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Roseville became masters of the pottery process

Robert J. Britnell Special to The Packet & Times

A Roseville baneda vase.

A Roseville baneda vase.

rom about 1875 until about 1925, there were more than 200 American companies producing American Art Pottery. One of the more prolific of these companies was the Roseville Pottery Company. Roseville produced wares with design elements from several eras including the Victorian line of  Royal Dark, the Art Nouveau ware known as Fudjiyama, pottery with the Art Deco and Moderne influence  as well as the Della Robia line that falls into the Arts and Crafts category. The Roseville company was able to attract important designers such as Frederick Rhead, who was one of the most important figures in pre-First World War-decorated ceramics in America. This company’s products appealed to a wide range of interests and tastes. Considering that Canada is America’s largest northern neighbour, it is no surprise that Roseville pottery travelled across the border and comes to light in estates on a frequent basis.

Roseville is one of the most widely recognizable potteries across the United States. Having been sold in flower shops and drug stores, department stores and gift boutiques around the country, its art and production wares became a staple in North American homes through the time Roseville closed in the 1950s.

The Roseville Pottery Company, located in Roseville, Ohio, was incorporated on Jan. 4, 1982 with George F. Young as general manager. The company had been producing stoneware since 1890, when it purchased the J. B. Owens Pottery, also of Roseville.

The popularity of Roseville’s original lines of stoneware continued to grow. The company acquired new plants in 1892 and 1898, and production started to shift to Zanesville, just a few miles away. By about 1910, all of the work was centered in Zanesville, but the company name was unchanged.

The general manager hired Ross C. Purdy as artistic designer in 1900 and Purdy created Rozane — a contraction of the words Roseville and Zanesville. The first Roseville artwork pieces were marked either Rozane or RPCO, both impressed or ink-stamped on the bottom.

In 1902, a line was developed called Azurean. Some pieces were marked Azurean, but often RPCO — the Roseville Pottery Company. In 1904 at the St. Louis Exposition, Roseville’s Rozane Mongol, a high-gloss oxblood red line, captured first prize, gaining recognition for the firm as well as its creative designer, John Herold.

Many Roseville lines were a response to the innovations of Weller Pottery, and in 1904, Frederick Rhead was hired away from Weller as artistic director.

Frederick Hurten Rhead (1880–1942) was a native of England who worked as a potter in the United States for most of his career. In addition to teaching pottery techniques, Rhead was highly influential in both studio and commercial pottery. He worked for the Roseville Pottery, established his own Rhead Pottery and in 1935 designed the highly successful Fiesta ware for Homer Laughlin China Company. A Rhead vase from his First World War era pottery sold for more than $500,000. He created the Olympic and Della Robia lines for Roseville. Harry Rhead, Frederick’s brother, took over as artistic director in 1908 and in 1915 he introduced the popular Donatello line.

By 1908, all hand crafting ended except for the Rozane Royal items.

Roseville was the first pottery in Ohio to install a tunnel kiln, which increased its production capacity.

Frank Ferrell, who was a top decorator at the Weller Pottery by 1904, was Roseville’s artistic director from 1917 to 1954. This Zanesville resident was the creator of the most popular lines including Pine Cone, which had numerous individual pieces.

Many collectors believe Roseville’s glazes and enamels that were used in the mid 1920s were the best of any Zanesville pottery.  One technical supervisor was responsible for this process for 40 years. To say the least, the process is exacting.

Decorations were painted under the glaze while the item is still in its dry state. The object is then glazed and fired in the usual way. Underglaze decoration is the most resilient of all ways to decorate pottery, for however delicate and fragile the images or designs, all are safely protected beneath an impenetrable layer of glaze which forms a window to the designs beneath. Simple? Hardly.

Colours were originally developed by the Chinese centuries ago and the process was closely guarded. It wasn’t until the 18th century that Europeans puzzled it out at the Meissen works. Simply put, colours are made from various metal oxide pigments mixed with glass. Precise temperature is a huge factor. Every shade of colour is comprised of a different compound all of which had to be identified and tested at different temperatures. Each colour posed a separate and formidable challenge.

The compounds used to create the desired colour were a different colour in their pre-fired state. The technical supervisor was required to know how the compounds would transmute to the shades desired, but also remain stable. One tiny mistake in the mixing or the temperature when fired and the colour becomes unrecognizable or the decoration and design is lost. Enough said! Roseville mastered the process.

Company sales declined after the Second World War. Cheap Japanese imports began to replace American wares and a simpler, more modern style that was in vogue made many of Roseville’s elaborate floral designs seem old fashioned. Roseville tried to offset its flagging artware sales by launching the dinnerware line, Raymor, in 1953, but this was a commercial failure.

Roseville issued its last new designs in 1953. On Nov. 29, 1954, the facilities of Roseville were sold to the Mosaic Tile Company.

There is no consistency to Roseville bottom marks. Even with popular patterns, the marks vary. Several “shape numbering” systems were implemented in the company’s almost 70-year history. Though many pieces are unmarked, from 1900 until the early 1920’s, Roseville used a variety of marks including RPCO, Roseville Pottery Company and the word Rozane. Around 1926, Roseville began to use a small triangular black paper label. Silver and gold foil labels began to appear around 1930. Around 1937 the raised script mark was added to the moulds of new lines and included “U.S.A.”.

Most small vases sell for less than $1,000, but the large, early and rare items are substantially more valuable. Jardinieres with pedestals have sold for $2,000 and more.

For additional information, see Warman’s Roseville Pottery by Denise Rago.

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