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Antiques and Fine Art Auctions Blog

Skinner expert appraisers and auctioneers discuss antiques, fine art, and collectibles. Keep up on market trends and get collecting tips from antiques experts. Discover the stories behind the art and antiques Skinner offers at auction.

How to Identify Art and Studio Pottery

A Guide to Developing an Expert’s Eye


This pottery vessel was made in Boston, Massachusetts in the early 20th century by Grueby Pottery. It realized $12,300 at auction.


I appraise valuable objects almost every single day, and I’m often asked how I identify a piece so quickly. The short answer is lots and lots of experience!

But how does one go about obtaining that experience? That’s the longer answer. This visual checklist can help you begin to develop an expert’s eye when it comes to looking at and identifying pottery from Art Nouveau to present day studio pottery.

1. What is the glaze, finish, or decoration?

Every potter and studio has a “visual signature,” meaning a style unique to that artist. Many people easily recognize the style of a Van Gogh or a Jackson Pollock painting – and the same type of familiarity is possible when it comes to pottery.  Once you’ve seen enough examples of an artist’s work, you start to recognize similar pieces. You can train your eye to recognize nuances of glaze, decoration, and form by viewing pieces at galleries, studios, museums, and auction previews. Books and websites are helpful as well, but seeing the piece in person always leaves a more lasting impression. Note: the Grueby vase pictured has a thick glaze in a unique green color, characteristic of that specific pottery. 

2. What is the size and shape of the piece?

The basic form of a piece of pottery can reveal the period when it was made. Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau pieces tend to have a classical form. Angular forms became more prevalent starting with Art Deco and continuing through contemporary times. Small vessels used to test a new glaze or firing technique are rare and fun to find. The form, along with the glaze and decoration, is also an important aspect of the visual signature.

3. Is anything marked on the base of the piece?

The Grueby vessels form (size and shape) is attributed to George Prentiss Kendrick with the artist mark for Julia Bradley. This male-female collaboration was common during the Arts and Crafts Movement. The base tells us a lot, the pottery mark, the artists cipher, the clay color, and the glaze thickness.

It’s important to turn a piece of pottery over and inspect the base. If you’re new to looking at pottery, any marks you find may seem cryptic and random.  Some common marks include the studio where the piece was made, the potter who crafted the piece, and the signature of the artist who decorated it. A form number and identification of the clay type may also be included. Reference books can help you identify unfamiliar marks. Don’t be surprised if the base has no marks at all, though. Many contemporary potters do not sign their work – they expect the viewer to know their visual signature.

4. What type of clay was used?

The base of a piece of pottery also reveals the type of clay. Even if there is no mark identifying this, the color or texture of the unfinished base can reveal the type of clay that was used. Historically, potters used a clay local to the area where they worked, meaning that the clay type can reveal the location where a piece was made. Due to supply, demand, and improvements in the predictability of clay during forming and firing, potters today often buy clay from a supplier, and local clay is no longer a strong visual clue when it comes to identifying contemporary pieces.

5. A Visual Puzzle

I developed my eye for art and studio pottery through years of experience. Today, Skinner contributes information to internet databases such as the Marks Project devoted to Studio Pottery from 1946-present.  Shortly, visual recognition programs may start to make it much easier for anyone to identify a piece. A vast computer library of known pottery examples is being compiled as of this writing – soon all you have to do is input a picture of a new piece, and the program will compare the image data to all known examples. Three-dimensional imaging technology makes it possible to collect and compare data from the base, sides, and interior at the same time.

Until these programs become widespread in the world of the visual arts, you can still use a visual checklist and your memory to compare a piece to examples you’ve seen before. It’s a fun exercise for your brain!  If you are interested in collecting or furthering your knowledge of Art and Studio Pottery wonderful examples can be found in Skinner’s 20th Century Design auctions.

If you already have a favorite pottery maker, sign up for Lot Alerts to get e-mail notices when items matching your keywords are added to upcoming auctions.




Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2013 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Fine Musical Instrument Consignment Days

Spring Consignment Events for Fine Musical Instruments


Tuesday, March 6 | Marlborough Gallery  

Directions to Skinner Marlborough


Fine Musical Instruments expert Adam Tober will be on hand to provide free verbal evaluations for single items and collections as well as accept consignments for the upcoming 2018 auctions. Call us at 508.970.3216 for more information.




