Who Made American Pottery Bird Figurines?[retrieved from http://www.cajunc.com/art-pottery-birds]
Pottery in America at the turn of the 20th century required a combination of a commercial enterprise and individual artisans. Potteries encouraged art on a pottery canvas, and the dark brown standard glaze was the background many companies used for display pottery.
Tile art was a strong form from the turn of the 20th century until about 1920. From the 1920s through the 1950s, American pottery figurines in the form of flower holders and planters had caught the vision of the American buyer. American companies responded to the vision with an abundance of figurines, including birds.
Boehm, Lenox, Gort and Gorham made porcelain or china bird figurines, all marked on the base, but Rosemeade, Stangl, Morton, Weller, Cowan, Shawnee, Vontury, Cordey, Royal Copley and Camark along with several California companies also made pottery birds.
Pottery birds aren't always marked, and if you're inquisitive or if you just want to resell, you'll want to know the maker before you let your bird fly away. American pottery sells better with identification.
We haven't included all the companies that made birds during this 1920s to 1950s era in this guide – just some of the ones you're likely to find in your search for American pottery bird figurines. The companies we include made more birds than we mention as we see bird figurines in the books that we haven't seen in shops.
You can learn the characteristics for identification and the next time you see an unidentified bird figurine, you'll be closer to identifying the maker. After you've tried your luck at finding the maker with no success, you're welcome to contact us to see if we have any ideas. We help when we can.
New Jersey Birds
New Jersey made splendid bird figurines in the U.S. during the 1940s and 1950s. Gort and Boehm made porcelain birds in New Jersey, so pottery companies had serious competition. Hand painting and attention to detail were typical of the New Jersey pottery bird production and Stangl, Cordey and Vontury were masters at the art.
A few companies made artistic pottery figurines from the 1920s through the 1950s — Stangl was probably the leader in the bird figurines. Early Stangl birds were utilitarian with solid color glazes, including a bird ashtray with a match holder and a crane flower frog or flower holder, along with an ashtray with a long-tailed bird hovering over the tray.
Once these were successful, Stangl hired artisans who painted birds by hand, creating an art form that didn't have utilitarian value. These figurines weren't planters or wallpockets – most were decorative arts for the home purchased just to look pretty.
Stangl began the Birds of America series of figurines about 1939 in New Jersey. August Jacob was the designer for most of the birds and it's no coincidence that the figurines often look like the Audubon pictures. Many of the birds are singles, but there are also groups with a native habitat base. Early birds were solid colors such as turquoise and antique ivory crackled glaze.
By 1940, Stangl was making colorful hand-painted songbirds. Stangl marked most of its bird figurines on the bottom of the base, often with the oval Stangl mark, sometimes with four painted numbers identifying the shape.
Stangl returned to one-glaze production with black gold, antique gold and Granada gold bird figurines from 1965 to 1975. A set of bluebird salt and pepper shakers was also a Stangl pottery design.
The Collector's Encyclopedia Of Stangl Artware, Lamps, and Birds, 2nd Edition by Robert C. Runge, Jr. has photos and extensive information about Stangl's bird production, including the porcelain birds made in 1944 and a china warbler produced in 1954. We won't discuss the porcelain birds in this writing.
Cordey China Company produced pottery birds in Trenton, N.J. starting about 1940 under the direction of Bolesaw Cybis, a Polish artist. Cybis developed "papka," a combination of porcelain ash and New Jersey clay used to make details on Cordey figurines. Cybis left Cordey to develop Cybis porcelains.
Cybis worked with Cordey from about 1940 to 1950, the primary years of its operation. Although the name signifies a "china" company, Cordey figurines are more pottery than porcelain. Cordey birds are often marked on the bottom with a faint indented "Cordey" script signature or with three or four numbers. Low numbers are usually earlier figurine shapes.
You can almost always recognize Cordey by the rococo scroll base of most pieces, including the birds. The most common Cordey birds are about 10 inches tall and are blue or yellow, with pale pink applied flowers. Cordey also made mallard ducks that are difficult to find. A vase with a small bird on the side and a 7-inch jewelry box included in a vintage catalog are shown as "Victorian with Bird."
