Friday, February 22, 2013

Dedham Pottery

Dedham pottery is the perfect culmination of the things I love; bunnies, pottery, and Boston history. Did you know that the first blue and white rabbit crackle glaze pieces were actually made in Chelsea? 

 Chelsea Pottery
I know that Chelsea Massachusetts is a town across the river from Boston. But for the record we locals refer to every town with in a fifty mile radius of Boston, as Boston.  Back to Chelsea, the famous potter Hugh Robertson of Chelsea Kermaic Art Works, whom this talented blogger wrote about on Wednesday, started a new endeavor making a line of commercial tableware for the home. While his Dragon’s Blood vases where of huge importance to the Art pottery movement and acclaimed at the San Francisco World’s Fair  and the Paris Expedition, his company wasn’t a commercial success, and closed.

Dedham Pottery Factory Dedham, MA
A year later in 1890 Robertson was propositioned by Boston investors to start a new pottery business. Robertson and his new partners decided to produce a new line of blue and white crackle glaze dishware. In 1891 Robertson opened Chelsea Pottery and started making his now famous rabbit design. These blue and white pieces with the crackle glaze that he discovered years before when trying to reproduce oriental porcelain glazes, was his modern take on oriental blue and white porcelain.  Robertson had married his love of oriental techniques with his investors need for commercial success. Of course Robertson’s new line was very successful. Who could resist blue and white pottery with whimsical designs? Also the Arts and Crafts movement and the popularity of Japanese designs had made oriental and nature based decoration all the rage with the general public.

Baby Chicks Pattern
Robertson’s new endeavor had only one problem, the town of Chelsea is close to the ocean and that great sea air was distressing the crackling process and they had to move.  They found a great site about 15 miles away in the delightfully landlocked town of Dedham, hence changing the name to Dedham Pottery.  The blue and white pottery was a huge commercial success. They did briefly  introduce a green line of Dedham Pottery that was no popular at all. A green Dedham piece is a rare find.

This new success allowed Hugh Robertson to go back to making his dragon’s blood vases as well as continuing his experiments with glazes, making one glaze that had the look of lava. Sadly he died in 1908.

Sold for $1200 at Auction
Hugh’s son William Robertson would take over the Dedham pottery and keep producing their popular rabbits and continued to produce 50 more animal and nature themes including: turkeys, swans, ducks, turtles, butterflies, roses, lilies, azaleas, trees, and rare experimental patterns like the double scottie dog plate pictured on the left. It’s important to know that every piece of Dedham pottery is decorated by hand, not stamped or stenciled, making each piece unique.

Why Rabbits?
The first rabbit design was created by art student Alice Morse and her professor Joseph Lindon Smith of the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston. A contest was held to make the first design for the crackled pottery line, and if you can believe it, the pair won the $25 cash prize. That prize calculates in to about $700.00 today.

Elephant Creamer
They also didn't just produce plates they made a full range of dishware and tableware including; plates in four sizes, mugs, bowls, service pieces, pitchers, egg cups, tea cups & saucers, and more. They even made special order custom pieces and sets.

See Maude's Circle Signature
They made their full range of 50+ patterns products with never more than 6 employees at a time. They had people to make the molded pieces, potters to make the thrown pieces, and of course the decorators. The most well know decorator Maude R. Davenport, she was a local girl who started working for Dedham Pottery in 1904 until 1928. She started when she was only 20 years-old, but because of her delicate brush work she quickly became recognized as the most gifted decorator. She signed her work with a tiny circle and her pieces are quite collectible. Her brother Charles came to work there in 1914 and notably designed the elephant pattern.

Owl Pattern
Magnolia Pattern
 William Robertson’s son J. Milton Robertson also worked there. J. Milton Robertson was the 7th generation of the Robertson family to be a potter and after his father William’s death in 1929, he started running Dedham Pottery. Also J. Milton had learned the secret art of making the Dragon’s Blood glaze and continued to make them. Sadly we don't know if the secrets of the famous red glaze died wigth him.

Hugh Robertson had started a Dedham Pottery Museum on site and visitors could see the finest pieces that were made each year. The museum contained one of a kind Dedham Pottery pieces, as well as many experimental pieces prized by the Robertson family. William and J. Milton after him continued to add pieces to the museum each year. 

Butterfly Pattern
J. Milton also made the important addition in 1938 of a complete Dedham Pottery catalog. This booklet has become very collectible today and sells for $50-80 dollars.  In 1943 sales were down, the country was involved in World War II and J. Milton Robertson  closed the Dedhan Pottery and joined the Navy as a commander.   I did find some references to him in later years being an authority on Dedham pottery but I don't know what happened to him.

Rare Beehive Print
Dedham Pottery was closed such a sad day for an important part of Boston and pottery history. An article published in 1943 written by By Braset Marteau says that “Visitors to Boston have usually included a trip to the Dedham Pottery on their "must" list. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts included this as one of its conducted tours for students of the ceramic arts.”  What was worse than the factory being closed the hundreds of important pieces in the museum and thousands of pieces in the factory were liquidated at Gimbel Brother’s Art Department. Cab you imagine a Dedham Pottery blow out sale? Marteau continues ”Here lucky collectors may acquire a piece of this wonderful ware for as little as one dollar or as much as a few hundred dollars”.  

One of those “few hundred dollar” dragon’s blood vases would sell for $5000-8000 today. Those bargain  one dollar pieces of Dedham Pottery will most likely sell for $100-200 dollars today, such a small price to pay for an important piece of Boston history. 
Rare Lobster Pattern

Buying Dedham Pottery
Always look for marks on the back of the plates.
1892-1895: C.P.U.S. (Chelsea Pottery U.S.) impressed inside a clover leaf.
1896-1928: Square blue stamp with DEDHAM POTTERY printed over a rabbit; impressed foreshortened rabbit beneath.
1929-1943: REGISTERED added under standard Dedham Pottery stamp; two impressed foreshortened rabbits beneath.
Dedham Pottery Reproductions

Two Massachusetts companies are presently producing replicas of earlier forms. Each of these retro replica versions is clearly and properly marked to avoid any collector confusion with the pre-1943 antiques. Also, the Dedham Historical Society, which owns the rights to the original Dedham Pottery trademark, has reissued a limited-edition lion plate with a new variation in the original mark to permanently distinguish it from the originals. 

Rare Green & Blue Sold for $8100.00

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