by 1889. Vases were decorated with Art Nouveau motifs in iridescent shades of purple, silver, and green. Jacques Sicard, one of Massier’s decorators, was hired by Weller early in 1902 to reproduce the Reflets Metalliques process. It evidently was difficult for Sicard to recreate Massier’s work because the Zanesville version, which Weller called Sicardo or Sicard did not appear until the fall of 1903. As Weller entered upon the twentieth century, there seems to be little preventing this company from dominating the art pottery field far into the century.

Examples:
* Blue Drapery Wall Pocket - $225
* Coppertone Vase 14 1/2”,
green - $850
* Eocean Vase (signed Stemm) - $325
* Forest Hanging Basket - $275
* Hudson 8 1/2" Vase (Hunter) - $825
* Louwelsa Ewer (signed Hall)
6 1/2" - $275

Moore, Ed.D., is a specialist in the valuation of antique and collectable objects of the last 100 years. He is an educator, counselor, and avid antique enthusiast as well as a candidate member of the American Society of Appraisers. He has been a collector of antique American Art Pottery and has been a dealer for over 20 years. He is familiar with nearly all lines of American Art Pottery, twentieth century glassware, Art Deco, and Art Nouveau categories. If you have a question about antiques or collectibles, you can e-mail him at buddm4cnsl@comcast.net

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