A Guide to Developing an Expert’s Eye
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 antique 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 Glass 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?
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. Be aware that Chinese pottery and Japanese pottery has long been popular and get familiar with the forms popular in asian ceramics that differ from their American counterparts.
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 antique pottery, identify vintage pottery, and identify studio pottery. 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 Pottery 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.
Consider Reading : Guide to Dedham Pottery
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2013 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
I recently came across what appears to be an old indian pot,I have a picture,it has a solid bottom,however it appears to have age cracks,or spiral looking separation.wondered if someone would know what it may be. John
I believe i have in my posession a mcintosh pottery. It is signed mcintosh on the bottom. it is a blue pouring pitcher i suppose. it belonged to my grandmother. i can send a picture of it.
I’m trying to help get some information for a friend. she came across a nice set of pottery at an auction and the markings on it say: Burton Bariloche Argentina…the glaze looks almost metallic. The thing with these are that they have VERY erotic images carved into them. We have had NO luck searching for them online, We have sent countless numbers of emails to others and just can find nothing. Any ideas?
You could talk to the auction house where you purchased the pottery. They may know the previous owner and could possibly provide some information.
Hello, are there any books out there with artist signature; for instance, I own a Deco vase with Gazzells. The vase has a signature which I can’t make out. If you have any books that I’d be interested in researching, please email me.
We need a photo of the overall vase and signature for evaluation as well as the size and condition. If you’re interested in possibly selling the piece at auction, please send in an evaluation form on our website: secure.skinnerinc.com/appraisals/form.asp
Gazelles are an Art Deco motif. It’s either American, French, or Belgium Pottery. Your local librarian can assist under these categories. Thank you.
Charles Catteu made vases with antelopes and other creatures. The piece would need to be seen to determine the ceramicist.
Hi, I have linked above to a piece of what I believe is art deco pottery. Can you possibly verify if it is indeed art deco, or a recent Asian import? There is no mark.
I purchased a clay vase, 9-1/4″H x 5″ in diam. It features a man with a long flowing beard and highly detailed nose on most of one side, along with 2 other smaller faces near the top section. The faces are unglazed red clay and pretty detailed. There is a blue, green and reddish brown glazing all around the heads and most of the vase, except the bottom, which is unglazed like the faces. There is a lot of ropelike detail all over the piece. I think I see a wolf in the glazed section.
There is a hallmark, which appears to be a bowl with flowers, somewhat like a D on its rounded side, with 2 tulip like circles, to depict the flowers. The inside is highly glazed.
The estate sale had some high quality pieces. I think this is one.
David, If you’re interested in possibly consigning this piece to auction, please submit an auction evaluation form on our website. http://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/auction-evaluation-form/
Can you recommend reference books for art pottery?
Stacy, Is your interest American or European? Contemporary or c. 1908?
I would like to send you a photo of an elongated bowl and candle holders I bought online. I usually buy only Roseville; however, these are so beautiful that I made an exception. How can I send you photos?
Please send photos using the auction evaluation form on our website: http://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/auction-evaluation-form/. Thank you!
I should have included that I cannot identify the maker. I would like to know. Noella
I have a piece of pottery signed it is absolutely stunning but I need help identifying the maker as the signature is odd to me it’s a large pottery bowl that reminds me a bit of frankoma or something and to me looks like it probably was from the 60’s and has a beach california kind of theme to it .. I would love to send a photo of the bottom to learn the artist .. was a thrift find it looks like and M and a W and there is number but I am sure anyone that knows pottery could help me
help pottery expert! watching your show now and a similar pot was just appraised on the show from a different artist
To find out more about this pottery and what it may be worth at auction, please submit photos and an auction evaluation form on our website: https://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/auction-evaluation-form/
I want to sell a signed piece of pottery with a distinct signature on the bottom that is illegible – probably not worth anything- any ideas how I can authenticate / determine value?
To find out more about your pottery and what it may be worth at auction, please submit photos and an auction evaluation form via our website: https://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/auction-evaluation-form/
I A SMALL PEICES OF POTTERY CANT FIND ANYTHING ON THE MARKING.
this has got me stumped any idea who this is? I will send pics through the evaluation form
I’ve found a piece that I’ve been unable to identify. The marks are on the neck of a piece about 5 inches tall with a rose that rises i inch above the rim. The marks can be described as a raised inverted crown inside a rounded square. It also has a second mark that is also inside a rounded square with a block letter monogram that could be “AP” “PP” or “RP” Anyone out there able to help me? I do have a couple of “not so good” photos if that would help.
Hello Jim, In order for us to tell you more about your pottery, please submit photos and an auction evaluation form via our website. Initial evaluations are complimentary. https://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/auction-evaluation-form/
I am trying to identify a flower petals clay dish that has the markings of a flower picture and under it stamped “M” and below that it’s stamped “PAT.APP.FO” and I cannot make out the rest. Does anyone have any ideas?
