This post has information on collecting and identifying yellowware pottery, including its origins and tips to determine its age.
Thirty years ago, yellowware was immensely popular. Martha Stewart had a huge collection of yellowware bowls and some of her prized pieces were showcased in her books and magazine. Yellowware pottery was a popular collectible up into the mid 1990s. It was so popular that reproduction yellowware pieces were made. Then, tastes changed, styles evolved and the demand for yellowware plummeted. As did the prices of this once popular pottery. Bowls that once routinely sold for $60 simply could not be sold for $30.
Then in 2015, farmhouse style was all the rage. Suddenly, large sturdy yellowware pottery bowls, or stoneware bowls, started popping up again in magazines. I noticed, that in certain HGTV shows, yellowware was making an appearance in the background. There has been a modern take on this classic farmhouse pottery.
It looks like this pottery is coming back into style again. Hooray! It is one of my favorite items to bring out during the fall. I just love the soft buttery yellow color.
So, let’s walk through some key points about this pottery. In this post I will share where it originated, how it is made, how to estimate the age of a piece, how to determine its value and where you can buy it today.
Yellowware -or yellow ware- (both spellings are correct) was originally made in England and Scotland. The exact date this pottery started being made is unknown but there is general agreement it was produced in the mid to late 1700s. Around the mid 1800s, skilled potters from England emigrated to the United States and brought their skills, talent and knowledge with them. Additionally, some of the wealthier immigrants who arrived in the United States, brought with them pieces of yellowware pottery from their homeland. So there were two significant events that coincided. First, there were a limited number of potters who could make yellowware in the United States. Second, there were some pieces of yellowware in the United States that originated from the United Kingdom. That’s who yellowware arrived and started being produced in the United States.
Yellowware pottery’s name is derived from the yellow clay made to make the vessels. Unlike many other pieces of pottery that had a yellow glaze (paint) applied, authentic yellowware is the same color all the way through. If you were to break a bowl, (which I don’t recommend) you would see that the yellow color is uniform throughout the clay.
How Yellowware is made
Identifying how yellowware is made can be tricky. I am not a certified appraiser nor do I routinely assess the character and value of yellowware. However, I will share with you what I do know. If you do want more information from a more authoritative source, I recommend a post written by Love to Know.
Early yellowware pieces were made by hand by master potters. Each piece was hand thrown on a potter’s wheel and fired in a kiln. Sometimes, it is easy to identify these pieces because they will not be perfectly uniform. For example, a bowl may have the slightest dip along an edge. If you spin some of these pieces around on a Lazy Susan, you can detect a slight wobble. These older pieces of yellowware are more difficult to find and are therefore more expensive. It’s also important to note, that these pieces contain lead in the glaze. So if you do find a very early piece of yellowware, please don’t use it to serve or store food.
Around the early 1900s, there were a number of factories in the Eastern part of the United States that started making yellowware pottery. Specifically, factories in Ohio, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. These yellowware pieces were made using a mold and were sometimes embossed with designs. The color of clay used to make these pieces of pottery varied by location. So, some yellowware pieces will have a muted yellowish color while others will appear to be deep mustard yellow.
At the time it was made, Yellowware pottery was very affordable, and durable. As a result, most households had some type of yellowware used on a daily basis in their kitchen. So, these antique or vintage pieces are still fairly easy to find in antique stores, thrift shops, flea markets or online.
Distinguishing Features of Yellowware
Without stating the obvious, authentic yellowware is made from a yellow clay. This pottery that is an american classic, often comes with painted bands. Bowls are often adorned with white bands, blue bands, or brown bands. Mid century pieces incorporated the colors of green and pink. I personally love to collect yellowware pieces with a decorative white band. Further, yellowware bowls were often purchased in a set – so it’s not uncommon to find a set or partials sets of nesting bowls. If you can find a complete set of yellow ware bowls in good condition, listed at a reasonable price, don’t hesitate to purchase them.
The bands are also referred to as stripes. Sometimes, people will say for example: “this bowl has a blue stripe”. Also, sometimes people refer to the bands or stripes as a “slip decoration”. Obviously, there is different terminology but its all referring to the same decorative application.
There are also a couple of other decorative techniques that you may come across. Occasionally, you will see a floral pattern or a “seaweed” pattern painted onto yellowware. Normally, patterns like this are associated with “Mocha ware”, which were made in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Another pattern you may come across is called “Sponge ware” because, yep, it looks like someone dabbed the exterior of the piece with a sponge. Sponge ware was generally made later and could be found up until the mid-19th century.
How to Determine Age
Determining the age of yellowware can also be tricky. Again, I am not a certified appraiser but I will share what I know.
First, if a bowl has any type of stamp or mark on the bottom, the pottery is not old. Remember, when I told you that reproduction pieces of yellowware were made in the 1990s? If you see a stamp like the one photographed above or if you see something marked “Over and Back” – you will know that these pieces are reproductions.
Having said that, they were reproduced 20-30 years ago – so I still like these pieces and I think they are charming. They just aren’t terribly valuable.
If you see a stamp on the bottom of a bowl that says , for example,”McCoy” or has a number, it was likely produced between 1940-1960, in the mid-19th century.
Another clue to help determine the age of yellowware pottery lies in the glaze. Earlier pieces will have uniform glazing on the lip of the bowl or pitcher. In contrast the lip of the bowls made in a factory, will have a rough and unglazed finish. The photo above tries to capture these differences where the bowl on the left has the unglazed edge.
Let me share what I know with regards to what affects the value of a piece of yellowware pottery. Most yellowware bowls can be purchased in the range of $50 -$125, depending upon their age, condition and size.
It’s probably obvious, that condition is of paramount importance when determining value. If there are chips or cracks in a piece of pottery, the value will decline substantially. If there is discoloration under or flaws in the glaze, this could also detract from the value, although less so than chips and cracks.
Finding pieces that are unique in size, shape and function also affects value. So pitchers, mugs, and butter crocks will command higher prices than an antique yellowware bowl. The exception is that if you are able to find truly tiny little bowls, like those shown above, then these tend to be more expensive. Likely because they are more difficult to find. Along the same lines, extra large yellowware bowls can be extremely expensive, particularly if they are in good condition.
Imperfections in the glaze can also adversely affect the value. If there is discoloration under the glaze or a flaw in the glaze the value of the pottery will be diminished, but not as much as if there are chips or cracks.
Having shared all of this, I collect plenty of imperfect pieces of yellowware. Ultimately if a piece speaks to me, and the price is fair, I will buy it. The reality is that many of these pieces have been around for more than 100 years and as a result will have some type of imperfection.
So my ultimate recommendation when it comes to “value” is to buy what you love but be aware of a piece’s overall condition.
My own collection of yellowware is far from perfect. There are pieces with chips, cracks as well as those pieces that have issues with the glaze. I buy these pieces not for value but because I love them.
Shop This Post
I spent some time looking through various Etsy listings of yellowware pottery. Enclosed are links to some pieces I found for you. Please note, many of these pieces have small flaws, in keeping with their age. Please look at all the photos before you purchase an item. There are plenty of bowls and I was able to find an old butter crock!
Below are some images you can pin to your Pinterest account in the event you want to reference this post in the future. Simply pin one of these images to a Pinterest boards and then at a future date, you can click on the image and you will return to this post.
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As always, summer has flown by. Now we can enjoy the golden days at the end of summer as we transition into fall. The best seasons are always fleeting.