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Article Archive >> Community

Ask About Antiques/Weller Pottery II - The Giant Matures

by Budd A. Moore, Ed.D.


As the Weller Pottery entered the 20th century, there seemed to be complete confidence that the company would flourish and continue to produce vast quantities of wares for the open market. Indeed, the lines that ushered in the new millennium for Weller displayed unmatched facility with the potter’s art.

Weller had two of his artists, Frank Ferrell and Levi Burgess, volunteer to “assist” Sicard with his work, but after hearing about Long’s experience, Sicard declined and insisted on working in a sealed room with only his French assistant Henri Gellie present. Ferrell and Burgess reportedly failed in a subsequent attempt to drill a hole in Sicard’s wall in order to spy on him.

Sicardo evidently remained difficult to make. Only about 30% of the fired pieces were marketable, and extensive handwork was required to finish them. Weller had to charge a premium price, and the ware sold slowly. Sicard returned to France in 1907, but unsold backlog Sicardo continued to appear for sale until 1917 at a discounted price.

Frederick Hurton Rhead was born in Great Britain, the son of a potting family. He came to America around 1902, where he worked with countryman Willian P. Jervis at the Avon Faience Company at Tiltonville, Ohio. There both men used the slip trail technique to create scenic vases, an advance from the stylized geometric decoration found on Weller Turada, an earlier slip trail line.

Rhead worked for Weller for only a short period (1903-1904) before becoming the art director at the Roseville Pottery in 1904, when he created the Della Robbia line. At Weller, he used tube lining to develop the Jap Birdimal and Weller Rhead Faience lines. Both lines reflected his work in England and with Jervis at Avon. Dickensware III, a Weller line that used embossing to simplify the decorator’s task and allow mass production has also been attributed to Rhead.

Rhead, who died in 1942 at age 61, was one of America’s most important art potters. He established or was employed by several potteries after leaving Weller. Although he is best known for his development of Fiesta dinnerware at Homer Laughlin, his real impact was through his creation of Della Robbia, Roseville’s greatest art pottery line, and his many articles and designs.

Rudolph Lorber, an Austrian native, joined Weller in 1905 after working as a modeler at the Vance Faience Company in Tiltonville, Ohio. He created many of Weller’s embossed lines until he retired in 1940. His importance to Weller cannot be overstated; his embossed lines and modeled figurines were usually beautifully executed and great sellers.

Around 1915, Lorber began to create a series of embossed naturalistic lines, which included Brighton, Muskota, Woodcraft, Forest, Baldin, Flemish, Glendale and others, ending with Coppertone in 1929. Lorber also developed Ivory (1910), Zona (1911), and the 1927 Art Deco lines Hobart and Lavonia. Lorber’s assistant and pupil, Zanesville native Dorothy England Laughead, developed the Silvertone and Chase lines in the late 1920s, and she and Lorber both worked on the Garden Animals, large figurals for outdoor use.

Most Zanesville firms discontinued their expensive hand-painted lines around WWI, but Weller modernized his ware and created Weller Hudson (1917), one of the firm’s greatest lines, and certainly one that is prized by today’s collectors. Hudson featured hand-painted florals on a shaded, matt background of blue and cream. Scenic and portrait vases were also occasionally done and other background colors used on related lines such as Hudson Perfecto and Rochelle. Most Hudson vases are artist signed, unlike the related but simpler Blue and Decorated and White and Decorated lines.

The Weller Pottery is noteworthy for continuing its production of hand-painted ware well beyond other Zanesville firms, but the Depression hurt the sale of art pottery in the USA, and Weller turned its talented decorators to simpler, more standardized designs to increase production. Bonito (1932) used many forms, but its hand-painted decoration tends to be similar from pot to pot. The 1934 hand-painted Art Deco lines Geode, Stellar, Cretone and Raceme used simple but striking decorations and are very popular today. These lines were the Weller Pottery’s last free-hand decorated ware.

Sam Weller died in 1925, but his company, buoyed by Hudson, the embossed ware, the figurals of Rudolph Lorber and Dorothy England Laughead, and by talented Zanesville artists including Mae and Sarah Timberlake, Hester Pillsbury, Claude Lefler, Sarah McLaughlin, Ruth Axline and others, flourished through the 1920s and 1930s. But the company could not adapt to changing times, and Sam Weller’s Pottery closed in 1948, some 75 years after his log cabin start at Fultenham. Thus ended one of the most extensive and prolific potteries ever and began the era of the Weller collector which continues today.

The ware produced by Weller has appreciated greatly over the years, especially those lines that required the touch of an artist. Even the molded production ware of the later period commands premium prices today, values far beyond what Sam Weller might have envisioned for his pottery when he first opened the doors of his plant in 1872.

Examples:
• Louwelsa Vase 11 3/4" (signed Smith) - $495
• Matte Green Arts & Crafts Vase
6 1/2" - $525
• Roma Vase 9" - $225
• Silvertone Vase 8" - $495
• Woodcraft Vase 10 3/4" - $345

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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