Q: This china bowl belonged to my grandmother and was given to my mother in the late 1930s. It is approximately 5 inches wide and 2.5 inches deep. We have kept it in our china cabinet for about 40 years and have now decided we’d like to know some of its history and what it is worth. Any information would be appreciated.
N. and J. B
A: Most of the china bowls like this one were made in either France or Germany and sent undecorated to the United States. Once here, they were rather naively painted by American amateur china painters. Currently, these do not appeal very much to the tastes of most modern collectors.
But this lovely bowl is different in several respects.
First of all, it was made in the United States in a small village named “Geddes” on the western edge of Syracuse, N.Y. The antecedent of the company responsible for making this bowl began working in Geddes in 1841, and the owner’s name was William H. Farrar.
Farrar initially specialized in making salt-glazed stoneware, but later made some red ware styled to look like Rockingham (a mottled colored ware). Farrah survived in the ceramics business because the Erie Canal brought him coal to heat his kilns and clay to make his pots. Neither commodity could be found around Syracuse.
This business lasted until 1868 when Farrah sold the company to Peter Coykendall, who tried to establish a company making white wares. He hired an English potter to help in this enterprise, but it never came to much.
Then in 1871, the struggling company was purchased by a group of local businessmen and a new pottery was founded that was named the “Onondaga Pottery,” after a tribe of the Iroquois nation. This is the company that made the bowl in today’s question.
Onondaga started by making white earthenware for table and toilet, but they soon expanded their lines. The mark on this piece looks a bit like a worm with its tongue sticking out and “China and O. P. Co.” below. This was in use between 1893 and 1895 on a variety of Onondaga wares.
To us this looks like very fine porcelain, but it may be the body that was developed at Onondaga by James Pass (another English potter) in 1888, and in 1893, it won the medal for translucent china at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This is all very well and good, but the monetary value of this bowl actually depends on who decorated it.
If the signature on the bottom (which we cannot read in the photograph) is that of an amateur decorator the value of this piece is rather modest — say in the $250 to $400 range. But if it is a signature from Onondaga’s in-house decorating department (and the professionalism of the painting and the impasto gold work suggest it might be), the value might be as much as four to five times that amount.
The Onondaga decorating department was formed across the street from Onondaga in 1884 and called the “Boston China Decorating Works.” It burned down in 1886 and Onondaga hired the displaced workers to form one of America’s first in-house decorating departments. Let’s hope N. and J. B.’s piece got its paint job here.
Write to Joe Rosson, P.O. Box 27419, Knoxville, TN 37927, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like your question to be considered for the column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus.