Meet Bruce & Beth

A pair of vintage pottery figurines — Asian dancers of some sort.

As you can see, from the markings on the bottoms of the pieces, his name is “Bruce” and her’s is “Beth”.

Both Bruce & Beth were made by The Ceramic Arts Studio in Madison, Wisconsin. These are but two of the more than 800 figurines Betty Harrington designed in her 14 years at the company. Likely made sometime in the late 1940s or in the 1950s, the pair of figurines are specific examples of the Harrington’s work and noted in Ceramic Arts Studio: The Legacy of Betty Harrington along with the following information:

Betty’s interest in the costume designs of modern dance pioneer Martha Graham led to a series of arts-inspired draped figures, with arms and legs fully, or partially, concealed under flowing garments. This simple and modern styling elevated CAS design to a new level. Not only did the body draping result in what Betty called “beautiful, graceful forms”, it also had a more practical result: exquisite detail was realized with a minimum of time and labor.

I probably sold them too cheaply… But that just means they delighted someone and got to be taken home and displayed far faster. *wink*

Vintage Chalkware Baby Statue With Removable Diapers

This vintage chalkware piece isn’t as creepy (or racist) as these vintage chalkware babies, but there’s still something creepy about the “hair” spray-painted on it… It reminds me of the old bowl-haircuts mom used to give us. *wink*

The baby’s diaper is cloth and even has old (rusty) safety pins holding them up. This I found surprising as, even though I collect old chalkware pieces, it is the first time I’ve seen clothing or fabric attached to a piece of chalkware that wasn’t of the erotic varieties. (I’ve seen a few female nudes in chalkware or plaster which have little fabric or fringed skirts of sorts.) Have any of you seen old chalkware items with which have anything removable like that?

Collectors March To The Beat Of Different Drummers

But, sometimes, those drummers are a matching pair. *wink* A fabulous vintage kitschy pair of planters, a drummer boy and a Majorette girl, illustrate my point!

Image credits: Pigtunia’s Plunder.

You Know You’re A “Pig” For Collecting When…

You accept a vintage pottery pig as payment for your work.

I happily received this vintage cold-painted piggy bank as my fee for consulting work. I adore her sweet face and the red roses that decorate her — butt but it’s the curly tail that charmed me the most. So this little piggy came wee-wee-wee all the way home with me.

I was told she was made by Hull, but it could be Shawnee… The piece of pottery is not marked and the style looks like other Shawnee pottery pigs I have seen too. The piggy bank is huge — roughly 13 inches long! And this little piggy bank still has her original cork stopper on the belly.

Anyone else work for vintage or antiques? *wink*

Collecting Frankoma & Some Mysterious Vintage Pottery (Can You Help?)

An interview about collecting Frankoma and other vintage decorative pottery with Molly Ives Brower, aka The Vintage Reader.

Collectible Frankoma Pottery Pieces

How and why did you start collecting Frankoma pottery? Was it, at first, just part of decorating the house?

When I was in high school I started going to the Tulsa Flea Market with my mother every few weeks. By the time I was in college we were going every time I was home on a Saturday morning. Most of the booths seemed to have at least one piece of Frankoma; I think every bride in Oklahoma from the 1950s through the 70s must have gotten Frankoma for her wedding, and much of it, especially the dinnerware, was in colors I didn’t particularly care for–muted greens and browns and golds. It was so common that I never paid much attention to it.

Then one Saturday I was looking for a birthday present for my sister, and found a little round vase in a beautiful clear greenish-blue, with a black base. I was surprised when I turned it over and found out it was Frankoma. The mark was different, for one thing, and the clay was lighter than the dark red that I was used to seeing. The dealer I bought it from didn’t know the significance of that, and neither did I. Then I started looking more carefully at similar pieces and talking to other dealers, who taught me all about the differences in the clay and the marks and the glazes. I even developed a fondness for the older green and gold glazes. (I still don’t like the browns, though.)

The summer after I graduated from college (1988), I started buying more pieces at the flea market, usually from one particular dealer who was extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about pottery from Oklahoma and Arkansas. He sold me some other pieces from the region–Cherokee and Niloak and Tamac. I don’t think I would have developed such an interest in collecting if the dealers at the Tulsa Flea Market hadn’t been so friendly and willing to share their knowledge with a young collector.

How many pieces of Frankoma do you have?

I really don’t know. Between my own collecting and people giving me stuff, I’ve probably got more than 100 pieces. I’ve sold some through the years, and wish I hadn’t.

