Purchase Story

Rookwood XXIX

Humler & Nolan, Cincinnati, Ohio

Photos courtesy Humler & Nolan

Rookwood plaques were among the top lots during an auction held by Humler & Nolan on June 1 and 2 in Cincinnati, Ohio. But the market still isn’t what it used to be, according to auction manager Riley Humler.

The Rookwood XXIX auction—which featured sessions devoted to the Cincinnati art pottery, other art pottery, and art glass—included a decent showing of the better Rookwood, plus an acceptable performance of the A-list Weller.

The Rookwood portion of the auction was led by a Vellum scenic plaque decorated by Sara Sax in 1914. Depicting a late fall countryside in the evening, 9¼" x 14¼" plus original frame, the plaque sold for $27,140 (including buyer’s premium), well above its estimate of $5000/7000.

Rookwood Vellum scenic plaque, Sara Sax, 1914, late fall countryside at eventide, marked, artist’s signature, 9¼" x 14¼" plus original frame, fine crazing, $27,140 (est. $5000/7000).

“We just had the perfect storm on that one,” said Humler. “There were probably three or four very serious bidders for it, and it just went crazy.”

Also bringing five-figure prices among the Rookwood Vellum plaques were Venetian Scene by Edward Diers, 1935, depicting boats on the water, with a religious shrine in the background, 14" x 16" plus frame, at $18,880 (est. $15,000/20,000), and a landscape anchored by Mount Rainier, the work of Fred Rothenbusch in 1928, 16¼" x 14¼" plus the original frame, that realized $14,160 (est. $14,000/16,000).

Rookwood Vellum scenic plaque, 1935, Venetian Scene, Edward Diers (1871-1947), marked, artist’s monogram, 14" x 16" plus frame, $18,880 (est. $15,000/20,000).

Humler described the plaques as exceptional. “We had three really, really nice plaques that we probably won’t see the likes of for a while,” he said. Even so, he noted that prices are still below peak levels from years past, when the supply-and-demand equation favored consignors. “There are more sellers than buyers,” he added in reference to today’s market.

The holes being created by the sale of items such as the Vellum plaques aren’t easily filled. “The big issue is where are you going to get things to replace it?” Humler asked.

Other top pieces of Rookwood included the catalog’s cover lot, a French Red vase decorated by Sara Sax in 1922, having incised stylized cherry blossoms in glossy enamel-like colors of red and orange with green leaves, contrasting against a dark green ground in a matte finish, 13⅛" high, that brought $14,750 (est. $8000/10,000).

“It was just a beautiful piece. We couldn’t say enough nice things about it,” said Humler. “Obviously we liked it; we put it on the cover. Probably one of the best things about it was it went to somebody who has been a customer of ours for thirty years who is going to love it. It went to a good home.”

A Rookwood Standard glaze vase depicting a portrait of a standing Native American, incised “Black Bird Sioux,” decorated by Grace Young in 1900, 12⅞" high and inexplicably marked as a second, sold for $9440 (est. $3500/4500), as did a Rookwood Iris glaze vase with two irises on the front and two buds on the back, the work of Carl Schmidt in 1909 (est. $6000/8000).

Rookwood Standard glaze vase, 1900, Grace Young (1869-1947), full standing portrait of Sioux Chief Black Bird, incised “Black Bird Sioux,” marked, artist’s monogram, 12⅞" high, wheel-ground X (designating it as a second, the reason unknown), fine crazing, light scratches, $9440 (est. $3500/4500).

Among the Rookwood oddities was a hand-painted doll head dated 1918, the design attributed to Cincinnati’s acclaimed sculptor Clement Barnhorn, 5¼" high, that sold for $2006 (est. $800/1000). The catalog noted, “A few of these were made by Rookwood during WW I because porcelain doll’s heads from Germany were unavailable. This is the only one we have ever sold or seen.”

