Trash or Treasure: Book shares Pewabic tips

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Pewabic fans know that a small display of vintage pieces can be found on the second floor of the pottery’s Detroit home. Among the lustrous glazed pieces from the pottery’s early years is a 1941 hardcover book written by founder Mary Chase (Perry) Stratton. Called “Ceramic Processes,” it is surrounded by the book’s copyright notice from the Library of Congress, packaging from the publishers and an explanation of the book’s purpose.

Madge Lawson poses with her book by Mary Chase Stratton called, "Ceramic Processes." This book, printed in 1946, teaches beginning potters the process of creating ceramic vessels.

“While Mary did not publish her glaze recipes and ingredient measurements, the rumor that they followed her to the grave is incorrect,” the placard explains. “She felt it was important for other ceramicists to find their own style by experimenting on their own, and encouraged exploration in creating glaze formulas and object design. She did, however, publish a book titled “Ceramic Processes” in 1941, and it shared a basic history of ceramics, instructions for creating vessel forms and lists of materials for glazes and the effects they produced.”

Madge Lawson recently brought a copy of the same book to an appraisal session held at the Michigan Design Center in Troy, where expert Brian Thomczek took a closer look. Her late husband, William Lawson, was an accomplished potter and the book came from his collection. His later copy was published in 1946 by Ann Arbor’s Edwards Brothers.

Thomczek pointed out that the first edition was printed in 1941 and that the author died in 1961. “This book is really for the individual potter but probably doesn’t have the secret to their famous iridescent glaze,” he mused. “The legend has always been that she took it with her to her grave.”

While the secret to the pottery's vintage glaze may not be well known, “they are currently doing a good job re-creating it,” he added. “We are really lucky to have such beautiful pieces of Pewabic in installations around the city. It’s a local treasure.”

Vintage pieces can command high prices, he added, but the book doesn’t share that good fortune. “John King Books has one that he’s asking $51 for,” he pointed out. “It’s not a particularly rare book and this is a later edition.” For that reason, he valued her copy at $25, adding that “leather-bound copies go for $75 to $120.”

Lawson has been debating about what to do with it, she says. “I’d really like it to go to another potter or maybe I will donate it to Pewabic if they are interested. I don’t want it to just go into a used book sale.”

Thomczek said it would be another story if it was an original copy that was signed by the author.

“Now that would be a whole different ballpark,” he added.

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Letters are edited for style and clarity. Photos cannot be returned.

About this item

Items: Pewabic book

Owned by: Madge Lawson

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek

Estimated value: approximately $25