What do you focus on when collecting pottery?

Mainly, I just buy things I like to look at. With Frankoma, I like the local and personal aspect. I have one of their salt-and-pepper sets in the shape of the First National Bank building in Tulsa (they gave them away at the opening of the bank in the early 1950s) and several of their “Christmas cards”–each year Frankoma made a small dish that the Frank family gave to their friends, inscribed with the year and a message. I’ve quit actively collecting it for the most part, but every once in a while I’ll find something really neat at a garage sale or estate sale. I don’t collect their dinnerware or large pieces at all–I like the small, unusual stuff.

With other pottery, I look mainly at glazes and shapes. I still like deep greens and blues, and for some reason I also gravitate toward orange pottery, although I don’t usually like orange.

I also like modern artists who are inspired by the past. In Western New York there’s a lot of Arts & Crafts influence (especially around East Aurora, where the Roycroft campus is), and when I lived in Buffalo, I loved looking at the local artists’ work. I couldn’t afford much of it, but I have a couple of nice tiles. 🙂

I have a whole collection of green art pottery that is obviously from the same place, but it’s not marked, and I’ve never been able to figure out what it is. My first piece came from my regular Frankoma dealer–it got chipped in transit to the flea market and he gave it to me, but then I started finding it all over the place. I’ve found this pottery everywhere I’ve lived, and I’ve even seen a piece on the cover of a book, but I still don’t have any idea where it came from or who made it. Maybe some other reader could identify it?!

Let’s give it a go!

This photo is of my mystery pottery–a large urn and three small pitchers. They all look hand-formed, and there are some faint coil marks on the urn. The clay is dark red. I’ve found several pieces of it that sellers have tagged as Frankoma, but it’s not Frankoma–I would love it if someone could help identify it!

Vintage Clay Pottery Pieces That Need Identification

Any pottery collectors or experts out there? Share your info in the comments!

Molly will be back here at Inherited Values soon; meanwhile, she can be followed at Twitter: @VintageReader.

PS The print included in the “mystery pottery” photo is a hand-tinted engraving, Le Lapin, by Allen Ye Printmaker of Oswego, NY.

All photos the property of Molly Ives Brower.

The Stuff Collectors Nightmares Are Made Of

Picture it… A vending machine filled with glassware, china, and porcelain figurines… You insert a coin, a piece of fragile china slowly moves forward — only to fall into the bottom of the machine, breaking.

Calm down — it’s only art!

A set of three interactive sculptural pieces by Yarisal and Kublitz. Called Passive/Aggressive Anger Release Machine, the artists claim that once you deposit the coin and shatter the breakable the experience leaves you “happy and relieved of anger.”

I doubt that it works for collectors of glassware, ceramics, pottery, etc.

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Lessons In Cold Paint From The Pirate Duck

I purchased this vintage wall pocket awhile ago simply for it’s whimsy; what’s not to love about a pirate duck?


It simply has to ‘quack’ you up — or you’ll be forced to walk the plank, arr!

It’s a vintage ceramic piece, made in Japan, rather nicely painted under the glaze with additional spots of cold paint on the bow and hat.

“Cold paint” refers to paint which has been applied after the pottery piece has been both glazed and fired. Because this painting is done after firing and is not fired (heated) itself it is called “cold paint,” “cold painted,” or “cold painting.” And because cold painting was done to save money, the results were not only less expensive but cheap in terms of quality: Paint applied over a glaze easily slides or washes off.

However, as this was such a common manufacturing method, most collectors expect such wear and are more accepting of such missing paint than they are of chips, quacks cracks — or puns.

In fact, while vintage cold painted ceramic and pottery pieces with the majority or all of the paint intact will sell for much higher prices, if the cold paint looks too good to be true, it could be a sign that the piece may be a repro (reproduction) and not vintage at all.

So the missing paint on this little vintage ducky wallpocket may just be the proof that it is great pirate booty. *wink*

…Now if someone could just tell me what the heck I’m supposed to put in a wallpocket — that won’t risk damages to the china.

UPDATE: Give the down-sized space issues while we restore the old house, I’ve listed this cute duckling pirate for sale at Etsy.

Nostalgia Calling: Cute Vintage Pay Phone Bank

There’s lots to love about this vintage pay phone ceramic bank I spotted at a local thrift store.

To add money to the piggy bank, you drop the coins in the slot at the top — just like you did with those pay phones. This particular bank was missing the presumably rubber stopper sealing the hole in the bottom for coin retrieval, signaling that someone had spent their pennies earned.