The doll head typified the current Rookwood market, with buyers taking special interest in things that are unusual, fresh, and in good condition. “If it’s been around and it’s been seen, in many cases, or if it has issues, it’s just a problem,” Humler said. “If it’s fresh, though, they seem to do well.”

No lot might have summed up the vagaries of the Rookwood market better than a large Black Opal vase decorated with larger-than-life peonies, the work of Sara Sax in 1926. The interior of the hand-thrown vase was lined in what appeared to be Nubian Black glaze. Standing 14¼" high, the piece was thought to have been made into a lamp at Rookwood, judging by a neat drill hole that appeared to be factory made. The vase was the cover lot for the Rookwood X auction in June 2000, when it sold for $23,100 against an estimate of $12,500/17,500. This time around the piece could garner only $4720 (est. $5000/7000).

From the Keramics session, Weller stood out, led by a Hudson scenic vase decorated by Hester Pillsbury, depicting a large ship at full sail, as well as a second ship, an island with a lighthouse, and more than three dozen gulls in flight, 27½" high, that sold for $20,060 (est. $7000/10,000). The vase is pictured in Weller Pottery: The Rare, The Unusual, The Seldom Seen by Linda Carrigan and Allan Wunsch.

Weller Hudson scenic vase by Hester Pillsbury, a large ship at full sail plus other nautical features, half-kiln Weller Pottery ink stamp, artist’s signature, 27½" high, excellent condition with some crazing, $20,060 (est. $7000/10,000).

“As Weller goes, it was a very nice piece—huge, heavy, great shape. It had all the bells and whistles,” said Humler. However, he also offered some perspective. “I know for a fact maybe twenty years ago the consignor was offered twenty-five thousand [dollars] for the vase, and the guy turned it down.”

The best of the art glass included a Daum Nancy blow-out vase depicting mature trees in ultra-high relief, their purplish-black color contrasting with a light background, 11¼" high, that sold for $6490 (est. $4000/6000).
Results during the art glass session were mixed. “A couple of better pieces did what we thought they would do. A couple of pieces didn’t sell,” said Humler. Among the latter was a set of 12 Lenox Ceramic Art Company dinner plates decorated with orchids by British artist William H. Morley for Marshall Field & Company of Chicago (est. $5000/7000). “They were expensive to make them, and they used to bring huge money, but just didn’t fly. It’s not surprising in some ways. I don’t know what you do with beautiful Lenox plates like that, other than display them. You’re not going to eat off of them.”

Humler noted that contemporary glass did well. “We saw a little uptick there. That was nice.” A selection of Lotton helped define part of that market. “What we’re seeing with Lotton glass is the bigger, fancier pieces sell. Smaller pieces don’t cause the excitement as much as the big stuff.”

The market as a whole continues to concern Humler. “The universal complaint anymore is no young people are coming into the collecting fold, which is relatively true. Our base of buyers is getting older and declining,” he said. “We may skip a generation before there is interest in these things again. I think they will be rediscovered. For the time being, we’re in for a rough time. It’s a good time to buy.”

For more information, phone Humler & Nolan at (513) 381-2041 or visit (www.humlernolan.com).

Rookwood French Red vase, Sara Sax, 1922, incised stylized cherry blossoms, marked, artist’s monogram, 13⅛" high, uncrazed, $14,750 (est. $8000/10,000).

Daum Nancy blow-out vase decorated with a stand of mature trees in ultra-high relief, the glass being purple-black, the woodland silhouetted by a sky having a luminescent moonlit quality by way of frost, yellow, and aqua mottling, marked, 11¼" high, excellent condition, $6490 (est. $4000/6000).

Tiffany Favrile special-order graphite-black vase, the shoulder cloaked by a tangle of vines scattered with leaves in iridescent golden yellow and blue aurene, marked, 5¼" high x 6½" wide, some bumps in the glass, excellent condition, $4720 (est. $2500/3500).

Steuben red-cased shade randomly drizzled with golden threads supporting heart-shaped foliage, partial mark, 4¼" high x 3¾" diameter, excellent condition, $4366 (est. $1200/1500).

