Fine pottery has been cherished and sought-after for centuries, gracing the homes of the elite and those with an appreciation for beautiful and rare pieces. The most exquisite and valuable pottery combines intricate craftsmanship, premier materials, and renowned artists, which together solidify their status in the art world. This article aims to shed light on some of the most expensive pottery in existence, providing a glimpse into an exclusive realm of artistry.
One cannot discuss expensive pottery without mentioning the world-renowned brands Royal Copenhagen, Meissen, and Sèvres. Experts and collectors prize them for their exceptional attention to detail, rich history, and impeccable hand-painted designs. Apart from these esteemed brands, certain pottery pieces, such as vases and showpieces from other manufacturers, draw admiration for their rarity, historical significance, and aesthetic qualities.
A variety of factors can contribute to the high price, like the age of the masterpiece, the artist behind the creation, the complexity of the glazes, and the overall quality of the materials used. From antique Chinese porcelain vases to American Art pottery pieces, the value of such desired items can reach into the millions, with collectors worldwide vying to own a small piece of history in the form of exceptional craftsmanship.
Most Expensive Pottery Types
The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) was a golden age for Chinese ceramics, particularly porcelain. Most sought-after pieces from this period are made from high-quality kaolin clay and are characterized by elegant shapes and rich colors. The iconic blue-and-white wares are especially renowned for their intricate designs and fine detail. Ming Dynasty pottery includes vases, bowls, cups, and plates, often fetching high prices at auctions. Notable examples include the “Meiping” vases, which can reach prices upwards of six figures due to their historical and artistic significance.
Ceramics from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) continued the tradition of excellence in pottery, with an emphasis on vibrant colors, intricate patterns, and innovative shapes. During this period, imperial kilns were producing high-quality works exclusively for the imperial court. Some of the most sought-after pieces include the “Famille-Rose” and “Famille-Verte” porcelains, which are known for their exceptional enamel-painted designs. Qing Dynasty porcelain can be found in various forms such as bowls, vases, teacups, and dishes. Rare and well-preserved items can command impressive sums at auctions.
Joseon Porcelain, which was produced throughout the Joseon Dynasty in Korea (1392-1897), is widely regarded for its elegant simplicity and understated beauty. This unique pottery consists mainly of white and celadon-colored ceramics, which were made from high-quality kaolin clay. The Joseon Porcelain includes but is not limited to vases, bowls, cups, and plates. These porcelain pieces feature refined shapes and minimal decoration, resulting in a sense of quiet elegance. Rare and well-preserved examples can command high prices when sold at auctions or in antique markets.
European ceramics have a long and varied history, with many regions producing exceptional pottery throughout the centuries. Notable examples include the vibrantly decorated Italian maiolica, the delicate and colorful French Limoges porcelain, and the intricate German Meissen porcelain. European ceramics take many forms, from vases and bowls to ornate figurines and dinnerware sets. Due to the quality and historical significance of many of these pieces, they can be quite valuable and collectible, particularly those from well-known manufacturers and artists.
American Art Pottery
American Art Pottery, particularly those produced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, has become increasingly popular among collectors. Pieces such as the striking Fulper pottery vases from New Jersey are known for their exceptional glazes and large, shouldered shapes. Other notable examples include the high-quality McCoy Pottery, which produced a wide range of items such as vases, planters, and dinnerware. Prices for American Art Pottery can range from $50 to several thousand dollars, depending on rarity, quality, and aesthetic appeal.
Notable Auctions and Sales
In the world of expensive pottery, several notable auctions and sales have occurred in recent years, capturing the attention of collectors and enthusiasts alike. Two of the leading auction houses, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, have often played host to these incredible sales.
One of the most famous and expensive pieces of pottery sold at auction is the Pinner Qing Dynasty Vase. This extremely rare and beautiful Chinese vase features intricate fish and flower motifs, representing the pinnacle of Chinese ceramics craftsmanship. The vase was sold in a private sale through Bonhams Auction House for a staggering $80.2 million, making it the most expensive antique ever sold.
At a 2018 Sotheby’s auction, an important and valuable pearl from Marie Antoinette’s collection was sold. While the pearl itself is not pottery, it indicates the impressive prices that rare and antique items can fetch at auction – in this case, $32 million.
