Monday, May 9, 2016

Lalique and Sabino Crystal, and Black Light Examination

It seems that every week or so we get questions about using black lights to authenticate vintage crystal, especially Lalique and Sabino. While there is some information out there, it appears that much of it is conflicting. The first thing that needs to be addressed is how black lights work.

Black lights are more formally called ultraviolet lights, or UV for short. Anything from 10nm to 380nm is considered to in the ultraviolet range. Shorter wavelengths are visible light, and longer ones are X-rays. Bees and many other insects can actually see ultraviolet light, but we can't. You may think you have seen some, but that is not strictly true. Ultraviolet light is very energetic, and when it strikes different materials it can cause them to fluoresce. What you see is visible light being generated by the material, not the ultraviolet light that triggers it. Some elements will fluoresce strongly in ultraviolet light, some a little, and some not at all. To make it even more complicated, some elements will only fluoresce in certain wavelengths, and not at all in others. The good news is, that if an element fluoresces, it will always fluoresce the same color.  How does this help us make determinations about crystal? Read on.

Visible light image of 2 Lalique vases and a Sabino vase

In our first image we have (from left to right) A Lalique crystal "St. Marc" vase from around 1990, a Sabino " Les Abeilles" vase from the 1920's, and a Rene Lalique "St. Marc" vase from 1945. We need to note that the 1945 Lalique vase has some opalescence applied whereas the 1990 vase does not, but that is immaterial to the test. It just makes the 1990 vase look much clearer in the first image. Now lets see what happens when we hit them with some 254nm UV light.


Crystal vases under 254nm UV light

As you can see in the image above, they all fluoresce about the same. In real life, the color is quite a bit more purple due to the refraction of the light, but the actual light emitted is really closer to a white. This is because of the lead in the glass. Lead shines white easily in the 254nm UV light. The Lalique vase on the left has 24% lead, and the Lalique vase on the right has only 12%, but no real difference can be seen. Plain unleaded glass will not fluoresce at all, so we know for certain each of the three pieces is indeed leaded crystal and not just a cheap glass reproduction. Good to know, but not enough information. Lets step it up a bit.

Crystal vases under 365nm UV light

Switching to a longer wavelength UV light (365nm) tells a whole different story. The newer Lalique vase on the left still fluoresces a bit, because the lead in it is the only thing that actually CAN fluoresce.  But the Sabino vase does an odd trick... it starts to shine with a bit of an orange hue.  You will find this to be true of every authentic Sabino crystal piece from the 1920's and 1930's. Sabino had his own formula for crystal, and it included Arsenic. It is the Arsenic that gives off the orange tinge to authentic Sabino crystal under 365nm UV light, and it is very distinctive. But take a look at the pre-1946 Rene Lalique vase on the right. It glows with a brilliant green! This is attributed to Manganese in the crystal, used before 1946.  So, in this case 365nm UV light can be very helpful.

But we must keep in mind that there are other things to consider. Older pressed glass often used Uranium Oxide, which will also fluoresce green in 365nm UV light. Some unscrupulous individuals will mark them Lalique and try to fool people, so you need to know if the shape is a Lalique shape before declaring it as a Rene Lalique piece not just because it fluoresces green.

Additionally, whatever UV light you choose will have a large effect on your results. Most inexpensive UV lights are more of a broader band, and the results are more mixed. The 254nm we used is considered to be medium wave UV, or UVB. The 365nm is considered as long wave, or UVA. Both are dangerous and caution should be taken to ensure no one looks at an active bulb. This can result in permanent damage to vision. Also, both can cause burns to exposed skin at higher wattages. Never point them at exposed skin. 

Once you have found the UV light that suits your needs, have fun finding the previously unseen information about your crystal. You never know what you might learn!


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Who is Saoyger?




Recently an odd vase caught my eye on ebay. It was listed as "Saoyger", and I have to admit that with all of our experience in the vintage and antique art pottery business, neither of us had ever heard of it. Although we often purchase on ebay for resale, this particular piece I wanted to add to the decor to match our new kitchen remodel. But being ever curious, I set about trying to learn the origin of this distinctively modern-looking piece.


