What’s it Worth – Teco Arts and Crafts Pottery Vase

A 12″ Teco arts and crafts vase recently sold at live auction for $12,600 including the buyer’s premium. The price may well be a record for this Teco shape.  The vase was reported to be in excellent condition with no damage or repair.  The vase is shape 287 and was originally designed by W. B. Mundie.  This classic arts and crafts Teco shape was produced in the two sizes a smaller 7″ vase and a harder to find 12″ version.  For comparison purposes, JustArtPottery.com sold the 7″ version of this shape with a slight hairline for $1,600 in 2010.
Sold at Auction 1/1/2014 for $12,600

Teco Pottery

Teco Pottery originally began as Spring Valley Tile Works in Terra Cotta, Illinois in the late 1800s; 1881 to be exact, and was a major player in the Prairie School arts and crafts movement that was later made popular by Frank Lloyd Wright. William Day Gates could often be found experimenting with different clay and glazing combinations, though the company profits came from drain tiles, finials, urns and other materials used to as fireproofing materials. Soon, though, his appreciation of the clay and glaze variations became more prominent and he cleverly named this new branch Teco Pottery – It’s a play on the words “TErra COtta”.

By 1902, Teco Pottery was introduced to the nation and that began a successful effort that resulted in more than 500 designs being released in less than two decades. While we don’t know for sure when the last pieces of Teco Pottery were actually produced, there exists documentation that suggests it continued until at least 1923.

If you’re familiar with Teco Pottery, you know that tell-tale matte green finish. What many aren’t aware of, though, is that it’s part of more than 90% of the entire pottery collection. Some of the pieces have interesting charcoaling, a darker gray, that overlays the green. The combination of these two glazing efforts is truly remarkable. Other colors you’ll find in Teco Pottery are brown, a deep red, pink and blue. Yellow is sometimes found as well. Teco Pottery is one of those collections that the more you display, the more dramatic that presentation is, and a lot of that has to do with the green glazing efforts.

Another unique look that’s part of this American art pottery collection is the abstract designs. There are a lot of clean and defined lines that are both dramatic and effective. To a lesser degree, there are pieces that aren’t as sharp-lined, but it’s most certainly those pieces that have angles that are most sought after. Many people use “architectural” in their descriptions – and that’s accurate too.

For those who love Teco Pottery as much as we do, you owe it to yourself to explore the records that are maintained at the University of Minnesota. Among those records are the original architectural drawings.

Have your own Teco Pottery collection? We’d love to see it! Drop us a line or share them on the Just Art Pottery Facebook page.

Terra Cotta Tile Works – Teco Pottery

In what began as a brick and tile company, the Terra Cotta Tile Works Company was founded in 1881. William Gates didn’t introduce the pottery line until two decades later in 1902. Within a decade of introducing the pottery line, there were more than 500 designs. Most are familiar with the simple, though lovely, matte green glaze, which encompasses nearly the entire collection. While that certainly lends to its unique presentation, there’s no denying the the forms and the role they play in Teco’s popularity.

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One ad, dated 1908 reads “Teco Pottery is extensively in demand for prizes and presents”. The black and white advertisement features one of Teco’s vases with side “pockets” that add a bit of dimension to the look, along with a narrow neck that flares up and out at the vase opening. It then goes on to say the pottery is “especially suitable for Christmas Presents, also Bridge Whist prizes”. It’s an interesting combination in terms of what the ad suggests.

One thing’s for sure, though, claims in this particular ad that Teco Pottery is “the pottery of restful, peaceful green and is remarkable for its purity of line and newness of design” are right on target. This truly is a collector’s dream. It’s popular, it can still be located and purchased without blowing your budget and it’s timeless. It’s as lovely and appropriate on a coffee table or shelf today as it was then.

Prairie School Influences

As mentioned, the decorative pottery line was introduced in 1902 and the timing couldn’t have been better as it is the epitome of the “prairie school” arts and crafts movement, courtesy of Frank Lloyd Wright, that was the “must have” in that time period. The traditional Teco pottery forms are best defined as either geometric (“architectural” is used often) or organic. While the most used color glaze was the matte green, collectors can locate pieces that incorporate reds and browns, too.

It’s not known the exact date Teco Pottery ceased its American art pottery lines, it’s believed it went until at least the mid 1920s.