A list of some notable pottery sales at auction includes:
- Pinner Qing Dynasty Vase: Sold for $80.2 million at a private sale through Bonhams Auction House
- Porcelain Moonflask: Sold for $15.1 million at a Christie’s auction in 2016
- Qianlong-era Falangcai Bowl: Sold for $30.4 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2018
As the demand for rare and exquisite pottery grows among collectors, these auction houses continue to host more sales featuring remarkable antiques. The rarity and historic value of these items contribute to the extraordinary prices they can achieve at auction. Whether it’s a Qing Dynasty Vase or an intricate porcelain bowl, these sales are a testament to the artistry and cultural significance of pottery throughout history.
Famous Pottery Makers and Brands
Chinese Pottery Masterpieces
Chinese pottery has a long history, and it encompasses various forms of ceramics such as jihong porcelain, Qing dynasty porcelain, and the famous blue and white porcelain. Kaolin, a type of clay, is used to create delicate, thin-walled white porcelain items. Some of the most prized Chinese pottery pieces contain blood red porcelain and feature colorful glazes.
Rookwood is an American art pottery company that was founded in 1880 by Maria Longworth Storer. Known for its high-quality glazes, Rookwood pottery pieces are highly sought-after by collectors. Some of the most popular ceramic creations by Rookwood include vases, decorative tiles, and architectural ornaments.
Weller Pottery was an American pottery company, founded by Samuel A. Weller in 1872. Known for its high-quality pottery items, the company was a pioneer in the art pottery movement. Weller Pottery specializes in creating intricate and detailed vases, lamps, and other decorative ceramics.
Founded in 1894, the Grueby Faience Company produced elegant and highly sought-after art pottery creations, operating in Revere, Massachusetts. Grueby embraced the Arts and Crafts movement and showcased hand-thrown, organic designs in their pottery, making their pieces highly collectible.
Marblehead Pottery, founded in 1904, was a small art pottery studio in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Known for its simple and functional designs, Marblehead pottery pieces are characterized by their use of matte glazes and geometric patterns.
Newcomb College was an American pottery company associated with the Newcomb College in New Orleans, Louisiana. Founded in 1895, it was known for its unique pottery creations that combined art, craft, and nature in vibrant and elaborate designs. The company was a key contributor to the Arts and Crafts movement.
SEG (Saturday Evening Girls)
The Saturday Evening Girls (SEG) pottery was established in 1908 as part of a social outreach program for young immigrant women in Boston, Massachusetts. It became known for its handmade ceramic pieces, featuring simple designs and distinctive glazes. High-quality SEG pottery is highly collectible.
Teco pottery, founded in 1902, is an American pottery company known for its unique style of art pottery. The name “Teco” is derived from their signature matte green glaze, which was an innovative technique at the time. Teco pottery is distinguished by its organic, geometric forms and the use of high-quality clay materials.
Meissen is a renowned German porcelain manufacturer, founded in 1710 by King Augustus II of Poland. Known for its exquisite designs and high-quality craftsmanship, Meissen is famous for creating everything from intricate figurines to elegant dinnerware. They were the first European company to produce hard-paste porcelain, which is highly prized by collectors.
Roseville pottery, established in 1910 in Roseville, Ohio, is one of the most recognizable American pottery brands. Known for its varied styles and extensive product range, Roseville pottery continues to be highly sought-after by collectors. The company was sold to Designer Accents in 1985 and closed in 1990.
Museum collections hold some of the world’s most valuable and exquisite pottery pieces. These collections showcase the intricate craftsmanship and rich history behind these artistic creations. Some of the most renowned museums that house prestigious pottery collections are found in China and Taiwan.
One example of a highly valuable pottery piece in a museum collection is a Meissen porcelain royal armorial part tea and chocolate-service from 1725. This particular piece features blue AR marks and various drehers’ marks, and it was painted by J.G. Höroldt. The teapot, which is part of the service, measures 5 inches (12.7 cm) high. It was sold for £262,500 at Christie’s auction house in London in 2019.