March 8 & March 9 | Boston Gallery 

Directions to Skinner Boston

10AM – 4PM

Fine Musical Instruments expert Adam Tober will be on hand to provide free verbal evaluations for single items and collections as well as accept consignments for the upcoming 2018 auctions. Call us at 508.970.3216 for more information.… Read More

How to Buy American Antique Furniture: A Guide for New Collectors

While I’ve heard some say “the golden age of antiques collecting is over,” in fact, it’s not over, and for some, it’s just beginning. There’s so much opportunity out there, especially for twenty- or thirty-somethings just starting out and setting up homes.

First Tuesday | March 6 | Marlborough


Join us for First Tuesday in Marlborough 

Tuesday, March 6 | 1:30PM – 4PM

Specialists Robin S.R. Starr, Jane Prentiss, Chris Barber, Adam Tober and Judith Dowling will be on hand to evaluate items and accept consignments for upcoming auctions. 

Experts Available in March:

Sam Gilliam (American, b. 1933) Yellow Fan-White Float (Sold for $267,000)

Robin S.R. Starr from American & European Works of Art will be on-hand to evaluate paintings, prints, sculpture, and photography for Skinner’s 2018 auctions.Read More

March Fine Jewelry Consignment Days

Fine Jewelry Consignment Events


Tuesday, March 6 | Manchester, NH

Fine Jewelry & Coins – By Appointment Only


Fine Jewelry experts from Skinner will be on hand to provide free verbal evaluations for single items and collections as well as accept consignments for their spring auctions. Call us at 617.874.4313 for more information.




 Monday, March 12 | Chatham, MA

Fine Jewelry & Silver – By Appointment Only

11AM – 3PM

Fine Jewelry and Silver experts from Skinner will be on hand to provide free verbal evaluations for single items and collections as well as accept consignments for their spring auctions. Call us at 617.874.4313 for more information.Read More

Americana Gallery Walk | March 2

The Elizabeth White Hadley Chest, Hadley Massachusetts, area, c. 1718, (Lot 16, Estimate: $40,000-60,000)

Friday, March 2, 2018

Join us for an informal tour of auction highlights


Reception: 5:30PM Gallery Walk: 6PM

Join specialists Stephen Fletcher, Christopher Fox and Chris Barber from our American Furniture & Decorative Arts department for an informal tour of highlights for the March 3rd auction of 360 lots of impressive examples of American craftsmanship.Read More

Selling Antique Books, Part II: Eight Ways to Determine Your Books’ Value

If there is one single thing that is a make or break for book value, it would be the dust jacket. The value of a first edition copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night with dust jacket is around $6,000. Without a dust jacket….$300. This huge difference in value is largely due to the fact that more than 90% of dust jackets are destroyed, either deliberately or due to their ephemeral and fragile nature. If you have one on a good book, treasure it. Also, be sure to protect it with a plastic sleeve.

Selling Silver: Before You Sell your Family’s Antique Silver for Scrap, Consider Consignment

With its plain form and prominent monogram, this small Tiffany & Co. Sterling Silver Pitcher sold for $800, more than 3 times its scrap value.

A woman came into Skinner with a collection of family silver that she no longer wanted. She’d already been to a smelter, who offered her $800 to melt the silver down for scrap. It was tempting to take the money, but she felt bad about the decision and decided to come to Skinner auction house first.Read More

Fine Wines & Rare Spirits Auction Yields Strong Results

Salon Champagne Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs 1985, 4 bottles (Lot 14, Sold for: $3,567)

BOSTON, February 16, 2018. Lively turn out and compelling bidding resulted in strong results for Skinner’s mid-winter Fine Wines & Rare Spirits live auction with an average sell-through rate of over 96%. The February 15th auction consisted of 484 lots of fine wines and rare spirits including extensive selections from two important collections: Winter’s Collection and The Nantucket Cellar continuing the Skinner tradition of scrupulously researched fine wines and rare spirits.Read More

Collecting Signed Historic and Literary Documents

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, autograph letter signed as President, concerning collective bargaining. Sold for $13,530

“Alexander Hamilton actually touched this!” Many of us have felt this childlike sense of excitement at museums, libraries, in the classroom, and in historic buildings where important events took place. When the impulse to collect grabs hold, the excitement increases exponentially.

The sense of awe we feel gazing through glass at a museum can be replaced by the intoxicating pride of ownership: Alexander Hamilton actually touched this, and now it’s mine!… Read More

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