Nov 15, 2013 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Chances are you’ve seen Stangl before – you may have even a held a piece without knowing it! So what’s exciting about collecting Stangl? Journey with us to find out. But let’s get one thing straight before we dive in: the history of Stangl reads like an epic, full of adventures and doses of excitement and tragedy. With that being said, we’re going to touch on the big themes with this article. In order to really do Stangl’s history justice you will want to pick up a copy of the Collector’s Encyclopedia of Stangl: Artware, Lamps, and Birds by Robert C. Runge, Jr. (You can purchase this book at the end of the post). The companion website http://stanglpottery.org/ can help you research any particular questions you may have.
A Condensed History of Stangl Pottery
A New Jersey company (first in the town of Flemington with later expansion in Trenton), it traces its roots to the early 1800s and the family of Samuel Hill. Mr. Hill would later pass the company to his sons who renamed it Fulper & Sons. This re-branding also marks their first venture into the art-ware industry that would later make them famous.
By the 1900s the Fulper Vase-Kraft line reflected Arts & Crafts styling. The firm won awards for recreations of antique Chinese glazes paired with more traditional Greek shapes. Winning awards would soon become nothing new for these prestigious designers. Indeed the company is known for its artists’ creativity and talent. It was around this time that Martin Stangl joined the company as a technician. In this role he helped develop new glazing techniques, colors, and pottery shapes. The firm would not transition to the Stangl name until 1929.
The amazing thing about Stangl as a brand is its dedication to remaining accessible and innovative. That’s one of the exciting things about collecting Stangl – there is such a variety of pieces to love! The company was consistently testing new products and colors in the market. Stangl prided itself, much like the Fulper name before it, in staying relevant and forming partnerships:
- In the late 1930s they responded to the resurgence in popularity of John James Audobon’s Birds of America with beautifully detailed bird statues.
- They made small statues of Asta the clever dog featured in the beloved Thin Man movies.
- In the 1950s they partnered with New Yorker magazine to do a series of cartoon-themed pieces.
- Some of their most popular items were sold as souvenirs (small piggy banks, for example).
- Often time artists would do traveling demonstrations in department stores to showcase product lines made in conjunction with the likes of Macy’s or Saks Fifth Avenue.
Perhaps their public image is best captured by the allure of their New Jersey Outlet Store, opened in 1935. As a destination for tourists from New York, it was frequented by celebrities as well. Clark Gable even paid a visit! Although the company has closed its doors, many original molds were rescued from the New Jersey factories and now live in the Hill Fulper Stangl Potteries Museum. A touching tribute to an iconic brand that still makes collectors’ hearts skip a beat!
Five Things Stangl is Famous For
Hand Painted Animal Figurines | These playful statues were made in the mid 1920s through the end of the company and came in two sizes.
The smaller animals (about 2-1/2” in height) have very minimal decorating and typically won’t be marked. You’ll be able to find the following types of animals for this line: bears, deer, horses, rabbits, raccoons, squirrels, ducks, elk hounds, ponies, burros, mules, giraffes, percherons, gazelles, elephants, and scotty dogs.
The larger ones are more realistic and detailed than their petite counterparts. If you see a mark on the bottom of these you can date this as a piece made after 1973. This is where you’ll find Asta, draft horses, more rabbits, buffaloes, gazelles, giraffes, elephants, colts, goats, calves, and dogs.
Porcelaines | Dating back to the 1910s, these figural items (such as powder jars) graced vanity tops across the country. Many well-known dancers or performers served as the muses for these sumptuous creations.
Birds | Like the hand painted animal figurines, there are two product lines: the hand painted pottery birds and the porcelain Birds of America collection.
The hand painted pottery birds were first introduced in 1939 and like the animal figurines, were produced up to the final days of the company. When the collection started they focused on domesticated birds (chickens, ducks, and turkeys) with a couple rogue wild ones – bluebirds and penguins. However a few years later songbirds were in vogue so the collection expanded 29-fold.
The more subtle-colored birds were made prior to World War II, while brighter and richer tones were introduced after the war.
Birds of America showcased an entirely different vision. Introduced in 1944 these were life sized and lifelike sculptures. The focus was on a handful of species: warbler, cross bill, robin, scarlet tanager, red headed woodpecker, magpie-jap, and the scissor-tailed flycatcher. All in all twelve statue designs were created. These are highly detailed, quality pieces.
Vases | These beauties come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and finishes. Some were commissioned by department stores like Macy’s, while others were made alongside independent artists. Miniature vases (varying from 1-1/2” to 4-1/2” in height) were in high demand by the mid-1930s, spurred on by the tourism industry. By 1936 forms became more graceful and colors became softer. Stangl also liked to design very intricate handles – don’t be surprised if you find a handle shaped like an animal!
Hand Painted Dinnerware | Debuting early in Stangl’s history, these pieces were individually painted by an artist who followed a stencil. Stangl had very exacting standards for pattern-work and color variations, but he respected his artists’ talents as well. Key artists like Kay Hackett used sgraffito techniques to enhance her designs. One of the most highly coveted lines is the Engobe Decorated “Gingerbread” line. Manufactured from 1967-1972, it is the brain child of artist Rose Herbeck, who drew inspiration from her native Germany. Fun fact: if you find a piece signed by Rose (HR) it may double the value!
Identifying Stangl Pottery
Item Number and Artist Initials
With most Stangl items you will see a clear mark of the company name along with a series of four numbers. The numbers indicate the item number for that particular design. Near these markings you should see a two letter abbreviation and these are the initials for the artist! How cool is this – you can actually find out who exactly worked on your piece. Fun fact: If you see a “-F” after the artists’ initials that means the piece was painted in Flemington.
Remember, the name Stangl may appear cursive as shown or can be in block print. Additionally, the name could be further stylized with hatching or patterns and enclosed in a rectangle. It may be die-pressed, part of a label (paper or gold foil), or stamped on. Accompanying the brand name you may also find the following: name of glaze, the words “hand painted”, a portion of the artist’s name, the store it was made for, or the word “patent pending.”
One of the rarest markings, the American Way stamp that says “An American Way Product” dates to 1940 and 1941 when they produced a limited series of bird figurines for the American Way program.
- Be wary of items only marked “USA.” If you don’t see any other markings or labels it can be difficult to determine its history.
- Even the souvenir products made by Stangl were detailed and held to a high standard. Especially with miniatures, if you see a glaze that doesn’t look quite right and the detailing looks cheap – steer clear.
- Due to the continued popularity of Stangl birds, many reproductions are on the market. Pay close attention to the birds!
- As always, the best way to know what you’re getting is to develop a rapport with trusted vintage shop owners. Think of them as an amazing and stylish resource. Your collection will be happy you did!
Add it to your collection now
Cause A Frockus would like to thank our tremendous resources: Wikipedia, the wonderful people who post their imagery on Wikipedia Commons without restriction, and Robert C. Runge, Jr. who wrote the definitive guide to all things Stangl. Please visit his amazing website: http://stanglpottery.org/
For our readers:
Do you collect Stangl? What’s your favorite piece? Share a pic and a story with us today…