Hi I recently bought two pieces of pottery at goodwill. They are both by the same artist. On the bottom it is signed Marguerite 1963. Can you tell me more about this artist and if I have pieces of any value?
Hi Lacey, Please submit photos and an auction evaluation form via our website. Initial auction evaluations are complimentary. https://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/auction-evaluation-form/
Does anyone have any information on these figurines? They are terracotta and adorable. They are about 4 inches tall. There are markings on inside. 1. m hungary btm09 and initials which I can’t make out. Maybe JZI? 2. btm 09c. Same initials JZI? All of the lettering is hand written.
Hi Susan, Please submit photos and an auction evaluation form via our website. Initial auction evaluations are complimentary. https://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/auction-evaluation-form/
I have a small vase simple design, looks like a tree with applied leaves and vines. On the bottom is a raised applied mark with crown and shield, flanked by birds, resting on two discs, I believe there is a B on the shield. I’m trying to find out any information.
Hi Deb, To find out more about your vase please submit photos and an auction evaluation form via our website. Initial auction evaluations are complimentary. https://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/auction-evaluation-form/
I came across a black vase that looks like a San llifonso Indian pottery maybe from New Mexico. It has what looks like closed feathers and a raven? It is signed Adakai with the k has a long squiggly line ending in what looks like an arrow. I would really appreciate if hopefully you can tell me what it is. Thank you.
I have an old looks to be stoneware vase small. I can tell you it is older than 100 years I think. I think the bottom clay is falling apart. I would like to send an image to see if anyone recognize the maker. It looks like it could have an x very small indented in the bottom . Not sure.
Hi Cindy –
Here is the link to submit your pictures to our Appraisals Department:http://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/sell-at-auction/
We will look forward to seeing your vase!
I would like to send you some picture about an item, maybe You could tell something about it, specially the place or the year of manufakture.
Please submit your evaluation/appraisal request with images of the item if possible to our Appraisals Department here:
Thank you very much!
Amazing blog! I have lots of beautifully designed stoneware pottery in my home and I always wonder who created these wonderful pieces. Now, after reading this blog, I will try to find the name of artists myself. Thanks!
Your blog is really amazing, it will really help to identify the good quality of pottery home decor pieces. Thank you very much
This may be out of your area but I recently bought some French Jars dinnerware to expand my collection and now see that the mark on my old pieces is a stamp, the mark on my new pieces is printed on top. Could the printed ID mark be a knock off?
I am not familiar with the marks on production pieces, most of my expertise comes is in the hand wrought arts and crafts and studio ceramics area. You could check on Collectable signatures and note the maker online. It may be a dating difference in the way it is marked. A lot of manufacturers do change marks over time. Kovels may have a guide to your collecting area.
I agree that to find truly gorgeous pottery you should know what glaze, finish, and decoration means. I think that being experienced in each of those fields will help you find pottery that you will love for years. Thanks for the reminder.
I have a vase from mom anniv present in 30’s peony’s ferns on dk navy with ivory flower almost abstract flowers are lightly painted in areas defining the petals ..fluted 7 1/2 top and base with a 1” surround in navy with ivory squiggle appears to be porcelain..but is heavy..ivory porcelain in the inside about halfway down..no name on bottom
Hello Linda, If you would be interested in an auction evaluation for your vase please contact the Skinner Appraisal Department – they would be more than happy to help you find more information about an appraisal/evaluation. You can contact the Appraisal Department by phone at 508-970-3299 or email email@example.com. If you can provide photos – here is the link to the appraisals form on our website: https://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/auction-evaluation-form/ Thank you!
I have a pottery vase that has a sun stamp on the bottom and then signed with a name that I can’t read. Any info on the sun marking? not sure if its new or old, I got it from an estate sale
Hello Laura, If you would be interested in an auction evaluation for your pottery please contact the Skinner Appraisal Department – they would be more than happy to help you find more information as well as provide an appraisal/evaluation. You can contact the Appraisal Department by phone at 508-970-3299 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you can provide photos – here is the link to the appraisals form on our website: https://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/auction-evaluation-form/ Thank you!
My son and I were swimming in a river in Vermont and we found a slightly large piece of pottery that seemed old to me. The mark we saw on it was a circle with a line right through the middle. Could any one help us identify this?
Thanks for reaching out. Our appraisals department will be able to help you with this. You can email them at email@example.com or call them at 508-970-3299.
I have 2 matching 64 inch floor vases but can find no marking. They are beautiful but there is no mark I can find. Could it be hidden in the art?