For more photos of Cordey China Company's pottery, see Kovels.com.
F. Joseph Vontury was a ceramic engineer from Poland who came to the United States in 1929 and set up shop in Perth Amboy, New Jersey in 1936. He later worked out of Metuchen, New Jersey, creating pottery vases, bowls and figurines for more than 50 years. The Metuchen library has a "ceramic tree" wall of work he donated in 1976. Vases and bowls appear on the Internet frequently, but the figurines are elusive.
The birds are usually beige and pastel shades, often with impressionistic coloration. The clay is white to beige and the glaze is almost glassy, as Vontury used a single firing process at 2,500 degrees. The result is like vitreous china.
Vontury pottery doesn't craze easily, a quality often attributed to his ceramic engineering background and firing method. Crazing is the crackle to the glaze caused by temperature changes. Vontury birds are often marked with a rectangular sticker on the side and an incised name in script on the bottom.
Ohio is always one of the premier states for American pottery production from the 1920s through the 1950s and bird figurines were a large part of the success of a few Ohio potteries. Ohio companies such as Royal Copley, American Bisque, Weller, Cowan, Shawnee, McCoy and Brush were established and creating large quantities of production pottery and utilitarian ware. When figurines with no practical purpose became popular (knicknacks, tchotchkes, doodads), Ohio companies made their share.
Royal Copley and related companies, Spaulding and Royal Windsor, cornered the market on inexpensive bird figurines during the vintage and collectible era from the 1920s through the 50s. These companies produced large quantities of birds using airbrushing techniques for glazing.
A shopping trip for bird figurines will usually turn up a few Royal Copley, Royal Windsor or Spaulding birds. Some have paper labels, but you can learn the shapes and coloration for identification.
Look for air brushing, but be aware that American Bisque made some air-brushed birds as well.
American Bisque made some bird figurines that were on the sides of planters, including a parakeet, parrot, cockatiel, stork and two birds on a branch that may be lovebirds. These songbirds are the way American Bisque birds were airbrushed and is unmarked, but is probably American Bisque.
The Brighton line was Weller pottery's contribution to beautiful bird figurines, but they aren't easy to find in today's market. Many of the Weller birds are flower frogs (to hold flower arrangements in place, like the Weller piece, right) or holders and are painted blue with brown bases.
Much like Stangl birds, the brush marks show on Weller pottery birds. If you can't find a full-color bird, you might have to settle for a solid color flower frog in the Weller Muskota or Hobart line. Muskota and Hobart were figurine lines from Weller, including nude flower frogs, elephants, dogs and a cat. The girl with the duck flower frog is from the Hobart line. Weller also made bird figurines for the Woodcraft series.
Outstanding figurines of every type were included in Cowan pottery production, most in Art Deco style. Waylande Gregory designed a flamingo and a swan that were flower frogs for use in console bowls, along with a heron figurine.
Cowan produced the bird and wave figurine by Alexander Blazys in two sizes. Cowan also produced a small ashtray in the shape of a bird that's a very fine clay with a glossy glaze in heavy pottery. If it's marked, it has a round circle incised into the clay with the Cowan name around the edge. Stangl made a similar ashtray.
Shawnee was famous for cookie jars, but it made a few bird figurines you might call miniatures. They're not tiny like Hagen-Renaker minis that are an inch or under, but are between 2 and 3 inches.
Shawnee also made a sitting bird and a parrot, along with a swan, chicken and some ducks. Larger birds from Shawnee include a figurine with its head down and one with an open mouth, both with the same body. It also made planters with birds on the sides, one on a shell, one on a nest, a group on driftwood, lovebirds on a stump and a chicken with an egg planter.
Shawnee pieces are often marked USA and are ecru clay with a tinge of pink.
McCoy and Brush made primarily bird planters. A bird beside a nest, two birds flying together and a flying eagle are planters from these related companies.
A separately molded bird attached is usually a McCoy piece, not Brush. McCoy made a bird attached to a bowl with berries as well as a double planter with an attached bird. A similar bird attached to a birdbath is McCoy pottery. A flying bird swooping down on a planter is a Brush product.
