Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Make Money Buying and Selling Antiques: Art Pottery

Rookwood Pottery. (Photo from

When you're looking to make money buying and selling antiques & collectibles, it's important to take note that Collectors of art pottery will usually stop at nothing to purchase the pieces they desire.

So pottery is second to fine art on my list of treasures to find. I have many success stories to share with you and hopefully after reading this blog you will be sharing yours with me in the future. It was only after attending an auction at the Cincinnati Art Gallery that I became a true believer in the business of buying and selling art pottery.

Sitting in my seat on the third row so that I could see everything that was going on at the auction, I began to plan my strategies for purchasing the items that I had circled in the catalog. One item really caught my eye because I hadn't ever seen one like it. It was a plaque showing a steamship pulling out of port. It was a rather large plaque and I figured it would bring some nice money but did I ever underestimate it! This piece, that could have possible been purchased at a house sale for five to seven thousand dollars, never looked back as it passed $50,000. The audience, including me, was holding its breath at $75,000 and people were applauding as it sailed past $100,000. Who says you can't make money in this business?

It wasn't that dramatic but I attended a house sale where there was a Grueby vase being offered. Every dealer in Chicago was ahead of me in line so I returned home thinking that I might return to the sale later, which I did. The vase was still there with its $5000 price tag and I was asked if I would like to purchase it. My answer was “Why should I when everyone else has passed on it?” I was able to negotiate a deal by putting four other items with it, and the total I paid was $3200. Do you see where I follow my own rules? The four pieces sold for around $2000 but, are you ready for this? The Grueby vase sold in Cincinnati for $13,500. I ask, can you make money with art pottery? I walked into a shop in Glencoe, Illinois and spotted a rather plain Rookwood small vase. What made it special was that the vase was carved. It was uncrazed and by one of the top artists at Rookwood pottery, so I figured that I would make a pass at it for around $300. The price tag read $600 and after some lengthy negotiations I was able to purchase it for $350. I feel I made a fair return on my money as it sold for $4500 at auction.

But this isn't about me so how can I help you? First I would like to give a list of what I think the leading potteries are. These are not in any particular order: Rookwood, Grueby, Newcomb, George Ohr, University of North Dakota, Marblehead, Teco and believe it or not, Tiffany. A great book to study on is American Art Pottery by David Rago. It should be purchased at or and it doesn't matter if it is used. Also you have heard me say many times that you should always keep your Kovels Book of Marks close at hand.

Here are the steps that I take to value a piece of pottery. First, who made it and who is the artist? Second, I evaluate the condition. It should be mint to bring top dollar as damage can take 75% of the value away. Then I look at the size--the larger the better is a general rule (in fact some pottery is valued by the inch). Last, is the market for this pottery increasing or decreasing? Why did I include that last step? Here is an example: Roseville was one of the favorites of the dealers but the market has gone down dramatically for Roseville pieces so I didn't include it in my list. Yes, if you can buy them cheaply enough they are still a buy, but not at the prices of past years. You see we want to make money and not let others set the prices for us so, yes the market is important.

When you want to make money buying and selling antiques & collectibles, staying with pottery makes sense, because there is an ample supply to be had and there will always be collectors for the better pieces.

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