Sunday, April 25, 2010

Learning about Shawnee pottery...

I have been seeing a lot of signs lately in antique booths with big letters that say “SHAWNEE” and that piqued my interest enough to go online and do some research to find out what “SHAWNEE” is.

Here is what I found out:
It has been said that Shawnee Pottery was named to commemorate an arrowhead found on the grounds of the plant in Zanesville Ohio. (They were the manufacturer of various types of household pottery from 1937 through 1961). The Shawnee tribe lived there before the area was settled and were known to make pottery out of the rich red clay found in the area. Shards and pieces of Native American pots, as well as arrowheads and other tools were once easy to find in the area.
The company created various types of kitchenware intended to be for daily use and therefore pretty inexpensive. They were capable of producing 100,000 ceramic items every day. The Pottery line was available in department stores like Woolworth's, Sears, and McCrory's. It was a popular choice among homemakers of the day and they really bought it up at 10 to 50 cents per item. Those same items now sell for $50 or more!

During the depression, the American Encaustic Company went out of business (it had been the largest tile works business in the world from the late 1880’s until they closed their doors in the 1930’s), leaving lots of empty buildings as well as all of their machinery and many employees looking for jobs.
Shawnee took over all of the old American Encaustic buildings and hired many of the company’s former employees. The one big change that they made, was to remove all of the old kilns and replace them with the newes,t state of the art kilns.
Many well-known men from the pottery industry were associated with Shawnee as well as designers who had worked for Hull, Roseville, Weller and Frankoma. Their designs became more and more popular and didn’t last long on store shelves.
Unfortunately, after the end of World War II foreign imports began flooding the market and Shawnee wasn’t able to compete and had to cease production in 1961.
Shawnee can be, and often has been mistaken for McCoy because they are very similar. Some distinguishing features in the Shawnee line include glaze that completely covers the item, both inside and out, their raised foot on the bottom which follows the contour of the base and markings that often times are just the letters USA (this mark predates WWII) inscribed on the bottom.
The first “Smiley Pig” cookie jars were made with either a blue or red scarf and sold wholesale at $12 per dozen. The “Smiley” salt and pepper shakers wholesale price was $3.60 per dozen. In their 1945 catalog, Sears and Roebuck offered the salt and pepper shakers (along with their watering can, and winking owls) for 45 cents each. Their teapots sold for $1.29 and $1.59 each. Although their cookie jars are the most collected items (especially the gold trimmed ones-which interestingly enough got the gold trim and decals to hide imperfections! One recently sold for $6750!! All that for a “second”.) many people feel that a true collection isn’t complete without at least one “smiley”.
Shawnee also produced a wide range of products for the kitchen, from baking dishes to whipping jars, decorative art pottery, aquarium ornaments and wall pockets and everything else you can think of in-between.
During the last 60’s and 70’s some unscrupulous manufacturers duplicated many of Shawnee’s molds with the intentions of fooling unsuspecting collectors.
Terrace Ceramics bought the Shawnee molds when the company went out of business in 1961. Some of their jars might look like Shawnee, but they were made and clearly marked by Terrace Ceramics. The quality of the Terrace jars are definitely different and probably won’t be easily confused with the real thing.

In the mid 1990s a new Shawnee Pottery Company opened and for a few years was selling cookie jars, which should also not be confused with the products produced by the original Shawnee company. This newer company was advertised as "The New Shawnee Pottery Company". They have sold and produced several different cookie jars (and they are all very different from the designs of the original Shawnee company), Although the markings on the bottom of their jars look nothing like the markings of the original company, one of their cookie jars is marked with both USA and Shawnee on the bottom, and unfortunately this could confuse new collectors.

The best advice to learn how to spot the fakes, is to educate yourself by reading all the books available on Shawnee products and studying the pictures to familiarize yourself with their designs and patterns.

(My information was compiled from information I found on,, hub, and

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