McCoy and Shawnee both made a singing bird planter, with the primary opening at the back of the bird.
You'd expect the pottery companies in the heartland of the U.S. to produce robins, chickens and maybe crows, but crows and robins are scarce in pottery production and chickens are common. Potteries in the heartland or inland areas of the United States made more than inland birds — they made water birds as well. Cranes, flamingos, herons, geese and swans were all commercially produced by the heartland companies. Camark, Morton, Haeger and Rosemeade were leading inland potteries producing birds during the 1920s to the 1950s.
Camark pottery made a flying bird flower frog that has a rectangular base; also a sitting bird on a round flower arranger base. It made a flower frog with cranes and one with two exotic birds — maybe flamingos or swans facing the outside of a round circle.
Camark also produced a basket with a bird on the handle. The swans with heads together that is a planter is one of the easier Camark birds to find when you're shopping. Planters with doves, pigeons and ducks are often Camark products. A 3-inch tall chick planter is one of the cuter designs Camark made.
Some Camark is marked with a sticker, and some pieces are marked with the name, but you'll most likely see three numbers and sometimes USA on a Camark bird figurine. You can further recognize Camark because it's white clay pottery.
Another Arkansas pottery that made a few bird figurines was Niloak, and the ducks are easiest to find when you're shopping. Arkansas and Texas often used white clay for commercial production.
The swan planter was about the only bird figurine produced by Alamo pottery of San Antonio, and it was glazed in solid colors of blue, green and yellow.
Morton pottery and related companies, Cliftwood and Midwest of Morton, Illinois, made drip-glaze birds in figural and planter designs. Morton sometimes made the bird figurine separate from the mold for the planter so workers could attach the birds to different shapes.
Two lovebirds at a well are a wallpocket and the same lovebirds appear on a planter. A bird looking into a nest is a planter. A stylized roadrunner had a planter in the back, but you may find the roadrunner as a figurine as well. A cockatoo, a parrot and a turkey were other birds from the Morton potteries with drip glazes. The heron was a single color matte glaze and the canaries were a solid yellow. Parrot planter bookends were spray-glazed in stripes of color, as was a flower frog with a bird. The eagle bookends were brown and ecru, the natural color of the clay. A single bald eagle figurine had a brushed glaze in shades of brown.
Morton made a couple of log planters with a bird on a tree stump. A miniature bird has the drip glaze on the head, but salt and pepper shakers in solid colors look like jays or cardinals.
Doris and Burdell Hall show some large water birds in Morton Potteries: 99 Years - A Product Guide with prices - Vol. 2. The crane and heron sit on a standard planter base. A seagull in flight and a swan may have gold trim. Morton also made pie birds or vents with open mouths for placing in the center of a pie to keep it from boiling over. A wallpocket tree trunk has an attached bird. Another wallpocket was a duck with a flat back.
Morton made a wallpocket with a drip-glazed bird with its head down. This seagull with outspread wings with the planter opening in the back of the bird looks like Morton, although I don't see it in the book.
Haeger and Royal Haeger made a large stork figurine on a planter and several different swans in both figurines and planters. It also made two small goose figurines that you might find in white glaze. Colored ones have eluded us, although the Lee Garmon book, Collecting Royal Haeger - A Comprehensive Illustrated Price Guide - Highlighting the 1930s & 1940s, shows one in burgundy and two in yellow.
Haeger made a swan console bowl and two swan candleholders to match. The standing pheasant figurines and the parrot figurines are matching pairs. A catalog reprint shows a bird in flight flower frog 17 inches tall. The pouter pigeon figurine is one you're more likely to find when you're shopping.
Rosemeade pottery was one of the Dakota companies acquiring fame from quality salt and pepper shakers. Many of the shakers were birds, with the quail probably the easiest to find. Rosemeade also made a lovebirds figural planter, usually found in a pink glaze.
Most Rosemeade shakers aren't marked, but are a distinctive speckled clay. The lovebirds planter is stamped with the Rosemeade script signature.
