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Collecting Mania: Bauer Pottery

Updated on March 20, 2011

The J.A. Bauer Pottery Company became famous for producing flowerpots manufactured from red clay, and then followed up this fame for vividly colored and simply shaped kitchen ceramics.

The Bauer story begins in late 1800s in Paducah, KY, where J. Andy Bauer began a pottery factory intended to produce basic utilitarian wares along the lines of stoneware jugs, pitchers, and crocks. By just before the turn of the century, the Bauer factory in Paducah was cranking out a very diverse range of fairly inexpensive vases and flowerpots constructed from redware, along with crocks and jugs that were glazed in browns, and entire sets of milk jugs, pie plates, and mixing bowls which were set up in an ivory white. These items were sold throughout the United States Midwest and quickly became extremely popular.

When J. Andy Bauer opened up another factory to serve the Western United States based just outside of the city of Los Angeles, he began to manufacture fresh and new designs specifically meant to appeal to a more modern and younger taste and generation. By the year 1916 the factory had also launched an extensive line of hand thrown and moulded art pottery bowls and vases, mostly manufactured in the green glaze with a matte finish which was extremely popular.

After J.A. Bauer died the design of the wares was taken over by Louis Ipsen who went on to launch the first set of Bauer Ring-Ware which is notable for its distinct ringed pattern of circles set up in a concentric design. Ring-Ware was available in orange, black, blue, yellow, green, and red hues that combined vibrant glossiness with a high quality of finish. For an American table which had been accustomed to browns and whites alone virtually since the nation was established, these new and bright color schemes were nothing short of an absolute revolution in tableware.

Well over a hundred different models of glazed cups, saucers, plates, pitchers, mugs and bowls were manufactured and distributed all throughout the nation, and the range was so extensive that it was effectively impossible for the vast majority of families of the time to be able to collect them all.

As any collector of these fine Bauer wares can testify, the style, color and condition are the primary considerations in evaluating the collectability of any particular piece. Water pitchers, cookie jars, teapots, and sets of mixing bowls are the types of Bauer merchandise which collectors most frequently salivate after in the current market. The Fiesta Ware line by the Homer Laughlin China Co. is generally considered an imitator of the Bauer wares, and to help further confuse the wannabe collectors, some of the Bauer products were not even marked on the bottom as such!

In a similar manner to many ceramics which are highly and deeply colored, the glazes for almost all of the company's dinnerware which was created in the pre war period contained a significant amount of toxic lead which was utilized so that the color would appear more opaque and profound. We now know that it is likely that this lead would leach out of the item, especially in when it comes into contact with acidic drinks and foods. That is why the FDA now recommends that antique ceramics be limited exclusively for special occasions if used at all.


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