Collecting Mania: Fulper Pottery

Art pottery - like other Arts and Crafts creations - traditionally adhered to the philosophy of handcraftsmanship that the movement's leaders espoused. Vases and bowls were generally hand thrown on the wheel by a potter and then hand decorated in the studio by an artist. The Fulper Pottery Co., which entered the art pottery field in the relatively late year of 1909, chose to follow a different path. By making pottery in molds, Fulper reduced the expense associated with hiring a team of individual potters and instead focused attention on developing glazes even more exciting than those used by the most important potteries.

From 1909 to 1918, the pottery relied heavily on the Vasekraft line of classical models and traditional Arts and Crafts forms. Coveted designs from this era feature buttresses, cutouts, angular handles, or inserts of stained glass. As appreciation of Arts and Crafts style waned, the company shifted its designs to Far Eastern-style forms. But production standards slipped during the 1920s, resulting in simpler forms and less vibrant glazes. By 1935, production of Fulper art pottery was terminated.

While Fulper wares lacked the superb craftsmanship that was the hallmark of contemporary Grueby or Rookwood, the pieces were far superior to any factory-produced pottery of its day. Still, Fulper has failed to attract a broad base of devoted collectors, and is one of the few art potteries whose work remains both affordable and available in today's antiques market.

The value of Fulper art pottery is placed primarily on glaze, rather a difficult factor to appraise objectively. The unpredictable nature of glazes guarantees that no two pieces of pottery will ever be alike, and distinguishing "ordinary" examples from "outstanding" ones can be as scientific as judging a beauty contest.

For this reason, prices for Fulper pottery tend to fluctuate widely. Simple forms with standard glazes dating to the firm's middle or late period (1919-1935) can sell for as little as $100 to $200. Larger pieces and wares with more exciting glazes go for double or triple that amount. When large size and a vibrant, textured glaze combine in a rare, early form, prices can soar toward the $1,000 to $3,000 range. The most desirable pieces can go even higher (an early table lamp with stained-glass inserts in the ceramic shade and a dramatic combination of rich, flowing glazes, for example, may command as much as $10,000).

Although Fulper's superb colors and consistent forms earned the firm commercial success in the art pottery field, its reliance on molds and standard glazes rather than hand-thrown forms and hand-applied decoration drew criticism from its contemporaries. This controversy still affects the market value of Fulper pottery, as many present-day collectors continue to associate Arts and Crafts creations with handcraftsmanship. For those who appreciate Fulper's distinctive look, affordability and availability are the reward.

Fulper wares are almost always marked but rarely dated; variations in markings can indicate at least a date range.

1909-c. 1916 - Vertical ink-stamped FULPER in a rectangle; or Vasekraft circular ink mark; or Vasekraft rectangular paper label

After 1915 - Panama-Pacific Exposition paper label (used for several years)

c. 1916-c. 1922 - Raised vertical FULPER inside a rectangle

c. 1922-1928 - Ink-stamped vertical Fulper in Asian-style lettering inside a rectangle with rounded corners

1928-1935 - Impressed horizontal FULPER without a rectangle or oval around it, occasionally with a three- or four-digit model number; found on all Art Deco designs

In 1984, the granddaughters of former pottery owner William Fulper rediscovered his notebooks containing the formulas for the original glazes and began producing a line of tiles, vases, and a lamp base, all decorated with authentic Fulper glazes.

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