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.