American Art Pottery is another segment of the pottery world that has gained prominence, with great examples of these pieces displayed at the Smithsonian Institution. Among the notable items in their collection are:
- Vases and bowls from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
- A plate from the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
While these museum collections feature some of the most prized pottery pieces, there are countless other impressive and valuable pottery items all around the world. Many stunning antiques are held in private collections or have been sold at auctions. For instance, the Fulper pottery, created in New Jersey in 1899, was known for producing thousands of pottery pieces. The most exquisite Fulper pottery pieces are large shouldered vases and showpieces with exceptional glazes, with retail values ranging from $50 to $300.
Though this section focused primarily on museum collections, valuable pottery can be found in various other places as well. Taking the time to appreciate the beauty and history behind these exquisite antiques can deepen our understanding of the evolution of craftsmanship and artistic expression throughout human history.
Pottery in Modern Markets
Handcrafted Pottery and Etsy
In recent years, handcrafted pottery has seen a resurgence in popularity. Modern ceramic artists are combining traditional aspects of pottery-making with contemporary designs and techniques, resulting in unique and sought-after pieces. Etsy has become a go-to marketplace for such artisans to showcase their skills and reach a global audience. The platform enables these creators to offer a wide range of pottery, from functional pieces like plates and plant pots to more decorative items like large platters and sculptures. The value of these handcrafted pieces often depends on factors such as the artist’s signature, glazing techniques, and the overall utility of the item.
Collecting and Investing
Investing in pottery as a hobby or for its potential appreciation has become more prevalent in the modern market. Collectors often search for rare, unique, and high-quality pieces to add to their existing collections or start new ones. Some well-known potteries with high value include Arequipa Art Pottery, which can have pieces reaching $10,000 or more, and Fulper pottery, where large shouldered vases and showpieces with exceptional glazes can fetch between $50 and $300.
Factors that play a crucial role in determining a pottery item’s worth on the market include:
- Craftsmanship: Skillful pottery-making techniques and attention to detail can significantly impact the item’s value.
- Size: Large pieces, such as platters, are in high demand and tend to sell for higher prices.
- Glazing: The glazing process and the resulting finish can enhance a pottery item’s appeal, contributing to its value.
- Signature: Well-known and respected artists can increase the worth of their pottery by adding their personal signature to each piece.
In conclusion, the modern market for pottery is diverse and dynamic, with platforms like Etsy providing a space for artisans to reach a global audience, while avid collectors seek rare and valuable pieces for enjoyment and potential investment.
Pottery Production Techniques
Ceramic Materials and Composition
Pottery is primarily made from clay, a natural material composed of minerals, water, and organic molecules. The three main types of clay used in pottery are earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. Each type has unique characteristics that affect the final product:
- Earthenware: The most common type of clay, it is porous, low-fired, and has a rich, warm color. It is ideal for casual, everyday pottery.
- Stoneware: A denser and more durable clay than earthenware, stoneware has a high firing temperature and can be used for functional as well as decorative items.
- Porcelain: Known for its delicacy and translucency, porcelain is a high-fired clay that contains kaolin, a white clay mineral. Porcelain is often used for fine art pottery and tableware, especially in famous styles such as Joseon porcelain, Ming dynasty pottery, and blue and white porcelain.
In addition to the main clay types, pottery also incorporates various glazes and decorating techniques, which can create unique and sometimes expensive finishes. Blood red porcelain and Jihong porcelain are examples of rare and valuable glazes with distinct red hues.
Pottery Creation Process
The pottery making process begins with selecting and preparing the clay. The main pottery creation techniques include:
- Throwing: This method uses a potter’s wheel to shape the clay into a desired form. It is a popular technique for making symmetrical and round shapes.
- Coiling: In this technique, long coils of clay are shaped and stacked on top of each other to build the desired form. It is suitable for creating irregular, organic shapes and can be used for both small and large pieces.
- Pinching: Pinching involves hand-shaping the clay by pressing and molding it into the desired shape. It is often used for small, unique items or sculptures.
After the pot is formed, it undergoes a trimming and decorating process, where excess clay is removed, and the piece is smoothed, decorated, and refined. The next step is a bisque firing, where the clay is fired in a kiln to become a hard, durable ceramic material.
