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Vintage Bauer Pottery

Author: Susan Regan
Issue: June, 2011, Page 30
Photos by David B. Moore

This pastel-hued vase is from the Cal-Art line and was manufactured in the 1940s


Recognized for its beautiful colors and simple shapes, Bauer Pottery has been a defining American-made tableware for more than 100 years.

The company was launched in Kentucky in 1885 by John Andrew Bauer under the name Paducah Pottery. It manufactured an assortment of functional stoneware pieces, including whiskey jugs and mixing bowls, along with red clay flowerpots. Bauer relocated the firm to Los Angeles in the early 1900s, and in 1910, J.A. Bauer Pottery Co. was established.

During the first half of the 20th century, Bauer Pottery became a forerunner in the industry for its affordable mix-and-match dinnerware, serving pieces and accessories, many of which were created by well-known designers, including Matt Carlton, Louis Ipsen and Tracy Irwin. In 1930, Victor Houser—a ceramics engineer—created a series of richly colored glazes that separated Bauer Pottery from its competition.

At the time, most mainstream dinnerware was white or featured dainty patterns based on European offerings. The introduction of colorful everyday dishes by Bauer and a few other companies revolutionized American tableware. “It was an informal dinnerware that embraced the whole Southern California, south-of-the-border feel,” states expert Michael Lindsey, who has been collecting ceramics for more than 20 years and owns Seattle-based retailer Laguna Vintage Pottery. In the early ’30s, Bauer released its signature Ringware line in a palette that included yellow, jade green, cobalt blue, orange and black.

Crafted in the late 1920s, this spice jar is part of Bauer Pottery’s collection known as yellow ware.
Lindsey notes that the company had  weathered both The Great Depression and World War II, and entered  the postwar period with new collections in richer shades, such as forest green, chartreuse, gray and burgundy. “After the War, designs were sleek and cleaner. It was more about shape than having decorative elements,” he comments. The late ’40s and ’50s brought pastel shades, including pink, mint green and light blue, to Bauer Pottery.

The loss of several designers, increased competition, and the emergence of low-cost imports led to the company’s demise in 1962.

Vintage Bauer Pottery became sought after in the 1980s, notes Lindsey. Artist and collector Joseph McCormick speculates that, in part, items are available in Arizona because residents moving to the area from California bring pieces with them. For him, collecting Bauer Pottery means scouring estate and garage sales for colorful, functional ceramics with historical appeal. “It’s the thrill of the hunt,” he says.

Photos - Clock-wise from top left: Bauer Pottery made mixing bowls in a range of sizes. A bowl often was etched with a numerical “size” on the underside of the piece. This #9 bowl is an example of the largest bowl that was manufactured. Because this design was more prone to breakage than its smaller counterparts, it is rare. • From the GPK line, this covered casserole was part of a collection of utilitarian pieces made in the 1940s and 1950s to complement Bauer’s dinnerware. • It is difficult to find a cup and saucer set, such as this Ringware coffee cup and saucer. The black color makes the pieces more unusual. • Tracy Irwin designed this small “pumpkin bowl” in the 1950s. Its underside bears the company’s stamp.
 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Collectible pieces. While Bauer Pottery manufactured many lines, certain collections, colors and items are more desirable, according to collector and entrepreneur Michael Lindsey.
   
The most popular pieces are those from the Ringware line and any mixing bowls. Artware, Monterey Moderne, Speckleware and La Linda collections are favorites as well. Also look for pottery made by certain Bauer designers, including Tracy Irwin’s Cal-Art line and Matt Carlton’s hand-thrown wares.

Dating from the 1930s or 1940s, this one-piece gravy boat is part of the Ringware line.
Rarity. Prices of like tableware may vary greatly based on color. Black pieces are rare, as are white Ringware ceramics. Other hard-to-find items include oil jars—which resemble Grecian urns—and mixing bowls in the smallest (#36) and largest (#9) sizes. (See Page 30.)
 
Bauer Pottery markings. Certain lines bear identifying marks on the undersides of pieces, states Lindsey, noting that about 70 percent of Ringware items and most later products are marked. Before purchasing, educate yourself on the company’s wares. A comprehensive source is the Collector’s Encyclopedia of Bauer Pottery: Identification & Values (Collector Books, 1998) by Jack Chipman.

WHAT TO AVOID
Knockoffs. Collector Joseph McCormick says that during the first half of the 20th century, several companies produced ceramics that resembled Bauer Pottery. When compared with similar tableware, true vintage Bauer is more vivid in color, and its design elements—such as the grooves in the Ringware line—will be deeper. Be aware that a company called Bauer 2000, which makes pottery based on vintage designs, was launched about a decade ago. Its creations should be marked as Bauer 2000.
 
Poor condition. Lindsey notes that Bauer Pottery’s “loose” quality control resulted in variations in glaze color and other woes; but only wares with outright flaws and damage should be avoided, he suggests.
 
Missing pieces. Be wary of items with missing pieces. It can be difficult to find replacements, and incomplete sets have a lower value.
 
Storing food. When this pottery was made, using lead in glazes was typical. As a result, Lindsey advises against storing food in the tableware or using it with acidic foods, which leach lead from colored glazes.

WHERE TO FIND IT
In the Phoenix area. While availability varies, vintage pieces may be found at antiques shops, including Antique Gatherings, Antique Trove, Bo’s Funky Stuff, Scottsdale Marketplace, and Willo Antiques.
 
Online. Lagunapottery.com carries an extensive collection. Also try bauerboys.com, calpots.com, calpotteries.com, replacements.com, and rubylane.com.
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