The Historical Lessons in American Art Pottery

When you stop to think about how long many of our favorite American art pottery lines were in production, it becomes clear there were many historical events that these pottery companies witnessed and adapted to. In looking through a book on Roseville Pottery recently, I found some of the old advertisements and before long, I found myself lost in the time periods and various world changing events many of these ads referred to.

Understanding these dynamics allows us to bring our appreciation for beautiful collections to an entirely new level. Even the various fonts that were used are indicative of an ever-changing world. For instance, in a photocopy of the Roseville Pottery letterhead, the date looks like this:

May Fourth

1 9 4 0

Of course, in our “go, go, go” world, we’re lucky if we even remember to date a letter, much less carefully spell it out and center it.

Ad campaigns can cost millions in today’s world and they were just as important in the late 1930s and 1940s as they are today. One full size color ad reveals the three Roseville Bushberry colors. The attention paid to detail in arranging the art pottery, along with the carefully selected blue-green and rich ivory backgrounds is nothing short of stunning. The shorter of the two vases in the ad is perfectly placed on a block that will provide a bit of height while the larger vase has lovely small white flowers to frame it. A smaller Bushberry basket fills the mirroring page on its own.

Photo: Alfred University

Another fun advertisement states that Roseville Pottery offers “distinctive designs in modern art pottery”. Today, I think the word we would use is “timeless”.

In a more serious advertisement in 1943, the American economy was taking a hit due to World War II. Fuel, sugar and even pork rations were in place. A drawing of a man wearing a sombrero and sandals is shown with the words, “Pedro seldom worries about production problems”. It then goes on to say:

We know you’ll excuse us if we seem to envy imperturbable Pedro just a bit. For where he gives not a fig for such things as seller’s market and depleted inventories, we’ve worried ourselves gray figuring how to give our customers the Roseville pottery they want and need.

Indeed, one need only look at the advertisements of any given period to understand social problems and even global problems such as war.

As we know, Roseville Pottery has stood the test of time, even when “sure things” have come and gone over the years. It’s that distinctive look and feel (the textures of Roseville Pottery are incredible) of quality workmanship and dedication few companies will ever know.

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