Pricing Bennington pottery can be challenging because of early variations and contemporary reproductions still being made. Dating back to America's early history, the Bennington pottery style was introduced by Captain John Norton, a retired Revolutionary War soldier who began making redware glazed pottery in 1785 from red clay he mined from along the Hudson River near Bennington, Vermont. His company, Norton Pottery, evolved into producing stoneware (higher-fired clay) kegs and jugs with cobalt decorations of birds, flowers and animals. Pottery from Norton and his successors, along with an associated local style, has become known collectively as Bennington pottery.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Bennington pottery piece
- Price guide
- Magnifying glass
First, evaluate the condition and age of your piece. Check for breaks, scratches and marks. Look for age lines and crazing (a surface cracking that looks like a spiderweb design). Newer pieces will not have many age lines and marks, and the surface sheen will be in better condition.
Check the marking on the bottom of the piece. Antique Benningtons are usually marked with some variation of "J. NORTON, Bennington, VT" or "United States Pottery Company." Consult a book on Bennington Pottery for these marks. Newer reproductions are marked with a hand design that looks like a fork with the craftsman's name marked next to it.
If you determine that you have a newer piece of Bennington, it will still have collectable value. Compare prices on online auction sites for completed auctions on newer Bennington pottery and try to find photos of pieces similar to yours. Study these and price yours accordingly based on condition, colours and sizes.
Check online completed auctions for antique Bennington Pottery items also. There won't be as many listings as there will for reproduction Bennington, but periodically you will find an antique piece. In addition, look for photographs of your antique piece in an established book about Bennington pottery. The bible for Bennington pottery is "Bennington Pottery and Porcelain," by expert Richard Carter Barret. Check rare self-published Bennington books as well. Bennington falls in the category of speciality collectibles and some of the best information may come from publications created a long time ago by collectors who were not published by a mainstream publisher.
Compare your piece of pottery to similar pieces in price guide books and catalogues from major auction houses. These books should be available at your local library. One of the pricing secrets of many antique dealers is that they keep their own libraries of auction records for the various categories of antiques that they handle in their business. This gives them instant access to prices and photos so that they can compare them to their own items and establish fair market value. These catalogue prices also act as validation of their pricing if a customer questions the price on an item.
Attend a speciality antique pottery show and compare your pottery piece to the ones at the show. Consult the dealers at the show. Many antique shows are now bringing in speciality appraisers who could be very helpful by seeing your piece in person and giving you a fair price range for it.
If the piece is very unusual, like a sculptured animal, write or e-mail an expert for advice or an appraisal (some experts charge a nominal fee for an appraisal). The benefit of spending a little more time on this research means that your antique Bennington pottery piece could ultimately yield a very good price for you.
Tips and warnings
- Christopher Webber Fenton worked for Norton Pottery and in 1847 began his own United States Pottery Company. Fenton was known for creating decorative objects for the home. He also developed Parian ware, a fine grade of porcelain. Since he worked in the Bennington area, his pottery is included in the label "Bennington Pottery." In 2005, a pottery lion created under his business name was appraised for £2,600 to £5,200 on a TV antique appraisal show.
- Bennington Pottery was reborn a century after the original companies closed their doors, when potter David Gil opened Bennington Potters in downtown Bennington. It is still in operation today. In 2009, sample prices for reproduction Bennington ware ranged from £51 for a 4-piece dinnerware plate set to £136 for a 12-piece set. Individual reproduction bowls and trademark blue plates run from £57 to £171 each.
- Watch out for fakes of antique pottery that looks like Bennington. Even the experts can be fooled. Years after Richard Carter Barret's book "Bennington Pottery and Porcelain" was published, researchers found that many of the pieces he listed as Bennington pottery were not really Bennington, but rather pottery that had been made in other parts of the country or the world.
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