Saoyger Vase, 8 inches

It turns out that learning about this artist was going to be more difficult than I first expected, and the seller did not appear to know anything about it. It was listed at $100 or best offer, and I figured I would roll the dice and offer $75. They accepted, and I received it four days later. I was correct that it was perfect for my kitchen, and matched the modern Nambe pieces we had just purchased as if it were designed for them.



Saoyger Signature on 8 inch vase

The signature was quite stylized, and I immediately assumed that this was the work of a studio pottery. The quality was top-notch, high-fired with very thin walls and a smooth soft glaze. This was not the work of a rank amateur. Internet searches turned up very little. The only reference available was an auction in Georgia from 2006 where a very bizarre tea set was sold. Unfortunately It did not include an image of the signature.


Saoyger Tea set, sold in 2006 for $100

Then, in 2007 another variation of the tea set sold on ebay. This one was reported to have originally been purchased from an unnamed art gallery in seattle. Unfortunately, there was no indication of when it might have been purchased.


Saoyger Tea set, Sold in 2007

This sale did include an image of the signature.


Saoyger Signature on Tea Set



Recently on ebay a coffee set came up, and has not yet sold. It is comprised of 4 cups and a plate, and as usual the seller has no information about it's origin.

Saoyger Coffee service

To date we have not been able to determine anything further about the artist. Each piece (or set) appears unique, but currently there is no way of knowing if that is the case.

Saoyger signature on Coffee service

It has been noted that these pieces seem to be reminiscent of the work of Eva Zeisel, and I must agree. They have a distinct modernist feel, quite at home in a mid-century modern style. If anyone can shed any light on the artist or origins of these pieces it would be greatly appreciated.








Monday, September 7, 2015

Collecting Weller Pottery Fruitone: A Difficult Challenge

Today there are thousands of collectors of vintage and antique Weller Pottery. Many collect figurines, others collect Hudson, and still others collect just rare pieces. It seems as if the Weller Pottery Company made something for everyone. But one of the most difficult and overlooked patterns is also one about which very little is known. That line is known as Fruitone.

Weller Pottery Fruitone Jardiniere, 5 1/4" Tall: Two Colors

The exact dates of production are lost to history, but from the manufacturers marks found on most pieces the current estimate is somewhere around 1915. There are currently no known catalogs, so it is still unknown how many shapes were available. Judging by the typical number in a line and the number of examples available, they probably offered a dozen or so. It could not have been very popular at the time, and would have not been produced for more than a year or so. The forms are simple arts and crafts designs, typical of what was being demanded by customers at the time.

Weller Pottery Fruitone small vase, 5" High: Four Colors

However, it is not the shapes that draw collectors. It is the wonderful striated glaze. Each piece is typically glazed in multiple colors: usually blue to green to tan, and brown, and maroon. Each color blends directly into the next, creating a glaze scheme that is unique among all American art pottery companies. Some pieces may only have two or three colors, but the most desirable will have upwards of five. It is a matt glaze, but with a smooth surface, very similar to a vellum glaze. It is soft to the touch, and is immediately recognizable to collectors.

Weller Pottery Fruitone Flared Gourd Vase, 6" : Three Colors

The majority of the pieces appear to be less than six inches, but the tallest documented to date is a thin bud vase standing just over eleven inches tall. The forms known to exist are vases, jardinieres, and bowls. Each piece tends to be slightly different as if hand-made, which is in perfect keeping with the arts and crafts style of the period. Lips will be irregular, the vase may lean, and no two pieces will ever have the identical glazing.  Each piece is in it's own way unique.