California artisans were busy making tiles in the 1920s and the figurine craze hadn't really taken hold. Large and wonderful are words to describe some of the California pottery creations in the 1930s through the 1950s. Fine California birds came from Brad Keeler, Ball Brothers, Will-George, Kay Finch, Freeman-McFarlin, Modglins, Howard Pierce, Cleminsons, Los Angeles Pottery, Hagen-Renaker, Marc Bellaire and Maddux. Smaller California companies made birds as well, but production was lower and many haven't survived through the years. The companies named produced both quality and quantity, and you can still locate some of these bird figurines online or in collectibles malls.
Brad Keeler made a duck that is brown and detailed, but also made a bluebird, cockatoo, bluejay and a series of exotic birds. Pheasants, flamingos and a seagull were part of the production as well.
The Keeler studio stamped the "Brad Keeler" printed name on some its bird production but some had the name impressed in the mold.
Ball Brothers made some birds with elaborate detail, and the company stamped these figurines with a round Ball Brothers ink stamp. You may find a few marked Howard Ball, but I haven't seen any signed only by Arthur Ball, Howard's brother.
Will and George Climes were brothers who made Will-George bird figurines. Will-George took advantage of the pink flamingo fad of the early 1950s and made several different flamingos. Will-George crafted some bird species not made by many of the California artisans, including cardinals. The same mold made bluejays. This company made a red macaw, a cockatoo and some bluebirds as well.
The hand painted hyphenated name in black paint marks these elegant figurines — when they are marked.
Mr. and Mrs. Bird in different glazes were Kay Finch designs first made at her studio and later made by Freeman-McFarlin using her design. She also designed a parakeet and a penguin.
Kay Finch birds aren't always marked, but you can recognize the glazes used and the perky designs.
Freeman-McFarlin produced some of Kay Finch's designs, but made ducks and owls as well, sometimes marked "Anthony" on the bottom in script after Anthony Freeman, the chief designer. If you see solid gold finish on bird figurines, you'll probably be able to identify those as Freeman-McFarlin. The gold coating often had a red base primer to give you further assurance that it's Freeman-McFarlin production.
A crested bird on a round base and some cute chicks were Modglins production. Modglins used scrolls and squiggles much like Kay Finch, and we see Modglins figurines for sale online, but not many birds.
Metlox was a large company, but bird production wasn't one of its mainstays. It made some water birds on individual round bases, some double bird figurines and a bird with a tail in the air similar to Roselane production.
Howard Pierce made modern art birds. He designed owls, quail, roadrunner, a water bird and pheasants, and produced these treasures in his studio. He also made stylized chickens.
You can identify Howard Pierce birds by the glaze, usually in shades of brown, and by the stamped mark on the bottom.
The distlefink bird was from the Cleminsons along with a pie bird or pie vent marked with the intertwined BC mark for Betty Cleminson. Distlefink birds usually have the Cleminson's round seal mark.
Robert Simmons birds are often on a blue green base and have an ochre color somewhere on the bird. Not many are marked, but there is often a dot of paint on the bottom, just like we see in the American pottery dogs.
One of the more common California bird figurines is unmarked. It has two birds on a branch, and sometimes they are different styles or the birds aren't set the same way on the branch. These birds are from Los Angeles Pottery Company, identified in California Potteries: The Complete Book (A Schiffer Book for Collectors), by Mike Schneider.
Miniature birds by Hagen-Renaker are typical of the excellent quality of its figurines. Sometimes you can identify them just because they are tiny, or you may notice that there is paper on the bottom where they were stuck to a price card at one time.
Some of the Hagen-Renaker birds are made of colored clay — the company colored the clay before starting the production — so the figurine has a clear glaze without additional painting.
The largest bird from our California figurine collection is the Marc Bellaire stylized bird that is a bowl. This bird is 17 inches tall, and the Bellaire studio decorated it in different styles.
One bird bowl is marked "Bellaire" on the bottom; the other is marked Marc Bellaire California. You can find more California birds in Jack Chipman's California Pottery Scrapbook: Identification and Value Guide and his Collectors Encyclopedia of California Pottery.