Hello David, Would you be able to submit an auction evaluation form with images or email firstname.lastname@example.org? Please provide as many detailed images and as much information as possible – here is the link to the form on our website: https://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/auction-evaluation-form/ Thank you!
Hello, I have found a beautiful pitcher vase it is 14” tall iit is wrapped with people almost like Savage Land Civilization only markings I have is on the bottom is N. Perron 8-15-69.
Hi Shelly, For an evaluation or more information on your vase you can either submit an auction evaluation form or email email@example.com. Please provide some detailed images and as much information as possible – here is the link to the form on our website: https://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/auction-evaluation-form/ Thank you!
Hi I have this small vase it has a wave drawn on the bottom with the initials DM under the wave and then in the unglazed ring there are two open bottomed triangles almost touching it could almost e an M. I cannot find anything online. It’s so well made I can’t seem to forget this one
Hello Chuck, If possible would you please submit images and a description to the Appraisal Services Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit our Auction Evaluation request form: https://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/auction-evaluation-form/ Thank you very much.
Hi, I have a Daehan China Co of Korea dish. It’s only about 4″, which is much smaller than the ones I’ve found online. It appears to be the Plum Blossom scene. I would like to know if this is authentic or possibly a reproduction.
Hello Cynthia, If you have not already done so, we would be more than happy to provide an appraisal and more information for you; please submit images and a description to the Appraisal Services Department at email@example.com or submit our Auction Evaluation request form: https://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/auction-evaluation-form/ Thank you very much.
Hello, I have a face jug with markings on the bottom GR,
18, three horizontal lines (one on top of the other), and what appears to be a lower case g.
The face has individually carved teeth and eyes. Any help on who created it would be appreciated.
Hello Denise, We would be more than happy to provide an appraisal and more information for you; please submit images and a description to the Appraisal Services Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit our Auction Evaluation request form: https://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/auction-evaluation-form/ Thank you very much.
I am trying to identify pottery which came from France
Hello Pat, Thanks very much for your message. If you are interested in more information on your pottery, please submit images and a description to the Appraisal Services Department at email@example.com or submit our Auction Evaluation request form: https://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/auction-evaluation-form/ and we will return any information as well as auction estimate to you. Thank you
I wonder if you could help me with a set of lattice work dessert or cake plates and two matching elevated cake servers. They have English country scenes on them, but it looks to me as though these are somehow printed on. I think they are modern and without value but I would like to be sure before I give them away.
Hello Gail, Thanks very much for your message. If you are interested in more information on your cake plates, please submit images and a description to the Appraisal Services Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit our Auction Evaluation request form: https://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/auction-evaluation-form/ and we will return any information as well as auction estimate to you. Thank you!
I forgot to add they have the mark AKE on the bottom and an illegible date.
Hello, I got a pottery mug at a yard sale and it quickly became my favorite. Today it slipped out of my hands and broke and I am trying to figure out from the signature where I could find a replacement. It looks like Roqu Yally possibly. Dated 1986. I do have pictures of it if that would help, not sure how to post them.
Hello Rebecca! Thanks very much for your message. If you are interested in more information about your pottery, please submit images and a description with your question to the Appraisal Services Department at email@example.com and we will return any information that we can to you. Thank you!
Was wondering if you could help me identify the marking stamped on the side of a piece of pottery. It looks like a backwards KP stamped on the bottom side of vase. A 6.1 possibly signed on the bottom.
Hello Chad, I hope that we can help you identify your pottery. Please submit images and a detailed description of the piece to the Appraisal Services Department: https://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/sell-at-auction/ or at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will return any information that we can to you. Thank you!
need help with a pottery mark, it’s a raised stamp type oval with 2 castle towers. i’m not sure how to send a picture of it on this forum.
Hello Mike, I hope that we can help you identify your pottery. Please send an image of the mark as well as an overall image of the piece to email@example.com and I will be in touch. Thank you!
In going through our Aunts estate sale items we came across a jug with the signature Cameron on the bottom and what looks like a K.
Is it possible you might be able to tell me a little something about this artist.
I really appreciate any help at all.
Raylene, Thanks very much for your message. Please submit images and a detailed description of the painting to the Appraisal Services Department: https://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/sell-at-auction/ or at firstname.lastname@example.org and our Appraisals Department will return any information that we can to you about who the artist may be. Thank you!
Hi, I have what I think a very old earthenware bowl/ or plant bowl? It has a fancy stamped EB on the bottom and on the side it has Lyons patent on it. I can find no information at all regards this, I have had it since 1971 and I know it’s older as I got it from an auction then.
Hello Elaine, Thanks very much for your message. If possible, please submit images and a detailed description of the bowl to the Appraisal Services Department: https://www.skinnerinc.com/selling/sell-at-auction/ or at email@example.com and our Appraisals Department will return any information that we can to you about who the artist may be. Thank you!