Weller Pottery Fruitone Bullet Vase, 8" Tall: Five Colors

Unlike many other Weller Pottery lines, these are exceedingly difficult to locate. In four years of attending art pottery auctions and searching antique malls we have only found one piece. You can occasionally find a piece or two for sale on the Internet but the prices can be rather high. The difficulty of collecting this line can be made even more frustrating because a similar line was produced decades later by Weller Pottery. The Evergreen line was produced in the late 1930's for a short time, but although it had a similar striated pattern, the colors were primarily greens, and the glaze was often softened by airbrushing techniques. The Weller Pottery Fruitone pattern will never display evidence of airbrushing whatsoever.

Weller Pottery Fruitone with Weller Mark on the Bottom

The Fruitone pattern is not always marked, but often it can be found with a die-impressed trademark on the bottom. It is also important to note the distinctive bubbled glaze on the bottom heel that is often wheel ground by the factory so that the piece will stand flat. This bubbled glaze on the heel is found on every piece of fruitone. Also, stilt-pulls from the tripods used in the kilns often touch one of the edges, causing what appears to be a chip as in the image above. This is a factory defect found on nearly all pieces, and should not detract from the value or collectibility.

Collecting Antique Weller Pottery Fruitone pattern can be very frustrating, and can take years to acquire just a handful. But even a small collection will draw attention, and bring pleasure and warmth to your decor.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Roseville Wincraft: Magnificent Mid-century Modern

The Roseville Pottery Company was flirting with bankruptcy in 1948, and indeed, they would shut their doors forever just six years later in 1954. Cheap imports from the pacific rim were wrecking their margins, and the style that had defined Roseville Pottery for decades was falling out of favor. It was in that environment that the Wincraft line was born.

Roseville Pottery Wincraft Vase shape 284-10

The pattern was taken from the name of the president of the company, Robert Windisch. He was looking for a new direction and a new look, and so he turned to Frank Ferrell to create a product more in line with the popular mid-century modern look. Frank created a total of 51 pieces, drawing on elements from throughout the history of Roseville Pottery. Collecting Wincraft can be almost be like collecting a microcosm of their designs. Although Frank initially intended the Wincraft line to be glazed in a semi-matt, he was over-ruled and for the first time a new thick high-glaze was used. This gave the pieces the appearance of being encased in glass, similar to pieces being produced at the time by Royal Haeger. It came in three color schemes: Azure Blue, Apricot, and Chartreuse. Commercially the Wincraft line was a flop. Merchants who traditionally sold Roseville complained that customers who normally bought Roseville could not even recognize the new glaze as Roseville, and sales plummeted.

In the intervening decades after they went bankrupt, Roseville pottery designs went out of style, and most of the existing pieces were either thrown out, broken, or sold at yard sales for ten to 15 cents. But in the late 1980's collectors of vintage and antique American art pottery rediscovered Roseville, and prices soared. They continued rising until around 2007, when the American economy tanked, and along with it much of the collectible market. But Wincraft followed it's own path. Indeed, Wincraft prices did increase somewhat with the interest in Roseville, but this particular pattern never garnered a great deal of collector interest. No one was really interested in mid-century modern style, and in fact, the flea markets and antique stores remained full of similar items. The greatest prices were paid for Art Deco and Arts and Crafts styles, mid century modern was just too current to appear valuable or collectible.

Roseville Pottery Wincraft Panther Vase, 290-11

There were two exceptions to the rule which are the Panther Vase (290-11) and the Cactus Basket (210-12). There are few examples of either, and both have been in high demand since the initial Roseville pottery revival. There are other pieces even harder to find, but with little interest their prices languished.

Roseville Wincraft Long Basket, 209-12

In the intervening years since 2007, tastes are once again changing. Many collectors have lost interest in the typical later-line Roseville Pottery patterns such as Zephyr Lily, Magnolia, or Apple Blossom. But interest has never been stronger for Roseville Wincraft. The sweeping, almost art deco lines incorporated with organic shapes, colors and glaze so typical of mid-century modern create an almost perfect storm to catch the eye of collectors. Just a few years ago these pieces languished in antique stores, but today they are hard to find. Few were sold originally, even fewer were preserved. The combination of rarity and desirability are quickly driving prices.