This vintage ceramic bank is a real conversation piece. First, in terms of true style of old telephones. There’s a rotary dial to really confuse kids — other people’s kids; ours have been educated in the ways of earlier technology. Heck, with the popularity of cell phones some kids don’t even know what a “pay phone” is.

But what I love most about it is the coin return detail and the memories it brrrr-rings. Had that been how one actually retrieved their coins from the bank, I probably would have bought it because I have fond memories of checking the coin returns of public pay phones.

My sister and I would race to see who could check the coin return first — or, if there was a bank of pay phones, who could get the most money. My sister was far more determined (greedy?) than I, and she often pocketed the most winnings.

She did win the all-time best story about pay phones too. One time, she stuck her greedy fingers into a coin return and came out with some partially eaten and/or melted candy. (We dared not dwell on all the possibilities too long.)

That moment in “Eeeiiww” nostalgia now makes me wish I had bought this vintage bank. I could have set it out in my home; it’s mere existence a prompt to tell that story over and over again… Or maybe even mailed it to her, eagerly awaiting her phone call to discuss pay phones and other gross childhood memories.

If this bank is still at the thrift shop on my next visit, I think I’ll have to get it.

PS I wasn’t sure which room in the house to categorize this under… As a kid, my bank was always in my bedroom — but then, when you’re a kid everything goes in your bedroom. I suppose this piggy bank probably more suited mom, who likely kept it in the kitchen or wherever the telephone was. Maybe she even used it to threaten charging her teenage daughters for each phone call they had. Hey, moms had to get that “rainy day” money from somewhere.

The Island of Misfit Collectibles

One of the first things that people usually ask me when they find out I’m a dealer of vintage collectibles is, what do you collect? My answer is usually short and sweet – “Anything that is chipped or cracked!”

My shelf in the kitchen holding my misfit kitchen collectibles –
lots of chips, cracks and rust spots hiding in there!

What I really mean when I say this is that my whole idea of collecting, and what I choose to keep for myself, has changed since I started to depend on selling collectibles as my income. The entire dynamic is different, but still, underneath my dealer persona, I am still a collector at heart.

I have a bit of a bird collection going on in my kitchen!

I suppose the biggest difference for me is that selling has become a way of collecting. Since collecting usually implies keeping, this may seem a little contradictory, but I can explain…

Before I became a dealer, I just bought what I liked, or what reminded me of my childhood, or my family. I never was the kind of collector that focuses on one niche, working to build a large number of items or a complete set of something (Well, except for my kitchen… for a while I had a mushroom themed kitchen, now I have a bit of a bird theme going on in there!). I was the kind of collector that picked up things I found at yard sales, estate sales and flea markets that spoke to me, that I thought were neat, or that I knew I could use or display easily.

My non working vintage fan, my 1960s Ouija Board that I got for a quarter,
my Phrenology head I can’t seem to part with…

When I started selling, I took the same approach – and still do to this day. The only thing that is different is that now I have knowledge of what other people collect – so my buying reflects not only my own preferences, but the preferences of my potential customers. And instead of keeping what I find, I send it on to a new home where it will be valued and appreciated – which for me, is the ultimate in job satisfaction!

My glued back together pixie figurine, and the girl and boy figurine
that reminds me of me and my boyfriend… *blush*

That being said, there is still the little part of me that wants to keep things, and it works really hard at justifying those things that it has really fallen in love with. 95% of the time it goes something like this:

Vintage Geek Mitzi: “WOW This thing is awesome! I want to keep it.”

Practical Mitzi: “Ok, let’s take a look at this thing. How much could you sell it for? How much did you pay for it? What will you do with it? You realize half of your already small home is filled up with business stuff, right?

Vintage Geek Mitzi: “Yes, but it is too hard to ship, it has a chip and is missing a part, and look at that big scratch on the back… No one wants that. Besides, your grandma had one JUST LIKE it and you know you have that perfect spot to put it!

Practical Mitzi: “Rent is due on the 1st.”

Vintage Geek Mitzi: ” *sigh*… let’s get it listed.”

My cracked vintage deer figurine with my boyfriend’s collection of green glass candle holders.

Of course, 5% of the time Vintage Geek Mitzi wins. She finds just the right justification (usually valid, though sometimes it is a bit of a stretch) and keeps something, which is why I now call my house The Island of Misfit Collectibles. Most of the things I have are either too big to list, are extras from sets I’ve sold (for example, I have 7 glasses, I list a set of 6 and keep one), are flawed so they aren’t worth listing, or just aren’t valuable enough to be worth listing. And don’t forget the things that don’t sell after a year or two – which apparently weren’t worth listing to begin with, but I didn’t realize it – those I keep sometimes too.

