We are planning to have a number of Frequently Asked Question guides about California Pottery here in the future. These may be broken up into appropriate articles or kept as one large page with a number of questions on it, depending on the need.
Definitely not. There are many, many examples where the manufacturer, potter or artisan did not mark a piece with the word “California”. In fact, there are many examples where a piece is marked with NOTHING at all (this applies to ALL type of pottery). Sometimes, the only way to identify a piece of pottery is by the shape, style, glaze or other feature. In addition, many companies only identified their items with a paper, foil or sticker label. If that label wore off or was taken off - then there is no way to know where the piece is from unless you can identify it by shape or style.
To me, this actually makes collecting pottery even MORE exciting - there is a good chance that you will be able to identify something valuable once you become familiar with what you’re looking for.
Not necessarily. (Unfortunately, this is the most common answer you will find in the FAQs.) Just because a piece is marked with “California” doesn’t mean it is old or vintage. It can be from a completely modern company. But it could also be a newer piece from a company that produced pottery for many years. Confusingly, it can even be from a company NOT from California! There is no perfect rule when it comes to pottery.
Not necessarily. While it is true that there are many examples of California potteries and artisans marking their wares in that way, it doesn’t mean it is older or more valuable.
To my knowledge, NO. Not that you would know it, considering the large amount of well-meaning sellers on Ebay who consistently write “this vase was made by California Pottery”, as if that was the company name. It seems to have been confused by mis-information.
There were California company names which incorporated something similar to the phrase, but they all had either more words in the company name, or they were derivatives of the phrase. Brock of California’s old name was Southern California Pottery Company, Inc., but I don’t think much ware was marked as such. California Originals is commonly called “California Pottery”.
Confusingly, the oldest Metlox wares have a stamp that reads only “California Pottery”. This is the line name, and not the company name, but it’s understandable that people would think it’s the company name since the Metlox name is not in the stamp.
Not necessarily. The three dots usually occur from the contact points touching the bottom of the piece when it was fired. You will find many older pieces have some sort of contact points - but just because you find the dots on an unmarked piece, it does not mean that piece is older or valuable.
Not necessarily. In fact, many of the older, more valuable examples of pottery have that exact type of marking. Boy, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve passed up a piece where I thought it wasn’t a “real” manufacturer because the bottom didn’t look “right”…
Definitely not. For some of the more popular manufacturers (like Gladding McBean, Metlox), there are 100s of different stamps. This is especially true when the manufacturer decides to include the name of the line or pattern on the bottom. In addition, backstamps did change over the years slightly. Also, sometimes they just decided to make a new mold that had a slightly different backstamp - even for the same pattern.
Your judgement is best. Don’t rely on the fact that there is a backstamp or not to tell you what a piece is. Very often, stamps did not “take” - half impressed, embossed or ink stamped pieces are more common than most people think. Also, remember that an “unusual”, reversed, backwards or imperfect looking backstamp on pottery does not necessarily make a piece more rare than a “normal” looking one.
It’s possible. During the boom years and for some time afterwards, remember that being able to say your items were “made in California” conferred a certain amount of prestige or cachet (Chipman notes this in his book). We have a page set up for pieces mistaken as California Pottery. In some cases, it’s simply an ID question, and others the manufacturer was clearly not based in California. Sometimes, east coast potteries were contracted out to created these pieces, which were later sold by California companies.
Good question. I first came across this in the Metlox book and it was spelled “pillovase”. I believe it has to do with the shape of this type of pottery vase which is rectangular, usually with an opening smaller than the actual base. It doesn’t look much like a “pillow” to me, however. I’d appreciate it if anyone has insight into where this term came from since I’m not a potter myself.