By Cheryl Hackett
The formula for melding earth, water, and fire to make pottery has remained steadfast for thousands of years. When you rub your thumb across a glazed ware you can almost picture a craftsman seated beside a kiln deftly shaping the clay with sea sponges, wooden tools, and fingertips, employing a time honored technique. Perhaps what makes pottery so appealing is that the human touch distinguishes each piece, and in some cases elevates the clay to an art form.
I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that the sight of a vintage matt blue vase or jade green bowl makes me go a little weak in the knees. A few summers ago while wandering through an antiques center in the New Hampshire Lakes Region I happened upon an old green vase embossed with flowers that sported a $20 price tag. I lifted the vase, peeked at the bottom and discovered a double A, Van Briggle hallmark. After purchasing the treasure, some quick iPhone research revealed that the pottery was worth between $1,500 and $2,000. Bitten by the collecting bug, I started combing antique venues from Rhode Island to New Hampshire searching for another piece fashioned by legendary artists Artus Van Briggle and his wife Anne Van Briggle in Colorado Springs, Colorado during the early 20th century.
While pursuing the elusive Van Briggle, I kept finding Hampshire Pottery among the glass cases in many antique malls. Hampshire Pottery’s forms and matt blue and green glazes are not as sophisticated as Van Briggle, but the hues are lovely and the price points are perfect for entry level collectors. Needless to say, my growing collection consists of both Van Briggle and Hampshire Pottery.
Hampshire Pottery History
James Scollay Taft established the Hampshire Pottery Company in a former clothespin factory in Keene, New Hampshire in 1871. Keene was ideally suited for pottery manufacturing because the soil yielded rich blue clay deposits and white silica. For 52 years the company produced a variety of wares including flower pots, vases, pitchers, fruit bowls and souvenirs. 1904 marked a pivotal year in the company’s history. Cadmon Robertson, Taft’s brother-in-law, joined the business and developed new patterns and introduced blue, green, red and brown matt glazes. Most of the pieces designed by Robertson are marked on the bottom with the letter M enclosed in a circle. This mark was a tribute to his wife Emoretta, who worked in the factory’s showroom. Other Hampshire Pottery pieces are marked with James S. Taft & Co., Keene, NH or Hampshire Pottery, Keene, NH. As a hopeless romantic, I always look for pieces bearing the encircled M.
Only one book has been published about Hampshire Pottery. If you are lucky, you can find the 1971 soft cover, spiral bound volume, Hampshire Pottery Manufactured by J.S. Taft & Company Keene, New Hampshire, by Joan Pappas and A. Harold Kendall in the secondary book market.
To learn more about the current values of Hampshire Pottery I reached out David Rago, a leading expert on art Pottery. David began dealing in American decorative ceramics at the age of sixteen, at a flea market in his home state of New Jersey. Today, with partners Suzanne Perrault and Miriam Tucker, he oversees the auction house that bears his name, sells privately in the field of 20th and 21st century design, lectures nationally and appears as an expert appraiser for the PBS series, Antiques Roadshow, where he specializes in decorative ceramics and porcelain. David is also the author of several books on the subject, including my favorite pottery resource, American Art Pottery (Knickerbocker Press, NY, NY, 1997).
David shared images of Hampshire Pottery he has sold over the years and their values. Regarding Hampshire Pottery’s current popularity among collectors, David explains, “Hampshire Pottery collecting reached something of a zenith in the late 1990s to early 2000s when California buyers were looking for something that approximated the appearance of higher end ware like Grueby but without the scary price tags (particularly for people living above active fault lines). Prices have since settled.”
David adds, “Hampshire Pottery is for entry level collectors, with most pieces selling for $500 or less. It is always better to stick with pieces with embossed decoration rather than flat, unadorned surfaces. They employed a range of glaze textures and colors, and again, the more complicated the better. Rich, flowing flambe glazes are always preferred to flat, thin, static finishes. Also, unless the green matte used is rich and thick, better to go with a blue or a brown, if you can find one.”
When asked what aspects of Hampshire Pottery he finds most appealing, David says, “I’m something of a purist so, if I was to turn to Hampshire Pottery, I’d want something magical. Embossed decoration like raised leaves, something of size, like 10 inches tall or more, and a dynamic glaze rather than a flat green.”
Be sure to check out Rago Arts for Hampshire Pottery slated to be auctioned in April.
Just Art Pottery
Just Art Pottery is another great resource for Hampshire Pottery. The on-line art pottery retail site was started by Greg Myroth and Lana Myroth in 1997. They have sold over 6,000 examples of quality American art pottery through their retail site and live, on-line auctions. Greg and Lana also publish an electronic newsletter and blog about art pottery.
When asked to share tips for collectors, Greg says, “Hampshire Pottery started as one of many imitators of Grueby pottery. However, Hampshire Pottery was of sufficient quality to gather its own following. Hampshire Pottery was always molded and while it lacked the hand-craftsmanship of Grueby, its glazes were typically high quality and often seen in a collectible medium matte green that appealed to arts and craft collectors. Hampshire Pottery also produced popular matte blue and ochres glazes.”
Greg adds, “Like many antiques and collectibles the values of Hampshire Pottery and other arts and crafts pottery has fallen in many segments of the market over the last few years. Prices seem to have stabilized and given the limited quantity and relatively high quality of Hampshire Pottery it is likely that when the overall art pottery market begins to appreciate again that Hampshire Pottery will fully participate in that appreciation. Entry level collectors should always buy from a trusted dealer who offers a complete money back guarantee on all sales and is well versed identifying restorations and damage to pottery. Even minor damage and or restoration can decrease the value of a pot by 50%.”
A Remedy for Winter Doldrums
The winter months are a perfect time to visit antique centers. Why not take a break from the ski slopes in New Hampshire? The Antiques at Colony Mill in Keene, New Hampshire always has many examples of Hampshire Pottery for sale…..it’s a matter of local pride. The staff is very friendly and very knowledgeable about Hampshire Pottery. They are located at 222 W St 3 in Keene, NH. Call (603) 358-6343 for more information or follow them on Facebook.
Maybe 2015 will mark the year that you start collecting pottery. Remember the motto that the happiest collectors I know share: Collect what you love!
To see how I will incorporate my art pottery collection into an 1811 Federal Home in Newport, Rhode Island visit www.homesofthebrave.wordpress.com