I found a big set of Lustro Ware that came with a cake carrier,
canister set, and this bread box – I sold everything but the bread box,
because I could actually use it!

Both Mitzi’s have a lot of fun though – there is just too much great stuff out there to get excited about to let the little internal battles get you down too much! And I’m excited to be writing for Inherited Values, where I can share what I’m in love with (that month, at least), and where I can use what I know to help collectors find the things they are in love with…

My big eyed girl print that looks way too much like me…

I have two other blogs that I keep, one for my online selling business, Vintage Goodness, and one for my online vintage directory, The Vintage List, where I talk a lot about selling vintage online. I’m going to do my best to write posts that are very different from my usual posts on those blogs, and hopefully my fellow Vintage Geeks will enjoy them! 🙂

Museum of American History Poster – too hard to ship! 😉

Ceramic canister set I had up online for a long time…
It never sold so now I have it. Too heavy probably, expensive to ship!

Giving A Ceramic Poodle A Bath (Or How To Clean Vintage Spaghetti Figurines)

When I was a kid, I had a number of vintage spaghetti figurines — mostly poodles. Sadly, I sold most of them at family rummage sales as I got older. So when I spotted this black poodle with the familiar ceramic spaghetti fur for just $2 at a local thrift shop I had to take him home. Even if he is not perfect.

The most obvious problem was a long stripe down his back where someone had likely priced him for sale with masking tape. (Lack of concern for damages to items when pricing them is a huge pet peeve for all collectors.) And his ceramic spaghetti fur was covered in dust and dry ick. In short, Blackie the vintage poodle figure was begging for a bath.

Before I share my tips on cleaning old figurines, please note: Do not wash or submerge any pieces which have been glued or repaired as the water will likely seep in and, if not dissolve the fixative, can crumble away the weakened pottery itself. Do not wash or submerge vintage chalkware pieces or any pieces which do not appear to have been fired.

The best way to remove sticker residue and other goo from pottery, ceramics and even (many) plastics is with liquid soap. Rather any liquid soap, from dish washing detergent to hand soap or even shampoo will do. But you should always do a small test of both the cleaning product and the tools you are using, preferably in a place which won’t show, such as the bottom of the piece.

First I like to rinse the piece. Just to get all the loose stuff off. Then take a finger tip full of liquid soap and apply it directly to the areas affected by the sticky residue.

Rub it in good and then let it sit a few seconds to soften the residue.

When you are ready, hold the figuring securely with one hand. Take care how you hold your piece. You will be tempted to set or lean the piece against the counter top or table; don’t. The pressure you’re applying can leverage a break or stress fracture, or simply risks bumping and sliding across the hard surface causing a chip. (Since I was taking photos while I did this, you’ll see I’m short a hand for holding in the photo; but trust me, I did it!)

Using your thumbnail, gently but firmly, scrape the residue off. (Personally, I find there is no greater tool than your own fingernails; you know exactly how much pressure you are applying and the ease with which the goo is sliding off.)

In cases like this vintage figurine, the sticker residue has aged and set so well that while you do make progress, not all of it will come off right away.

Simply apply more liquid soap with your finger tip, let it sit, and scrape again. You may wish to rinse or wipe the piece with a damp sponge to make sure you’re removing all of the loose bits of residue you’re scraping off.

This may take repeated efforts, but eventually the oils &/or emollients will break down the residue.

Now to clean between the ceramic spaghetti strands. This is best done with a toothbrush (I always keep toothbrushes in my cleaning kits). Wet the toothbrush, apply a bit of the same liquid soap, and gently brush it into the ceramic fur and other crevices of the figurine, creating a lather.

Be especially careful where there are damages, paint that you have not tested, etc. But overall, a light brushing with the mild soap won’t do anything but remove the dirt.

The rinse off and gently blot the piece dry.  Let it sit on a towel to try before placing it back on the shelf, especially if it sits on a wooden or painted surface.

Now Blackie’s clean. But he’s still not perfect. He’s got a number of places where the tips of the spaghetti strands have been broken; the white ceramic spots are obvious to the collector’s trained eye, even if he looks great on the shelf. So I’m leaving him alone. But if your spaghetti figurine is going to remain yours, there’s nothing wrong with taking a permanent marker and placing a dot of color on the bare white ceramic and hiding the flaws.