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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Potter"s Marks

Until the 18th century, very few potters left their mark on their wares.  Pottery used to be more functional and utilitarian rather than fine art.  Sure, way back to the beginning of time, we potters put a little bit of ourselves into our pots, from shell and stick impressions to illustrations of the things around us and our interests.  But mostly, potters did not mark their pots because pots were just a tool, to use and then throw away.
Look closely and you can see H. BROOKS

Here in Connecticut, our local potter from Goshen, Hervey Brooks marked his pots. Between 1820-1860, Hervey made utilitarian redware pottery and stamped some of his wares with his name... H. BROOKS

Potters stamps were made from wood, metal or clay.
Old carved wood stamp

The famous South Carolina potter David Drake, known as Dave the slave, wrote his name directly into the side of his pot, just as I and many other potters still do.

Pottery stamps were not common until the 1800s when pottery factories started to mass produce wares for the growing demand, use of power equipment, need for unskilled jobs and ease of transportation of raw materials and finished wares.

Even in Europe, marks were not common until the 1700s.

Early Chinese potters stamp
Before the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) none of the underglaze blue or decorated porcelain items from Jingdezhen had any marks. Only during the Yongle reign (1403-1424), the reign of the third Ming emperor, white and blue porcelain made at the imperial kiln in Jingdezhen was marked for the first time.

Today, we look at the bottom of tea cups at antique stores to see the place it was manufactured... Made in China, Made in Austria.

Gebruder Heubach,  Germany
Some are stamped or drawn on with a brush with inks made of colored oxides and oils, some some are impressed into the clay and newer ones have a paper label.

Alamo Pottery - San Antonio and Hondo, Texas

Quimper, France

Gladding McBean & Co. - California

Reissner Stellmacher & Kessler (R St. K) 

Amphora Works - Turn-Teplitz, Bohemia

When I first started making pots in high school, I simply signed my name or initials, sometimes the date, and sometimes when it was ugly, not at all.  

When I started my own pottery company in 1986, I carved into plaster and made a clay impression that I fired to use as a stamp, a method I still use for special stamps, like the fish I used on my line of Christian cups or for the pots I make on my wooden treadle wheel. 

The original plaster mold and cast, a rooster logo, the name of my 1820s house, East Knoll, my address including the now absorbed into the city of Torrington, Torringford, (the original 1700s community I still live in) and the date 1986.  

I eventually had a metal stamp cast and still use that mounted on a curved piece of fired clay that makes stamping into firm clay easier.  I use my initials, RBD, Regina Britton Delarm on my bigger pots and EKP made of old type letters for my mini pottery. The date 1988  impressed with 4 circles from an ink cartridge. I stopped dating the pots in 1989 because wholesale customers thought their customers would not buy last years pots on their shelves.  Then time goes by quickly and those early 1986 TO 1989 stamped pots are now 25 years old.

So next time you check the bottom of a pot or porcelain for a mark, think of the little bit of history behind the stamp.

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