Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Elephant Mugs and More

QUESTION: I recently bought a small mug in the shape of an elephant at a monthly flea market. It has GOP 1968 embossed under the top edge. On the bottom it says "Frankhoma" What can you tell me about this cute little mug?.

The mug you found was a souvenir of the Republican Party Women, created by John Frank.

After graduating from the Chicago Art Institute, John Frank moved to Norman, Oklahoma., in 1927 to establish the first Ceramic Art Department at the University of Oklahoma. In 1933 he started his own pottery company to create a line of fine art ware and sculpture that ordinary people could afford to buy. A year later, Frank's wife, Grace Lee, suggested the company name should incorporate both their family name and the last letters of their state, thus the company officially became Frankoma Pottery.

The Franks and their new business moved about 20 miles south of Tulsa to Sapulpa in 1938, but soon hardship followed. Their first building, constructed partially by Grace's father, burned down shortly after their arrival. Despite the economic hardships caused by the fire and the Great Depression, the Franks followed their vision and rebuilt.

Instead of reissuing early sculptures, such as figurines, ashtrays and vases, the Franks decided to make bookends, candleholders, wall vases, face masks and plaques following the fire. Frankoma also became the pioneer in colored tableware with bold designs in vibrant Southwestern colors such as Prairrie Green and Desert Gold. From 1942 until 1988 Frankoma created a line of wagon- wheel dinnerware that became its signature product. The Pottery also produced dinnerware in other patterns, including Mayan-Aztec, Plainsman, Lazybones, and Westwind.

In 1968 John Frank designed an elephant mug as a fundraiser for the National Republican Party. The following year it became a collectible series. The Frank’s daughter, Joniece, designed the first Democrat donkey mug in 1975. The company produced other collectibles,  including 14 Teenagers-of-the-Bible plates issued from 1972 until 1982 and Christmas plates,  first issued in 1965. From 1955 until 1967, Frankoma also manufactured earrings, pins, and tie clasps and the bolo tie designed by John Frank, who had received an award for jewelry design in 1927.

The type of clay and trademarks help collectors identify old and new Frankoma pieces. John Frank experimented with many types of clay from different areas of Oklahoma. From 1933 until 1954 he used tan clay found near Ada, Oklahoma. Collectors now call pieces made with this clay Ada Clay.        

In 1954 he switched to a brick red firing clay located a few miles from the factory in an area known as Sugar Loaf Hill. Collectors call this Sapulpa Clay Pre-1980. In the 1980s, additives affected the red brick color of the clay, and it became either a light pink or a light orange. Collectors refer to this as Sapulpa Clay Post-1980. The changes in the clay also affected the color of the glazes. Today, Ada clay pieces are generally worth the most.

Collectors today regard the pieces with Frank's initials "JNF" or '"JF” as the most desirable. During 1933 and 1934, Frank marked his firm’s wares with one of three marks—“FRANK POTTERIES NORMAN OKLAHOMA,” “FRANK POTTERIES NORMAN OKLA” or “FRANK POTTERIES.” It wasn’t until he incorporated Frankoma Potteries in February 1934 that he used a rubber stamp with the of the word “Frankoma.” He didn’t use it for long, so it’s quite rare. From late 1934 until 1954 the company used an impressed mark.

Frank also used what collectors call the cat mark from 1934 until it was destroyed in the 1938 fire. Known as the “Pot and Puma” logo, it was the company's first trademark and featured a large ceramic vase with a Taylor pacing cat in the foreground. It can be found on larger pieces. After he rebuilt the company after the fire, Frank again used an impressed Frankoma mark but this time the “O” was oblong, and not round. This Frankoma mark continued to be hand impressed until the early 1950s when the trademark was often inducted in the mold along with the mold number. However, some of the pieces made at this time had no marks since Frank never modified their molds. He often personalized pieces he gave as gifts to friends, family and special customers. His etched message and signature is definitely the most valuable mark.

After Frank’s death in 1973, his daughter Joneice took over, but in September 1983, fire once again claimed the Frankoma Pottery. The following year, after reopening, she had to declare bankruptcy. Two more owners took over the molds and tried to keep the pottery going, but in 2011, the company finally went on the auction block.

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