Large Roseville Wincraft Octagonal Bowl, 233-14

A perfect example of a truly rare piece is the Large Octagonal Bowl 233-14. There may not be more than 2-3 in existence. Only one is known to the author, and it's path can be traced back through three auctions since 2007.

Roseville Wincraft trial glaze vase, 283-8

Of course, if you are looking to the rarest of the rare, it is possible to find Wincraft pieces in a variety of trial glazes. Each piece is likely unique and it is hard to assign a value to such things. The pink and gray glazed piece above is a perfect example.

Although slowly rising, prices of Roseville Wincraft pattern will only increase as the interest in mid-century modern expands. If you are interested in putting together a collection, you should probably consider picking them up sooner rather than later.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Frank Ferrell: Forgotten Master of American Art Pottery

In the last quarter of the 19th century, the American pottery movement exploded upon the scene, centered in Zanesville and Cincinatti, Ohio. Originally based upon simple and utilitarian designs, pottery companies began expanding their lines to include art pottery, generally notable for the artwork performed on the pieces, or for the novel glaze treatments. It was not until the dawn of the 20th Century that pottery companies began to explore the pottery from a sculpture perspective, as opposed to simply a blank slate to be painted upon. Leading this movement from behind the scenes was Frank L.D. Ferrell.

Photograph of Frank Ferrel from 1925

Frank Ferrell was born in Zanesville, Ohio, on May 22, 1878. It is believed that he began working at Weller Pottery around the age of 16 or so, in 1894. At the Weller Pottery Company he would perform underslip decoration of pottery for the Louwelsa line. He left Weller in 1905.

Shortly thereafter, Frank went to the J.B.Owens Company, where he assisted them in producing the same basic pieces which he had previously decorated for Weller. His employment was short lived, and by 1908 he opened his first studio in Zanesville and called it Ferock Pottery.


1908 Ferock Pottery Vase by Frank Ferrell

His Ferock Pottery was thrown from clay from the North Dakota School of Mines, and it was here that he first experimented with sculpting pottery rather than just decorating established shapes. His pottery failed to become a commercial success, however, his unique designs caught the attention of Peters and Reed, an established commercial venture. In 1912, he began designing for Peters and Reed, where he created his first commercial art line, Moss Aztec.

Peters and Reed Moss Aztec Vase

The Moss Aztec line was very successful, and produced until 1926. The variety of designs and the deep sculpted details made it an instant hit. On selected pieces of  Moss Aztec Ferrell's signature can be found, a practice frowned upon by potteries of the period.

Franks signature "Ferrell" molded into a tall vase

By 1918 Frank had moved on to Roseville Pottery, where he would remain as art director for the rest of his career. The Roseville Pottery company had been quite successful under the direction of Frederick and Harry Rhead, however their styles tended towards European tastes. This allowed them to win many international awards, but by 1918 they saw the value of Arts and Crafts designs such as Moss Aztec. Frank Ferrell went to work immediately, creating the Sylvan line within a few months. From this point until 1952 every piece of Roseville pottery was designed by Frank Ferrell. Many consider his Art Deco work on the Futura line in 1928 to be his best work, and indeed they tend to be the most prized by collectors of vintage and antique art pottery.

Collection of Roseville Pottery Futura line from 1928


By 1935 most of the art pottery companies were closing their doors and going bankrupt due to the great depression. Even Roseville pottery was not immune, and they were barely keeping their doors open. It was in this environment that Frank Ferrell created the highest selling line from any American pottery, the Pine Cone line.


Variety of Roseville pots, Pinecone on the right

The Roseville Pottery Pinecone line was a phenomenal success, selling hundreds of thousands and saving the firm from certain failure. Today there are more collectors of Roseville pinecone than just about any other line.

Frank Ferrell died in Zanesville at the age of 83 on August 10, 1961. His legacy of pottery forms is in the many thousands, he inspired whole generations of potters, and he changed the industry forever. Although his signature rarely is seen on his work, the stamp of his creative genius shines on each and every piece.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Roseville Pottery Buyers Guide: Where to get it.

