American Art Pottery Association On the Net Column

Greg Myroth is a contributing writer for The Journal of the American Art Pottery Association. Greg’s On the Net column is a regular part of the Journal, which is published six times a year. The On the Net articles have been made available to the Just Art Pottery website with the permission of the American Art Pottery Association.

March - April 2005

As we enter the spring of 2005, I can’t help but reflect on the state of the art pottery market and ponder the future direction of prices.  As a collector and dealer in American and European art pottery, I feel more optimistic and confident about the future than I have in quite some time.  I fully recognize we have had several years of relatively stagnant prices and that there are other negative signs such as general areas of economic weakness and poor auction results on both eBay and live sales.  But on the flip side, I see other positive signs.

While on the surface appearing to a negative, I think the substantial reduction in the quality of art pottery coming up for sale indicates the potential for increasing prices for mint condition items.   To demonstrate the lack of availability of mint condition art pottery, I decided to conduct my own informal survey of the stated condition of Roseville pottery available on eBay over a three-day period.   I did not look at every piece of Roseville offered for sale over the period evaluated, but did look at what I considered a representative sample of available items.  What I found was that approximately 64% of the Roseville on eBay was described as having damage or repair of some type. 

In addition, as any regular eBay art pottery buyer can attest, one is safe in assuming a fair portion of those Roseville items described on eBay as mint have flaws such as chips, cracks, damage, or repair which were not noticed by the seller or were intentionally left out of the description.  To get a handle on what percentage of items are misrepresented as being in mint condition, I consulted purchasing records from a couple of online buyers to come up with an estimate of the number of misrepresented art pottery items on eBay.    From those numbers, a very conservative estimate is approximately 15% of the Roseville pottery described on eBay as mint really had flaws of some type.  

Roseville Carnelian Pottery CollectionI know many eBay pottery buyers would estimate the percentage of misrepresented items is much higher and from my experience the number seems very low to me as well.  Some of it may be experienced buyers have become much more selective over the years regarding who they buy from and therefore are more successful in their purchases.  It is also important to note that the records looked at included all pottery purchased through eBay and not just Roseville.  Our personal experience indicates Roseville is much more likely to be misrepresented in online auctions than is Rookwood, Weller, Van Briggle, Teco, or any other art pottery for that matter.

Given the above numbers, one could make the assumption that approximately 75 to 80% of the Roseville that makes its way to eBay is damaged or repaired in some way.   While I don’t have specific numbers to offer, the percentages of damaged or repaired Rookwood, Weller, Van Briggle and other American art pottery is lower than that seen for Roseville. 

Based on those numbers, one would think we would be seeing increasing prices for mint art pottery.  For whatever reason, most of us who track pottery prices would agree we are not yet seeing that upward pressure on prices.  What I have personally seen and other dealers have pointed out to me as well is the increasing prices being paid for damaged and repaired items in relation to the prices paid for mint examples.  Examples of this happening can be seen in both eBay auctions as well as live auction venues.  

The reduction in the availability of mint pieces of art pottery also appears very evident in the offerings of many of the larger auction houses over the last year or so.  Just a few years ago many of the better auction houses would shy away from or place damaged items in their lower profile sales.  It seems damaged and repaired items are making up a larger percentage of the available pots at even the most high-end sales.  This trend is not just occurring for Roseville but is evident even in some of the Rookwood auctions. 

While there are still many negative signals, given the increasing scarcity of high quality art pottery simple supply and demand economics indicates to me there is strong potential for upward pressure on prices in the relatively short-term future.  For those of you focusing on quality and looking at your art pottery collection as a longer-term investment, I have a feeling over the next 5 to 10 years you will be happy with the results. 

If you have any thoughts on the future direction of the art pottery market as it relates to prices, supply and demand, or any related issues I encourage you to drop me an email with your comments.  I would love to hear your thoughts and if I get any responses they will be published in the next issue.