Quezal vase with bright golden festoons scalloping the neck and shoulder, over oyster white, the lower emerald-green body having double designs of golden pulled feathers with coiled tips bordered above by a series of chain-link patterns, marked, 7⅛" high, excellent condition, $2950 (est. $2000/3000).

Above: Rookwood architectural faience 21-tile tableau featuring ten white geese, circa 1915, never installed, marked, 20¾" x 47⅝", a few minor glaze nicks, mostly to the border, the tiles and bordermounted on a ¾" sheet of plywood with a reversible bonding agent, $5900 (est. $5000/7000). Left: from a separate consignor, a Rookwood original watercolor design for the geese tile tableau, 7" x 12½" plus frame, lettered “The Rookwood Pottery Co.” and with other information, good condition with minor foxing, $501.50 (est. $400/500).

Rookwood Green Vellum vase, 1910, Sara Sax (1870-1949), six lightly incised sailboats with a shoreline in the background, marked, 7⅜" high, fine overall crazing, $4366 (est. $1500/2000).

Rookwood Sea Green vase, 1902, Sturgis Laurence (1870-1961), poppies, marked, artist’s initials, 18⅛" high, fine crazing, minor scratches, faint hairline, $5900 (est. $4000/5000).

Rookwood architectural tile tableau and original watercolor of the design, 21 tiles, galleon on choppy seas, original Rookwood trim pieces, 21" x 48", mounted on board, new frame, restoration to chips and cracks, the watercolor 7" x 12¾" plus new frame, $8260 (est. $4000/5000). The catalog noted, “The tiles were rescued from a home in Cincinnati which was in danger of being razed.”

Charles Lotton Peacock Feather lamp created in 1993, the 18" ruffled shade having the design of six feathers, the base with six more plumes, all on a bronze plinth, the shade signed and dated, 27" high overall, $4956 (est. $3000/4000). The catalog described the piece as “Perhaps Charles’s best peacock lamp.”

Rookwood Vellum scenic plaque, 1928, Fred Rothenbusch (1876-1937), Mount Rainier, double waterfalls cascading the lower slopes and conifer trees along one side, marked, artist’s monogram, 16¼" x 14¼" plus original frame, uncrazed, $14,160 (est. $14,000/16,000).

Rookwood rook advertising paperweight, “Rookwood Pottery” on one side, “Fine Tiles” on the other, dark blue over light blue matte glazes, 1928, marked, 3⅞" high, excellent condition, $3068 (est. $900/1200).

Rookwood Iris glaze vase, 1909, Carl Schmidt (1875-1959), two irises on the front and two buds on the back, marked, artist’s monogram, 13¾" high, uncrazed, some light scratches, $9440 (est. $6000/8000).

Rookwood porcelain bisque hand-painted doll head, 1918, the design attributed to sculptor Clement Barnhorn (1857-1935), marked, 5¼" high x 4" wide at shoulders, excellent condition, $2006 (est. $800/1000).

Rookwood large Black Opal vase, Sara Sax, 1926, larger-than-life peonies, hand-thrown, the interior lined in what appears to be the Nubian Black glaze, marked, artist’s monogram, 14¼" high, thought to have been made into a lamp at Rookwood, with a neat drill hole (likely done at Rookwood), uncrazed, $4720 (est. $5000/7000). The vase was the cover lot for Rookwood X in 2000, when it sold for $23,100.

Rookwood Flowing glaze vase, 1900, Matt Daly (1860-1937), carved and painted irises, marked, artist’s signature, 13⅛" high, professional repair to a drill hole, light scratch, $5192 (est. $5000/7000). The catalog noted, “In our opinion, this is the most successful example of Flowing glaze we have seen. Flowing glaze itself was obviously difficult to control as evidenced by the short production span and limited number of extant pieces. Many were marked as seconds but this example has all the good qualities of Flowing glaze with none of the bad.”


Originally published in the September 2019 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2019 Maine Antique Digest

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