Roseville Pottery Sources

When you get the bug to collect Roseville Pottery, you quickly find that there are many sources you can use to obtain pieces. For decades it was widely available at garage sales or flea markets, often for less than a dollar per piece. In these days of the Internet it is rarely found at garage sales any longer. It can still be found occasionally at flea markets, but nowadays the four main sources are Ebay, Internet stores, estate auctions, and antique stores.  Here is a comparison of the four.

Antique Stores

Antique stores used to be the main way to get Roseville Pottery. When people speak of "Retail Prices" these are the prices quoted. For years people have combed the antique stores for cheaply priced Roseville Pottery but it has been all purchased long ago. Today, most antique stores and malls are what we like to call "The places that pottery goes to die." They rarely ever revise their prices, and pieces just sit there on cabinets for years and years. Pretty much all that you can find are common pieces with tags on them with the ink so faded you can barely make out the price. If you can read the price, it will shock you since it was originally written 12 years ago when that little Snowberry vase could actually command that $280 price. Antique malls are even worse, as any time a vendor puts up a piece for cheap it will get scooped up the next day by another vendor who will slap on an additional 10% and then put it into their case for sale. This process repeats until every piece is overpriced and just sits there. The only real saving grace is that you can actually inspect the piece closely for chips, cracks, repairs, and crazing before purchasing.

Estate Auctions

Estate auctions are a good source of Roseville Pottery, but it takes a lot of time and effort to collect this way. Unless you live in Ohio you will probably not find many auctions near you that have significant amounts. And make no mistake, auctions are tough and not for the faint of heart. If you do find an auction, make certain you show up early giving you plenty of time to inspect every single piece you may wish to bid on. Do not make the false assumption that no one there will know what it is worth... there will probably be at least a dozen resellers there looking to fill their shelves. The good news is, resellers pay very tight attention to their margins. They will not pay anywhere near retail, and they can be easily outbid by a collector since they are there for the great deals, not just good deals. However, you will not be the only collector there. Roseville auctions draw Roseville collectors... and there are usually plenty. The good news is, one may only collect Pinecone, and will not even bid on the snowberry. So you can sometimes add quite a bit to your collection, especially if you collect a pattern not usually collected by others. The real downside is that a tremendous percentage of Roseville Pottery at estate auctions  are chipped, cracked, or repaired in one form or another. You must have a sharp eye sometimes to spot the issues, and since there are no returns it can be devastating to bring a piece home, begin to clean it, and find the color peeling off from a repair that you missed. Your competition will be very experienced in spotting repairs, so if the bidding for that Sunflower piece is stalled at $25 you should be suspecting trouble. There are however occasionally great deals for those with patience and perseverance.

Ebay

At first it seems so simple. You just sit in your Florida room by the pool with your laptop, browse for what you want, find the best deal and in a few clicks it is on the way. But make no mistake, the Ebay is fraught with traps and perils. Most of the Roseville Pottery sold on the Internet is sold on Ebay. It is likely that over 95% of the pieces purchased each day are sold there. At any given time there are seven or eight thousand pieces for sale there. Any shape, any color, any pattern, they are generally all there. And the prices are all over the place, you can find the same piece from everywhere from $49 to $490. There are hundreds of sellers, from a kid selling stuff for his grandmother, to resellers from estate sales, to experts that specialize is Roseville Pottery. But worst of all, there are scammers who sell chipped, cracked, or restored pieces that they know full well are substandard yet they claim that they are mint. They actually do quite well, selling junk for mint prices and most of the time people just keep them instead of returning them. We recently purchased a collection from a gentleman who had been collecting Zephyr Lily by buying it on ebay. Sadly, 90% of it was chipped, cracked, or restored, and he claimed that all of it had been advertised as "mint", he just could not tell the difference when he received it. There are actually a dozen or so experts who do a great job of describing the condition, and are very reputable. Unfortunately, they are rarely the lowest prices. It takes time to determine the reputable and fair from the crooks and scoundrels, and you may spend lots of time and money sending pieces back for refunds trying to sort them out.

