Monday, January 21, 2013

What’s Up with Watt?

QUESTION: I have some pieces of kind of folksy pottery sitting on a shelf in my kitchen. My mother, who had given them to me, said they belonged to my grandmother. It seems that during the 1950s she picked them up at the grocery store as premiums. She began with coffee mugs and then added a pasta bowl and covered casserole dish. They all have the word “Watt” embossed into the clay on the bottom. Can you tell me anything about these pieces?

ANSWER: Your pottery pieces came from the Watt Pottery of Crooksville, Ohio. They’re highly collectible and today bring relatively high prices.

The Watt family of Perry County, Ohio opened the Watt Pottery in July, 1922 on the site of the old Burley Pottery in Crooksville. Through the remainder of the 1920s and into the early 1930s they made stoneware butter churns, crocks, jugs, and preserve jars, which they marked with an acorn or an eagle  stamped in blue, plus how many gallons the vessel would hold marked in a circle on the bottom.

But the introduction of oven ware pottery, enabling cooks to take a container from their ice boxes and put it directly into their ovens, forced the Watt pottery to discontinue its stoneware line and pursue the more lucrative oven ware.

The lightweight clay body, made of a percentage of feldspar and whiteners which prevented the clay from discoloring after firing in the pottery kilns, also made it resilient enough to withstand the extremes in temperature. The whiteners also gave the Watt’s pottery its brightness, especially when over painted with brightly colored motifs featuring apples, cherries, roosters, and flowers..

In 1949, the Watt Pottery began hand decorating its wares using simple patterns in bright colors on an ochre-colored clay base. To minimize the cost of producing these wares, teams of three decorators used  as few brush strokes as possible. The housewives of the 1950s loved the country charm of these wares. And because they were so inexpensive to produce, Watt wares began appearing as premiums in grocery and department stores.

Altogether, Watt Pottery produced wares decorated in 16 patterns, including four variations of the Apple Pattern, one in the Cherry Pattern, two of the Tulip Pattern, six in various flower patterns, plus Autumn Foliage and Eagle Patterns. The pottery remained in business until a fire in 1965 destroyed the manufacturing plant and halted production.

Most pieces of Watt Pottery ovenware feature large marks, often covering the entire bottom of each piece. These markings usually consist of one or more concentric rings deeply impressed into the bottom of the pottery. Although the company didn’t mark all of its wares, the bottom mark associated with 1940s Watt ware is an impressed: "MADE IN U.S.A."  Pieces may also be marked: "Oven Ware" or simply have the bowl size impressed, usually in a circle.

The pasta bowl your grandmother purchased back in 1952 is now worth nearly $100, and the covered casserole dish comes in at $150. But the big surprise are the coffee cups, now worth a whopping $200 each!

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