The Versatile Teco Pottery Collection

Most of us, when we hear “McCoy Pottery” or “Roseville Pottery”, we instantly equate it with those familiar adjectives that suggests McCoy is more “kitschy” or maybe that Roseville Pottery is more “elegant” or even “varied” since there are so many Roseville lines. It’s Teco Pottery, however, that’s best described as versatile, though wonderfully predictable, while “matte” and “green” come to mind, as well. Those matte finishes, the simple though remarkable colors and glazes come together to present those eclectic designs in a masterful way.

Founded in 1881 by William Gates and originally named Terra Cotta Tile Works, the primary focus then was on functionality versus artistry. Two decades later, the more artistic side of the company was allowed to emerge. In fact, Teco Pottery included more than 500 art pottery designs by the time the company ceased operations, which interestingly, is not memorialized anywhere. It’s not at all clear as to the official closing date, which adds a mysterious element to the mix.

The more architectural feel of the various pieces exist for a reason: many architects are credited with the inspiration and design of the art pottery lines. Better know as the “Prairie School” style, which incorporated more natural elements, or what we might call “eco-friendly” in today’s culture, it’s what best defines the art pottery as a whole.

Like many companies in business during this timeframe, Teco Pottery took several hits courtesy of the stock market crash and ultimate Great Depression. It’s believed an attorney took over the company at some point during this time. Again, like other companies often do, Teco Pottery was eventually absorbed by other larger companies to the degree that art pottery was no longer even a smaller production effort. It’s a shame too, simply because of the unique forms that define the Teco Pottery brand. Fortunately, there are many pieces in circulation and collecting them isn’t as difficult as other American art pottery lines. Of course, we have an inventory of Teco Pottery and we invite you to take a look at some of these amazing design efforts. If you’re not already a Teco fan, odds are, you will be.

Teco Pottery Marks

It has been reported that every piece of Teco pottery was originally marked with a paper label Pict4473containing the name of the designer and the pottery, as well as the model number and price of the vase.  However, it is rare to find a Teco vase today that still retains its original paper label. 

Many Teco vases were stamped at least once with the Teco trademark and it is not unusual to find vases double and even triple stamped. Teco was also routinely marked with the shape number in addition to the trademark.  Later examples of Teco ware were marked with the word "Teco" in a rectangle.  The following photos provide examples of typical Teco pottery marks. 

Dsc6693 Dsc8521Pict0820

Greg Myroth

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Teco Pottery History

William D. Gates founded American Terra Cotta & Ceramics Company in 1887 in the Crystal Lake Dsc9378 area which is northwest of Chicago. Gates initially got into the terra cotta business in 1880s when he founded Spring Valley Tile Works which was subsequently renamed Terra Cotta Tile Works. Gates’ entry into the Terra Cotta business put him in direct competition with Northwestern Terra Cotta Company.

Decorative art pottery became a logical expansion from the terra cotta business for Gates. The rapid growth of arts and crafts pottery led William Gates to form a new subsidiary called Gates Pottery in 1899. The art pottery produced by Gates Potteries would be called Teco ware.

William Gates came up with the Teco name from the “Te” in Terra and the “co” in Cotta. Soon thereafter Gates and his chemists developed the highly sought after “Teco matte green” for which the company is famous. After mastering the matte green color, Gates continued to experiment with new arts and crafts shapes for his vases.

It was always Gates’ desire with Teco to produce pottery with appeal from shape and color rather than elaborate decoration. The expanding arts and crafts movement and the Prairie School provided Gates an approach to architectural ceramic design and a customer base for Teco pottery. Teco, possibly more so than any other arts and crafts pottery from its time, seems particularly at home in arts and crafts bungalows and houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and other Prairie style architects.

By 1930 William Gates sold American Terra Cotta & Ceramics Company to the family of George A. Pict4954 Berry, Jr. At some point the company was renamed American Terra Cotta Corporation. The pottery resumed making garden pottery as well as architectural terra cotta. A company brochure from 1937 showed a small selection of garden pottery including vases in blue, yellow, brown, white and matte green. During the 1930s, the company began referring to itself as Teco Potteries. Workers at the Teco potteries reported that garden pottery was produced until 1941.

Reference: Teco – Art Pottery of the Prairie School by Sharon S. Darling

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Greg Myroth