Internet Stores

Once you move past ebay, there are still dozens of other online stores that offer Roseville Pottery for sale. Some are similar to antique malls where many vendors offer pieces under a single website, others are owned by individuals or are family businesses. Some specialize in Roseville, others in general pottery, and still others throw a wider net and sell a variety of vintage or antique items. We have found these to be the most reliable and reasonable places to obtain collectibles. Contrary to what the television commercials may say, it takes a huge investment to build and operate an independent website, and unless you provide consistent quality and customer service you will not last long. Their prices are often quite competitive, and they will usually bend over backwards to provide good customer service. They live or die off of repeat business and word of mouth. If you are looking to put together a collection of Roseville Pottery, these independent websites could be your best bet.

Conclusion

Collecting Roseville Pottery can be an enjoyable and rewarding hobby, one that is pursued by thousands of people across the nation. There is much to learn when it comes to collecting, but hopefully this article was able to give you a good start.

 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Guide to Collecting Weller Silvertone Pottery

Introduction


It is known that the S.A. Weller Company produced the Silvertone line throughout the 1920's in Zanesville, Ohio. Unfortunately, a full list of all shapes and designs are yet to be discovered. It seems like every year a new and unknown piece comes to light, sparking interest in collectors everywhere. There are over 30 shapes known, and many more designs, making it challenging and fun line to collect.

Weller Silvertone Calla Lily Vase

Silvertone designs


The backgrounds are typically textured in shades of grey, blue, and white, creating aesthetically pleasing palette for the many designs that adorn them.The various flowers found on Weller Silvertone include calla lily, daisies, hydrangea, irises, roses, cherry blossoms, magnolia, chrysanthemums, dogwood, thistle, poppies, lilies, and more. The calla lily, daisy, and roses appear more common, while dogwood and thistle appear less often. Occasionally pieces are found decorated with butterfly's or other garden insects, and are considered rare. All of the Weller Silvertone pieces are hand painted with a semi-matt glaze. The shapes run the full gamut, including vases, baskets, bowls, compotes, candlesticks, baskets, flower frogs, and wall pockets.


Weller Silvertone Basket with Magnolias

Marks and Tags


Weller Silvertone is never impressed in the base clay with a Weller mark or signature. Silver foil labels were often applied at the factory identifying it as a Weller product, but these labels have usually fallen off and disappeared over the intervening decades. In rare instances pieces can be found with artist signatures or initials under the glaze in an inconspicuous place, usually very small, but never on the bottom of the foot.


Weller Silvertone Vase with Poppies

What makes a piece exceptional?

Collectors of Weller Silvertone are a rather picky lot. It is very difficult to sell nearly any piece of Weller Silvertone if it is damaged or repaired. Likewise, the glazes used were quite resilient, and not very susceptible to crazing. Crazed pieces will only command a fraction of the value of an uncrazed piece. Also, being a very picky group, they pay more attention to the sharpness of the mold than collectors of most other pottery. When the molds are first used, the designs are crisp and sharp, and as more and more pieces are produced the designs slowly get blurred and less defined. Collectors seek out those with sharp molds and brilliant colors, as well as unusual shapes and designs.

Conclusion


Collecting Weller Silvertone, or any other Vintage Weller Pottery can provide an amazing display in your home or office, and it can be quite challenging. For decades after such pottery fell out of favor it was often just thrown in the trash when moving, or sold at flea markets for 5 or 10 cents. It was considered almost disposable, and so often it was simply disposed of. It was not until the 1990's that collectors rediscovered Weller pottery lines, and now these pieces can be rare and difficult to obtain. Prices have been steadily rising for this interesting and collectible line, as more and more vanish from the market into private collections. For more information on Weller pottery, visit the online Weller Pottery resource page.