Q: This 12-inch-tall vase was my grandmother’s. It was in her hope chest and I thought it was so beautiful I have had it displayed for years, but she passed away without telling me any details about this piece and its history. Can you tell me anything about who manufactured it, when and where it was made and if it is collectible?
K. H.-L., Grand Island, Neb.
A: We recognized this vase immediately. The man who owned the pottery company that made this piece was something of an egomaniac, and his name was almost always part of the mark, when a piece was marked. The owner’s name was Samuel A. Weller, and he started life as a poor lad born in Muskingum County, Ohio.
He worked for a time in the Bluebird Pottery, which was located near his home. There, Weller learned to throw a pot. As soon as he could, he left Bluebird and established his own one-man facility, where he made flower pots.
It is said that initially his flower pots were decorated with house paint, and when Weller’s wagon was full of these utilitarian vessels, he and his horse and wagon would go around the neighborhood selling the humble wares door to door. Weller did so well at this that he opened his first full-scale pottery-making factory in Zanesville, Ohio, in 1882.
In 1890, Weller was able to build a three-story pottery in Zanesville that employed 60 workers, and in 1895, he purchased the old Lonhuda factory in Steubenville, Ohio. This last purchase allowed Weller to enter the art pottery field, which he did by producing a brown slip decorated ware almost identical to the Lonhuda wares, but Weller named his variety “Louwelsa” (for his daughter Louise and himself, “S.A. Weller.”)
Weller produced some fine art wares well into the 20th century, but during the World War I era, Weller (like most art potteries of the day) began to turn to cheaper products known as commercial art ware. These were molded, not produced by hand, and artistic additions — if there were any at all — were far less extensive than they had been in the past.
The piece belonging to K. H.-L. is from a Weller line called “Burntwood,” and it is commercial art ware from the company’s middle period (1918-1935). Burntwood pieces have a tan background with a dark brown, almost black band around the neck and base. The tan section is decorated with dark, etched lines, and the items resemble closely the craft pieces that were made in the early 20th century using an alcohol burner and a needle or some other sharp piece of metal that was heated in order to sear decorations into wood.
Weller’s Burntwood came in a wide variety of decorations such as fish, mice, chickens, griffins, peacocks, Magi, camels and Assyrians. The piece belonging to K. H.-L. has lovely arts and crafts depictions of grapes and vines and has an insurance replacement value between $200 and $300 if it is in perfect condition (no little chips, no cracks, no wear to the decoration).
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