Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates, Mt. Crawford, Virginia
Photos courtesy Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates
On February 17 Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates held a little sale at its gallery in Mt. Crawford, Virginia. I refer to the sale as “little” for two reasons. This was a single-theme sale, and it consisted of only 353 lots, approximately one-third of the number of lots that routinely cross the block at an Evans sale.
The highest-priced lot of the sale was this group of seven pieces of Norfolk and Western Railroad dinnerware by Lamberton Scammell China, Trenton, New Jersey. They date to circa 1930 and are decorated in a geometric and floral Art Deco design with interlaced script “N&WRy” initials. The lot brought $2340 (est. $100/150). After all, the Shenandoah Valley is Norfolk and Western country.
This auction consisted of items from only a handful of consignors, with the majority of the lots coming from the estate of Philip M. Sullivan. Evans has been systematically selling the Sullivan estate, and the lots offered at this session were from Sullivan’s extensive collection of Buffalo Pottery.
Most readers will recognize Buffalo Pottery as the manufacturer of Deldare ware, the hand-painted pottery with an odd greenish-brown glaze that is most often decorated with scenes of Colonial figures or English fox hunters. But Buffalo Pottery is much more, and the short version of a rather long story goes like this.
The 6 3/8" diameter “Deldare Ware” advertising plate at left, dated 1908, was offered with a 10" diameter unglazed bisque-fired plate decorated with the English village scene “Ye Village Gossips,” circa 1910. They brought $263.25 (est. $50/100).
This undamaged 9 1/8" high Deldare jardinière with a 12" diameter opening displays a variation of the “Ye Lion Inn” design and is dated with the 1909 Buffalo Pottery mark. It sold to a telephone bidder for $1053 (est. $100/200).
The Larkin Company (a.k.a. the Larkin Soap Manufacturing Company) was founded in 1875 by John D. Larkin in Buffalo, New York. During the fourth quarter of the 19th century, the Larkin Company grew into an extremely successful mail-order soap business. Its success was due, in large part, to the marketing ideas initiated by Larkin’s brother-in-law, Elbert Hubbard. Before he left Larkin and moved on to found the Arts and Crafts community of Roycroft in 1895, Hubbard is credited with developing the idea of offering premiums to loyal customers of Larkin products. This was the forerunner of saving Ovaltine proofs-of-purchase in order to receive a secret decoder ring.
The Larkin Company’s loyalty premiums became more and more elaborate. They evolved from postcards stuffed into soap boxes to handkerchiefs to desk lamps to the desks themselves. Does “Larkin desk” ring a bell? At one point, a decision was made to offer a ceramic soap dish as one of the premium choices, so in 1901 the Buffalo Pottery was born, and in 1903 the first kiln was fired.
During the next half-century, Buffalo Pottery produced an incredible variety of ceramics. Much of its production centered on commercial tableware used by restaurants, cafeterias, railroad dining cars, and hotels. The company appears to have always been aware of its market and sensitive to the needs and desires of its potential customers. In an undated sales manual compiled by W.E. Brown, at the time listed as Buffalo Pottery’s manager of sales, he writes, “Rather than start in the manufacture of [dinnerware in] just any color, we decided to make a scientific investigation and produce a solid color china that would help sell food.”
That “scientific investigation” resulted in color wheels that blended various shades and hues to achieve the most visually pleasing and appetizing palette for the palate. The manual appears to have been written in the 1930s and goes on to make suggestions as to the color of the dinnerware that would best coordinate with a restaurant’s décor.
Buffalo Pottery is credited as being the first American-based company to offer the popular Blue Willow pattern of china. The heavy segmented plates in that pattern are still a favorite among those who choose the meat loaf, green beans, and mashed potatoes special at their local diner.
The five graduated Blue Willow platters range from 10¾" x 8¾" to 18 1/8" x 14¼" and date from 1908 to 1916. The lot sold for $198.90 (est. $100/150).
To say that Buffalo Pottery was a success is an understatement. The firm’s logo was designed by none other than Frank Lloyd Wright, who also designed the administration building for the Larkin Company.
The Larkin Company/Buffalo Pottery story is fascinating and deserves more space than we can allocate here. Its history is quite interesting, and examples of its varied products offer an excellent and relatively inexpensive collecting opportunity, overlapping directly with railroad and restaurant ware collections, and fitting easily within anyone’s interests in Art Deco or Art Nouveau.
All of these articles are marked “Buffalo / China / Rouge / Ware,” and three are clearly marked “Larkin.” The catalog suggests that they were likely used in the company’s administrative building restaurant or dining room. Included in the lot, which sold for $128.70 (est. $80/120), are a 9¼" diameter dinner plate, a covered teapot with conforming tray, a small creamer, and a covered mustard or sugar pot.
Among the non-Buffalo Pottery lots at the auction was a nice selection of Coors Pottery from the collection of Jim Lawrence and Denver Smallwood of Chattanooga, Tennessee. We know Coors for its beer, but during Prohibition the company made good use of the Herold China and Pottery Company, which it had acquired a few years earlier. During those “dry” years, the Coors Porcelain Company produced a line of distinctive art pottery. Now known as CoorsTek, the company is no longer in the art pottery business but is focused on high-tech industrial- and military-grade porcelain products.
When we think of Coors and Golden, Colorado, beer comes to mind, but during the Prohibition years (1920-33), the Coors Porcelain Company was established and a distinctive line of pottery was produced. Here are four examples of the firm’s artistic heritage. Dating to circa 1925 and finished in a matte fawn exterior with a vivid turquoise interior, the 5" to 6¼" high vases sold for $105.30 (est. $80/120). Today, the Coors Porcelain Company is known as CoorsTek, and it produces high-tech specialty industrial ceramics.
The sale itself went quickly and smoothly. There were no unexpected blockbuster lots. The highest-priced lot comprised seven pieces of 1930s Art Deco-decorated Norfolk and Western Railroad dining ware by Lamberton Scammell China, Trenton, New Jersey. It sold for $2340 (including buyer’s premium) against an estimate of $100/150.
For additional information, contact Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates at (540) 434-3939 or see the website (www.jeffreysevans.com). There are also several online sources of information related to collecting restaurant wares and railroad dining wares.
One of the most interesting Buffalo Pottery pieces was this 9¾" diameter Art Deco Colorido ware plate that displays a central thunderbird design and a stylized “FH” logo for Frederick Henry Harvey (1835-1901), one of the American West’s early entrepreneurs. Harvey developed a chain of restaurants along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, and later his company branched out into tourism. Many may remember the 1946 Judy Garland film The Harvey Girls, which tells part of the story. This piece of cross-collecting dinnerware brought $1989 (est. $50/100).
The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad commissioned Buffalo Pottery to produce a commemorative plate celebrating the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth. The result was this 10 5/8" diameter plate with a wide embossed gilt rim and a central portrait of Washington. It is marked “Ye Olde / Ivory /Buffalo China / MADE EXPRESSLY / FOR / CHESAPEAKE & OHIO – R.R. / 1732 BICENTENNIAL 1932.” Included in the lot, which brought $819 (est. $100/200), were the original box and accompanying documents, an invitation to preview the George Washington train on April 22, 1932, and a pamphlet about the train.
This 13 7/16" high Buffalo Pottery Deldare garden seat or jardinière stand is decorated with three English village scenes: “The Great Controversy,” “Ye Lion Inn,” and “All you have to do [is] teach the Dutchman / English.” The undamaged seat, which bears the “Buffalo / Pottery / Deldare Ware” mark and is dated 1908, sold to an Internet buyer for $702 (est. $300/500).
Originally published in the May 2017 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2017 Maine Antique Digest