Rookwood pottery, made in Cincinnati since 1880, is perhaps the most popular American art pottery among collectors. The company not only made artist-decorated vases, molded bookends, art-deco figurines and commercial wares, but it also used marks that tell a collector exactly what it is. Until 1886 the mark was the year in numerals and the name Rookwood. In 1886 a new mark was chosen – a backward capital letter “R” leaning against a capital letter “P.” A flame was added to a circle around the top of the mark each year until 1900. After that, a Roman numeral for the last two digits of the year was put under the mark. So 1904 was a flame mark with IV at the bottom. The company went out of business in 1967, but was later bought and sold several times. In 2011 the business was bought by Martin and Marilyn Wade, Cincinnati real estate developers. Today Rookwood uses a flame mark with the year in Roman numerals. Other letter marks represent the color and type of clay, numbers 1 to 7,301 tell the shape, and initials tell the name of the artist. These codes can be found in books or websites about Rookwood. It helps to know this history, but a collector should judge a piece of Rookwood by the quality of the glaze and the skill of the decorator, and then add extra value for condition, size, age, the fame of the decorator, and how much you like the piece. Humler & Nolan, an auction gallery in Cincinnati, sold a 14-inch-high vase with early Limoges-style decoration that was probably made by the founder of the pottery, Maria Longworth Nichols. It’s marked “Rookwood 1883.” Although it was chipped and restored, the quality of the decoration, large size and artist attribution attracted a bid of $5,290.
Q: My old porcelain figurine is a bathing beauty posed on her tummy under a turtle’s shell. The woman’s backside is exposed. My aunt gave me the figure; I think she owned it since the 1920s. What can you tell me about it?
A: Posed porcelain figures of partially clad women on or under turtle’s shells have been around since the early 1900s. Figures made in Germany before World War I sell today for $100 to $400. Similar novelties made in Japan before or after World War II sell for less.
Q: I have a Polyphon music box from Germany that plays music from perforated metal discs. There are nine discs with song titles from the 1880s and ’90s. How much is it worth?
A: Polyphon Musikwerke was founded in Leipzig, Germany, before 1890. Most Polyphone disc music boxes were made between 1895 and 1905. Polyphon music boxes sell at auctions for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. A Polyphon Excelsion tabletop single-comb music box and nine discs sold for $1,150 this year.