Mar 20, 2019 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Roseville Pottery is a favorite mid-century staple of what I refer to as domestic art – those home goods that fill our abodes with beauty and functionality. One of the many iconic ceramic companies that called Ohio home, Roseville completed a trinity of exceptional manufacturers / design powerhouses. (The other two were their competitors Rookwood and Weller.) While Roseville was founded in 1890, its trajectory altered when George Young took over day-to-day operations a couple years later. Under his guidance, the firm became known for their high-quality stoneware with flower and fruit motifs. Before the turn of the century, their impact expanded further as they acquired other regional ceramic companies.
With all the talent in one state, I can only imagine what the energy was like. Pottery firms competed feverishly to stake their claim in a flooded market. To add to this dizzying mix, their key consumer was changing. By 1900 customers were eager for pieces that were more artistic in nature and Roseville answered the call by hiring Ross C. Purdy to design their first foray into this new sector. This collection, called the Rozane line, didn’t make a big ripple in the ocean of art pottery. Taking its aesthetic cues from the Victorian era, the look was defined by floral and swirling pattern work. The look itself wasn’t bad – just not unique. Unfortunately, it was too similar to other collections and consumers didn’t respond. But Young pushed on without missing a beat.
In time their design department gained more acclaim – especially with the hiring of up-and-coming talent. Their keen eyes gave the company prestige, while the company’s utilitarian offerings funded these artistic innovations. This symbiotic business model seemed to work. Perhaps this is best seen in the 1906 Della Robbia line. Limited supplies were made and each piece was hand-crafted – a bit of a revolt against the Industrial Revolution that was redefining global business. By 1915, the exceptionally talented Harry Rhead joined the firm and he immediately proved his worth with the Donatello collection. The ivory pieces were an instant success and in many ways, Roseville’s first run-away hit. When he handed over the reins a couple years later, the magic stayed. Not a small feat, considering that once the key design force changed, companies usually went through periods of unrest. But Roseville bucked the trend.
In fact, collectors often cite the late 1920s to early 1950s as “prime time” for Roseville. It kicked off with the creation of the Futura line in 1928. This stylized, Deco look captured the allure of the jazz age and became an instant hit for the well-heeled flapper set. Other collections to note include the Blackberry and Pinecone, both from the early 1930s. (The universal adoration of the Pinecone collection saw the company through the Great Depression.) All of these collections (and a staggering ninety three others!) were the vision of creative director and designer Frank Ferrell. Many historians see Ferrell as the heart and soul of Roseville. He created the iconic look we know and love – matte finishes and floral designs. When his tenure ended in 1953, Roseville was acquired by the Mosaic Tile Company. A chapter of great American, mid-century design was closing, but the legacy lives on thanks to today’s collectors.
More information about identifying real versus fake Roseville markings can be found here
So – how do you figure out if your thrift store find is Roseville or Fauxville? Due to their consistent popularity, many fake pieces abound and you definitely need to be thoughtful when you consider making a purchase. Determining authenticity is a skill that is honed over time (as is the case with many ceramic products), but it’s a worthwhile undertaking if you wish to collect. One way to confirm if the piece you’re considering is real – color. Roseville is known for its sharpness of color. If it reads as muddy, it’s not real. In the pinecone example you see above, note how it appears to be airbrushed. This is the kind of finish that you want to be wary of and warrants closer examination to determine its origin story. Another good indication – the feel. If the piece you’re holding feels like the base is heavy, it’s most likely a fake. Handling a real Roseville encourages a delicate touch. Lastly, the truth is in the signature. The bottom marking should read “Roseville USA” (with the “s” slightly slanted) – if it simply reads “Roseville”, you’re most likely holding a piece made in China. Don’t let these words of warning discourage you, let it inspire you to find those diamonds in the rough – the real Roseville awaiting you at the next flea market or out-of-the-way vintage shop. Happy collecting!