Treasures: Colors, condition lessen squirrel paperweight’s value


Dear Helaine and Joe:

I am curious about this squirrel that was a gift to my grandfather who was originally from Germany. Do you know anything about its history from the stamp on the bottom? It does have a chip on its left ear, but other than that it is fully intact. Any information would be appreciated.

Thank you,

S. L.

Dear S. L.:

Marks can be the roadmap that leads to knowledge about a piece, or they can be a roadblock that send us down the wrong path. It is wise not to depend on marks as being the be-all and end-all, but in this case the impressed symbols provide all the information we need to know.

First of all, the letters “RP” surrounded by a corona (an almost nasty word these days) of squiggles is the trademark of the Rookwood Pottery of Cincinnati. This important maker of American art pottery was founded in 1880 by Maria Longworth Nichols, who had become interested in ceramics as a china painter.

Fortuitously, Nichols’ father had purchased an old schoolhouse at a sheriff’s sale, and he told his daughter she could use it to establish her own pottery. The new enterprise was named for the crows – “rooks” – that lived in the woods of the family’s country home joined together with “wood,” either after the place where the crows lived or in tribute to the Wedgwood company.

The first mark was a kiln with a spray of blossoms and two rooks, but in 1886 the mark was changed to the initials “RP.” Every year after that a squiggle or flame was placed above and around the initials until 1900, when Roman numerals were impressed below the “RP” with “I” for 1901, “II” for 1902 and so forth.

On the piece belonging to S. L., the Roman numerals are “XXIX.” This signifies that the squirrel figure was made in 1929. The only other mark on the bottom of the piece is an impressed (in this case, molded in) “TS” with the “S” superimposed over the “T.”

This is the monogram for Sarah Alice Toohey, who was born in Cincinnati in 1872 and worked at Rookwood from 1887 (she was 15!) until 1931. She was an artist who hand-decorated pieces of Rookwood pottery for most of her career. In her later career, she took over the management of the glaze department.

In this case, however, Toohey designed the squirrel paperweight. It was part of the Rookwood’s regular manufactured line and not part of their artistic production. With all this said, what is the monetary value of this squirrel paperweight with shape No. 6025?

We found one that sold at auction last November for $500, but it was perfect and had a rather pleasing color scheme of a golden squirrel atop a plinth that was green with what looks like purple or blue leaves. The piece in today’s question is an all-over muddy brown with some much darker streaks. This is not a color scheme that would appeal to most collectors, and the chip is so prominent that it cannot be overlooked. Both these factors would probably lower the value of S. L.’s squirrel paperweight to around $50.

Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you’d like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email them at [email protected]. If you’d like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.

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