The final stage is glazing the pottery. Glazes can provide various colors, textures, and finishes, making each piece unique. Once the piece is glazed, it goes through a second firing in the kiln to set the glaze and complete the pottery creation process.
The combination of the clay type, pottery creation technique, glazing, and firing methods all contribute to the final appearance, value, and durability of the finished pottery piece.
Unique Styles and Colors in Pottery
Pottery encompasses a wide array of styles and colors, with some of the most exquisite pieces coming from Redlands pottery, Qing dynasty porcelain, and blue and white porcelain. Among these captivating styles, one can find a vast array of unique and intricate designs that showcase the talents of their creators.
Redlands pottery, which originated from the Redlands, California area, is known for its distinct style and rich colors. It typically features earthy, red tones that accentuate the natural beauty and inspiration behind the craftsmanship.
Qing dynasty porcelain, originating from the Chinese Qing dynasty (1644-1911), boasts artistry renowned for its high-quality craftsmanship and vibrant colors. Qing dynasty vases, in particular, showcase the exceptional skill of artisans during this time. A prime example is the jihong porcelain, a rare and valuable type characterized by its blood-red glaze. This striking color, combined with the intricate design patterns and shapes, contributes to its appeal and high value.
Blue and white porcelain, another famous style, originated from China and quickly gained popularity around the world. It’s characterized by cobalt blue patterns juxtaposed against a white background, creating eye-catching and sophisticated designs. This style is also prevalent in soft-paste porcelain, which is a variation of traditional hard-paste porcelain that contains a mixture of clay and ground glass. Soft-paste porcelain is known for its slightly translucent appearance, adding another layer of allure to its blue and white designs.
White porcelain, in general, has a long history dating back to the Tang Dynasty. It is prized for its pure, pristine appearance, allowing the piece’s form and subtle design elements to take center stage. An outstanding exemplar of white porcelain is the delicate softly rounded Qingbai ware from the Song Dynasty.
In conclusion, the unique styles and colors in pottery, such as Redlands pottery, Qing dynasty porcelain, and blue and white porcelain, showcase the diverse and magnificent world of ceramic art. These impressive works captivate the viewer with their intricate designs and vibrant colors, exhibiting the creativity and ingenuity of the artisans responsible for their creation.
Geographical Influences on Pottery
Zanesville, Ohio has played a significant role in the American art pottery movement. Notably, it was the location of Weller Pottery, which produced some of the most collectible and valuable pottery pieces in the United States. The rich local clays and the influence of European pottery traditions contributed to the development of pottery in this region.
Weller Pottery, founded by Samuel Weller, was one of the largest and most influential potteries in Zanesville. Their work featured unique stoneware and colorful glazes, inspiring other potteries in the area, such as Roseville Pottery. Some of the most sought-after pieces from Weller Pottery include their Marblehead, Newcomb College, SEG, and Teco collections.
In addition to American art pottery, Zanesville also has a strong connection to European pottery traditions. For instance, Meissen porcelain from Germany influenced the development of various types of pottery in Zanesville, including soft-paste and white porcelain.
Chinese pottery, particularly from the Ming and Qing dynasties, has had a significant impact on pottery around the world. The exquisite craftsmanship of Chinese artisans has led to the creation of some of the most valuable antiques in the realm of pottery. Chinese porcelain, such as Joseon porcelain, jihong porcelain, and blue and white porcelain, are revered and often seen in museums and private collections.
During the Ming dynasty, the distinctive blood red porcelain and kaolin (a key ingredient in porcelain) were developed. Some of the most notable pieces from this period include colorful glazes and intricate patterns. The subsequent Qing dynasty continued this legacy, further refining the techniques and styles of porcelain production.
European Pottery and the Export Trade
Throughout history, Europe has been influenced by the pottery traditions of other cultures. The pottery of Rookwood and Grueby, two prominent American art potteries, owes a debt to European pottery styles, particularly those from Germany and England. Additionally, European pottery has been greatly influenced by the works of Korean and Japanese potters, particularly during the invasion of Korea by Japanese warrior Hideyoshi in the late 16th century.