Treasure: Rookwood prized among American art pottery

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Among American art pottery, Rookwood is at the top of the list. Founded by Maria Longworth Nichols in Cincinnati in 1880, the pottery found early success and recognition in 1883 at the Exhibition of American Art Industry in Philadelphia and the Exposition Universelle in Paris. According to Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles Guide 2014, the name was inspired by the proliferation of crows — or rooks — on Nichols’ father’s estate. The company introduced three new glazes in 1894 and 1895, including Iris, Sea Green and Aerial Blue, with Iris being credited for the company winning the grand prize at the 1900 Paris Exposition.

Indiana native Betsy Hohlfeldt was lucky enough to inherit a piece of the esteemed pottery from her family. “It came from my mother’s estate,” she told DuMouchelle appraiser Jim Flannery. “I don’t know when she purchased it, but the family was from Terre Haute ... They were very much interested in art and collected things from all over the world when they traveled,” she said.

The attractive piece features a number of marks on the base that helped Flannery find out more about its background and age, including a “W” that marks it as an example of the sought-after Iris glaze, which continued to be used until approximately 1912, according to Warman’s. Another mark, 917C, refers to the shape, according to Flannery. One of the best marks, however, is that of the artist who decorated it, Carl Schmidt. Schmidt is considered one of the top signatures among Rookwood artists. A similar 9-inch vase found on the Internet, also marked with a W, but with the shape 900B, dated to 1904 and sold for $3,835 at auction, according to the site

Flannery pointed out that many Rookwood pieces are easy to date because of the company’s practice of incising dates on the bottom. In 1886, the company began using a reverse RP logo, with flames added each year to mark the production date. Roman numerals were added in 1901. Many also included the artist’s mark, or cipher, on the base, either incised or penned under the glaze, and are helpful in valuing Rookwood pieces, says Flannery. The most valuable pieces of Rookwood were made by artist Kataro Shirayamadani, who began decorating for the company in the late 1880s. A piece he made sold for $350,750 in 2004.

Flannery said his research showed a piece like Hohldeldt’s selling for approximately $4,000 at an auction in early 2000. “Your piece would definitely have potential” among collectors if she were to consider selling, Flannery said. He said his estimate of $1,500 to $2,500 could be conservative, but that Rookwood pieces generally do well.

“This is a very, very nice piece overall,” he told her. “It’s special and would do well if it ever came to auction.”

Hohlfeldt was happy to find out more about the piece. “I don’t know if we’ll keep it forever, but either way, I want to make sure it lasts for the next generation,” she said.

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About this item

Item : Rookwood vase

Owner : Betsy Hohlfeldt

Appraised by : Jim Flannery, DuMouchelles

Estimated value : About $1,500-$2,500 at auction