If you’re a collector of Rookwood pottery, you may find yourself drawn to the distinctive matte finish of Van Briggle Pottery- and with good reason.
Artus Van Briggle, who founded his pottery in Colorado in 1901, developed his matte or dead glaze while working for Rookwood. After years of attempting to duplicate the famous dead glaze found on Chinese Ming vases, he succeeded, first exhibiting examples in the Paris Exhibition to great acclaim.
By this time, Van Briggle was in Colorado Springs, seeking a healthier climate to cure tuberculosis. Here he found local deposits of kaolin and feldspar and used them, as well as imported materials to produce a superior clay and spent the summer of 1900 developing designs for his new pottery line.
A descendent of skilled Flemish artisans, Van Briggle married another artist Anne Lawrence Gregory whom he met in art school. Around 1900 Artus and Anne developed the double A enclosed in a square that remains the logo of the Van Briggle Company. Unfortunately, the Colorado climate did litter for Van Briggle’s health, and he died on July 4, 1904, leaving his glaze formulas, designs and the operation of the fledgling Van Briggle Pottery Company to his widow, Anne.
In the ensuing years the company went through many changes including bankruptcies and numerous reorganizations. In 1935 a flood destroyed records and the molds for several early designs; they survived, and today are one of the few remaining American factories still producing art pottery. Tiles that were made in the early years were generally unmarked and rare. Bookends, lamps, candlesticks, animal figures and plaques as well as vases are included in the production line.
The factory continues to produce many of Van Briggle’s original designs, often in his turquoise Ming matte glaze. Colorations vary slightly and many of the earlier glazes have been modified, but it is sometimes difficult to tell the age of a piece without examining it carefully. Frequently the bottom of a piece will give the collector the best indication of age. Early pieces (up to about 1920) usually have date marks and those produced before Van Briggle died are most sought after. A record was set for Van Briggle pottery last year when one of his early designs, the 11 inch tall Lady of the Lily made in 1902, sold at auction for $41,250.00.
Many, but not all, pieces made in the 1920s bear the Van Briggle Logo and USA on the bottom. Some pieces from this era and the 1930s have a ‘dirty bottom,’ clay smeared on the bottom.
Some Van Briggle pieces are found in a shiny glaze, Honey Gold, Jet Black, and Trout Lake Green. These were produced from 1955 to 1968 and marked Anna Van Briggle to commemorate Artus’s wife, who kept the factory going in the early years after her husband’s death.
Earlier pieces are more likely to have a combination of glazes. Throughout its history, the company has been noted for its glazes, most popular being Ming Turquoise or Turquoise Blue (a sky blue with a darker blue overspray). If you find a piece of Van Briggle in Mountain Craig Brown (a honey brown color with a light green overspray) it has to be dated prior to 1935, when the glaze formula was lost in the flood. Persian Rose, another popular color, was used from 1946 to 1968, replacing the earlier darker Mulberry glaze. Moonglo, a glaze developed in the mid-1940s was later altered to a whiter hue.
The pottery has experimented with high gloss glazes and novelty items, but its main production remains substantially as Van Briggle envisioned it. A typical Van Briggle piece combines the flowing lines of the molded clay with elegant glazes to produce pleasing designs with no extraneous decoration. -Barbara Williams Sackett
For 80+ Articles on Antiques and Collectibles: