The Marks of Potters

A few years ago my son Dan asked me why I don’t sign my name on my pots. He worried no one would know or remember that a particular bowl or jar was made by me from the mark I use to sign them.

In my early pottery years, I did sign my name, at first with manganese dioxide. Soon though, I switched to incising my name on the bottoms of pots with a needle tool: sometimes “Suzy,” sometimes “Staubach,” always printed because my handwriting is so horrible. Later, after turning the narrow attached-garage where I lived at the time, into a studio and the separate double garage into a shop, I began to incise “The Stone House Pottery” in an arc parallel to the foot ring.

But like many potters, I fell in love with the notion of a mark. I thought that marks were beautiful themselves and added to the charm of a handmade piece. I began to experiment with designs and made a few stamps but was not happy with any of them. Around the same time, during a visit to the Minnesota Center for Book Arts I noticed a package of old lead type for sale and bought it. After more experimenting, I began to mark my pots with a small round button of clay that I impress with the lead S from the type collection.

Of course Dan is still correct. One does not automatically know who made a pot from a potter’s’ mark.  Happily, James Hazlewood has edited and updated the classic British Studio Potters’ Marks by Eric Yates-Owen and Robert Fournier so for British ceramics, collectors can easily determine who the maker is from the mark. There are books on the marks of American studio potters available, but unfortunately, nothing as comprehensive and up to date as this.

British Studio Potters’ Marks is not a book to leave on the shelf, however, and use only for reference. It is a pleasure to turn the pages and study the various marks. There are plenty of potters who use a signature, though it is surprising how many are impossible to read. The majority, however use marks, many based on their name or initials.

Potters are listed in alphabetical order with images of their marks plus, and this is especially fun to read, dates and names of the potteries where they worked, birth and death dates if known, and a short description of the types of works made. It’s a wonderful way of looking at the history of British studio ceramics.

The index is organized into three sections, Creatures, Monograms, and Signs and many subsections. So, for instance you could turn to the subsection Triangles in the Signs section and see a two-page spread of marks that incorporate a triangle and the potter who used it. Or take a look at the subsection Birds under Animals and realize how popular bird imagery is for potters’ marks

British Studio Potters’ Marks is an excellent resource and for potters, a delightful read. I have spent many pleasant hours leafing through the pages.

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