Locations: Catalina Island
Dates of Operation: 1927 - 1937
Seller Values: Check average price on Ebay
Catalina Island Pottery has truly come into its own as a collectible. I’d say it’s at least in the top 5 of the most collectible of California potteries, and certainly one of the most valuable. As one of the most storied and influential potteries in California, it produced a huge number of items including artware, gardenware and dinnerware in a short 10 year period.
I’m just going to say right now that my knowledge of the company is very limited, mostly because we don’t actively collect Catalina, but also because it is nearly impossible to come across it in the thrift stores and flea markets (Update: 8/2009 I spoke a little too soon, see the find below). If you have interest in this pottery, I’d suggest picking up noted expert Carol Coates’ book on Catalina Island Pottery. In addition, Carol runs a website and blog dedicated to Catalina collectors.
I’ll give a really basic rundown here. The full name of the company was the Catalina Clay Products Company and it was located in Avalon on Santa Catalina Island. I’ve never been on the island, although I did go fishing for yellowtail on my dad’s boat in the early 1980s. The island was actually owned by William Wrigley, Jr. of Wrigley’s Chewing gum fame. It was he and a business partner (David Renton) who initially came up with the idea to form a pottery on the island. One interesting thing is that they Wrigley was very strict about using native clay and oxides for the glazes. Brown clay from the island itself was used until 1932 when they began using white body clay from the mainland.
Catalina produced a large amount of artware such as vases, but later they also began producing souvenirs. They also made several different lines of dinnerware, gardenware and other accessories. Many of the island’s facilities sported colorful tiles made by the company. Several large names in the world of Calif. pottery are associated with Catalina. Notably, Harold Johnson, who initially worked at Pacific, was instrumental in the development of Catalina shapes and glazes. Also, Virgil Haldeman got his start at Catalina, replacing Johnson in 1930 after the latter left to form his own company. Haldeman, of course, followed suit in 1933 and started up the Haldeman Pottery which produced the popular Caliente line.
One of the biggest sticking points and sources of confusion for Catalina regards its sale to the Gladding McBean company in 1937. Gladding continued use of some of the Catalina lines, and introduced others under the using the Catalina name. However, none of the “Catalina” items from Gladding were made on the island. I’ve heard that for earlier Catalina items (pre-1932), you can easily identify it because it had the native “brown-clay” body.
However, for later 1932-1937 Catalina ware, you have to go by the backstamp. In all cases, the stamp “Catalina Pottery” is NOT from the island, but was used by Gladding. The addition of “Made in USA” also indicates a Gladding product. Usually, the stamp “Catalina Island” or “Catalina” is associated with the actual island pottery. However, I believe that there are a few stamps with those words which are actually from Gladding - I don’t know if it was a transitional period or not. Apparently, there are also some true Catalina items that were unmarked. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough knowledge to give more insight into the stamps right now. I would suggest looking at Carol’s books or website.
Recently, I finally came across a piece of Catalina at the thrift store. Living in SoCal, I’d seen Catalina so many times in antique malls or shows, but it was always out of my price range. The large charger plate isn’t the most glamorous, and it’s not in perfect condition with a slight crack, but I was happy to finally have an example to show here.
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