An intro to Haeger pottery
Dec 5, 2018 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
We’ve talked about some fun vintage & antique pottery companies in the past and during a recent vintage shopping trip, I was reminded of all the beautiful variety out there. Vintage pottery is definitely my happy place – which means every time I’ve moved a lot of bubble wrap was involved! Join us for an intro to Haeger pottery – a company which ceased production in 2016, but its 145 year history created an indelible legacy that still makes collectors’ hearts flutter.
Our story begins in the late 1800s, as a young David H. Haeger made the long journey from Germany to America, filled with hope for a new life in this new world. David settled near the great city of Chicago, right at the moment when its greatness seemed uncertain. The year was 1871 – the year of the Chicago Fire. The destruction took not only a mental and emotional toll on its residents, but wiped out over 17,000 structures. In the aftermath, just North of the city, David quietly founded the Dundee Brickyard. His company would go onto supply many of the bricks used to rebuild Chicago’s homes and offices, restoring its hope and identity with every foundation laid. While the firm was earning a reputation as a well-respected, high-volume brick producer, David’s son Edmund was busy expanding the company’s future…
By 1912 Haeger pottery had carved a place for itself in the glazed artware market, debuting its first collection (appropriately named Adam and Eve). The sleek Greek-inspired design set the bar for high quality and crisp aesthetics. Yes, the designs were original. Yes, the craftsmanship was impeccable. But what Haeger became known for were its glazes – collectors still marvel at its sheen, depth of color, and durability.
Diversifying business models is not an easy endeavor, but by making smart decisions early on, Haeger was able to make a lasting impression on the artistically-minded consumer. One such smart move happened in 1914, when designer Martin Stangl joined the firm, ushering in an era of innovation and creativity. Another key moment happened at the Chicago’s World Fair in 1934. Haeger hosted an interactive exhibit that showcased ceramic production techniques through the ages. Over four million people filled the exhibit throughout the year, catapulting the brand’s exposure and bringing a new awareness to the craft behind artware. By 1938, demand was at a fever-pitch and with the addition of designer Royal Hickman, the iconic line Royal Haeger was born. This collection is known for its intricate details and of course – that signature glaze, perfectly complementing the bold forms (like the infamous black panther). The 1950s through 1970s was a period of tremendous growth for the company. In fact, many credit Haeger as the most prolific ceramic brand of all-time. So, as a collector how would you identify the pieces you find in the wild?
Identifying Royal Haeger
The first tip in identifying these pieces is to check out the underside. Royal Haeger pieces will bear a clear signature, always including the Haeger name and usually U.S.A. and a model number as well. As you look closer you will see three marks (these marks are a reflection of the production process). Secondly, you must consider the shape. As mentioned, Royal Haeger is known for animal figurines. Other popular products include vases and lamps, sometimes in the shape of flowers or birds. You will also notice a strong Art Deco influence in many of the designs. Lastly, there are a plethora of books and groups dedicated to the brand. (Including this dynamic Facebook community.)
When you find your first Haeger piece, be sure to take a moment and consider how something so beautiful was created out of a moment of tragedy. As I sit here, I’m mindful of the California fires that have displaced so many. Especially during this holiday season, I hope this heartbreak ultimately brings us closer together as a society. Perhaps that’s what makes an intro to Haeger pottery so timely, serving as a reminder of what beauty our humanity can create. And maybe, that is what fuels me to keep collecting ceramics – because sometimes it’s quite nice to be reminded of the times when we picked ourselves up again!