Today I want to chat about the timeless appeal of yellow ware, something just about everyone has seen at Grandma's, in an antique shop, and lined up behind Martha Stewart in her T.V. show kitchen. I don't think there's anything that looks better in a cupboard than stacks of yellow ware bowls, and the warm color variations look particularly good this time of year.
Most yellow ware pieces were made for kitchen use, therefore you won't find dinner plates or gravy boats made of yellow ware. These were in the days before plastic bowls were used by cooks, because we are talking about the time period from the mid-1800's to the 1940's. The common mixing bowls and other utilitarian forms were produced in large numbers by potteries in the Northeastern U.S. and around the Ohio Valley. In these two areas clay from the riverbanks had a yellow coloration, with variations from pale yellow to gold to the less common pumpkin. The pottery isn't glazed yellow, it gets it's color from the base clay, and there is simply a clear glaze on top to give it gloss and durability. Some companies decorated their yellow ware with opaque bands of blue, white, or brown.
Here is a nice mixing bowl made by McCoy in the "windowpane" pattern. Notice how the base of the bowl is square. McCoy Pottery used this type of design:
This bowl is yellow ware with a brown and green speckled glaze sometimes called "woodland glaze":
Gorgeous deep golden yellow ware pitcher I used as a vase for early summer blossoms:
There's also green-glazed yellow ware, like the bowl pictured below right, holding the corn salt and pepper set. You can see the yellow ware bowl on the left is nearly pumpkin colored:
Using the same yellow base clay, there's also "rockingham", an all-brown speckled and dripped glaze technique:
Sometimes people refer to this mottled brown glazed yellow ware as "Bennington". There was a pottery manufacturer in Bennington, Vermont, that made wares with this dark drip glaze, but if it isn't marked "Bennington" on the bottom, you should consider it rockingham. Clear as mud, right? Most pieces, such as the one below, have no maker's mark on the bottom:
Here's another McCoy green glazed yellow ware bowl, with a pic of the square base. Again, no maker's mark, but we know it's McCoy because of the distinctive square base:
Another thing I would like to point out about this type of pottery is the mold formed vs. wheel thrown versions. You can certainly see that the McCoy examples were made in a mold, because that's how the deep patterns are created in the clay. The rockingham example and the second photo in this post of the blue banded bowl have a softer look to them, with a rolled top edge that was probably formed by wheel-throwing. If you need to be reminded what wheel-throwing is, think of the scene in "Ghost" when Patrick Swayze helps Demi Moore with her pottery......
Many of the yellow ware mixing bowls came in nested sets of six or eight pieces. The smallest and the largest pieces are typically the most difficult to find in good condition, and will cost the most if you find them in a store or on eBay. The nested set below is probably missing the smallest and largest bowl. And, it's white ironstone, not yellow ware. Now we're talking about "related pottery". Ironstone will eventually have it's own post on this blog, because it deserves it!
So far I've only shown bowls and a pitcher, but other forms you might find are yellow ware rolling pins (quite valuable, usually sell for $200-$400), pie plates, and the food mold, like the ones below. These food molds often come with an asparagus or corn pattern, or the more desirable rabbit or fowl. Again, we have a white ironstone example (in the back). The rest are yellow ware.
Because yellow ware was used for food preparation, molding, and sometimes baking, expect to find signs of wear or damage in the form of chips or cracks. This will affect the value, of course. Just for a point of reference, the blue banded bowls pictured at the beginning of this post would sell for about $35 to $65, which is quite affordable. While doing what I call "Lite Research" for this post, I came across a fun website that includes lots of information about yellow ware in a Q and A format. It's Cider Mill Antiques,ask Marica. Many of the questions posed to Marcia are related to current market values of yellow ware, as well as identification of various forms.
If you appreciate yellow ware like I do, I'd love to see examples of your cherished pieces or display ideas. Send me an e-mail at [email protected]