Treasures: Mysterious vase | The State


Dear Helaine and Joe:

I found this 5 ½-inch-tall vase at my mother’s house, and I do not remember having seen it previously. It may have been my grandmother’s and looks “Art Deco” to me.

Thank you,

L. R.

Dear L. R.:

This is one of those times when we knew what this was from the photographs, but the picture of the bottom of this piece threw us for something of a loop. The marks we were expecting to find are poorly impressed and it took us a second or two to adjust our eyes and our brains to see what was there.

Once we had examined the slightly vague marks, we found that they were what we were expecting after all. There was the very vague back-to-back “RP” trademark surrounded by flames that were far clearer than rest of the mark, and from these we know that this vase was made in Cincinnati’s Rookwood Pottery, which was founded in 1880 by Maria Longworth Nichols, who had been a china painter since 1873.

Flames began to be added to the Rookwood mark every year from 1887 to 1900 – one new flame for each year. We count seven or eight flames marks surrounding the RP and this means that this particular vase was made in either 1895 or 1895; sorry we cannot be more specific, but the flames are hard to read and interpret.

However, when it comes to the artist who decorated this piece these marks are fairly clear, and they read “CFS.” They are the unmistakable monogram of Caroline Frances Steinle, (1871-1944), who worked at Rookwood as a decorator from 1892 to 1925. The other readable mark is a “W” meaning that this vase was made using white clay.

The vase in today’s question appears to be in the company’s “standard glaze,” which grew out of a process developed in 1883 by Rookwood artist Laura Fry. She pioneered the application of glaze using an atomizer. The colors favored were brown (by far the most common), yellow, red and green.

The vase belonging to L.R. appears in the photographs to have a typical standard glaze with a center section of brown bracketed by a sort of golden yellow at top and bottom. The throat of the piece appears to be greenish, and the painted decoration appears to be dogwood blossoms – but the glory of this piece is hardly visible in the photos because it is a lovely section of silver overlay in a budding spring flower configuration enhanced with rococo style “C” scrolls.

Once L.R. polishes this dingy silver she will see the glory of her vase. Silver overlay is relatively rare on Rookwood items, but the bigger the piece, the more artistic decoration (both underglaze painting and that applied by the silver company, which was usually Gorham). Large, important pieces decorated by highly regarded Rookwood artist such as Shirayamadani can bring prices above the $5,000 level at auction and can even soar above $20,000, but L.R.’s rather diminutive piece would sell only in the $500 to $600 range and retail about $800 to $1,000.

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