With the Western and Southern Open currently being held at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, this seems like the perfect time to talk about pottery. For those unfamiliar with this particular tennis tournament, these two things may not seem like they go together, but they do.
Rookwood Pottery was founded in 1880 by Maria Longworth Nichols in Cincinnati. During this time period, women were not allowed to paint on canvas but they could paint on ceramic or pottery, so Ms. Nichols started the first female-owned manufacturing company in the United States as an outlet for her own creativity.
The earliest Rookwood Pottery pieces were heavily influenced by Japanese and European art. Then in the early 1900s, the artists embraced the up-and-coming arts and crafts and art nouveau styles. By 1905, Rookwood was offering a production line of pottery that was still made by hand, but was only glazed, not hand-painted.
Today, Rookwood Pottery pieces range in value from hundreds to thousands of dollars, with the higher prices being mostly reserved for the vintage, hand-painted pieces. The company makes a variety of pottery including tiles, vases, figurines, coasters, frames, homewares.
As with jewelry , a lot can be learned about a piece of Rookwood pottery by looking at the markings found on the bottom. A backwards R followed by a P became the Rookwood mark. For the next 14 years, one flame was added to the mark each year, so pieces within this time period can be easily dated based on the number of flames present. When there was no more room for flames, the company chose to keep the mark with the 14 flames and signify the year it was made with Roman numerals below the mark.
If a piece was hand-painted or hand-sculpted by an artist, their initials can be found on the bottom. This mark is also called a cipher. You can even tell who applied the finishing glaze on some pieces based on the location of a “finisher’s dot” in relation to the other marks. A dot of darker glaze to the right of the company mark might signify one finisher, while a dot to the left might signify another.
Other marks on the bottom of a piece include shape numbers, size marks (A is the largest, F is the smallest), clay type, and whether the piece was a trial piece (T) or was imperfect (X).
But what does pottery have to do with tennis? When the first Western and Southern Open was held in 1899, Rookwood Pottery created the winner’s trophy. Then over 110 years later, in 2010, Rookwood was again asked to design the trophy to emphasize the tournament’s connection to Cincinnati. Rookwood has been providing the trophy every year since, and it is now called the Rookwood Cup.
Today, spectators can take home their own mini Rookwood Cup as a memento from the tournament. Only 1000 replicas are made each year and they are available exclusively at the matches.
If you have a piece of pottery that you have inherited or purchased, turn it over and take a look at the markings on the bottom. You just might be the proud owner of a piece of Cincinnati history.