By Antoinette Rahn
Gouda is one of the decorative art world’s strong and silent types, not withstanding its beautifully bright colors and rich floral and abstract designs – considered by many to be its calling card. While its place in today’s market is less robust than some of its contemporaries, such as Weller and Rookwood, its pairing of subtle strength of identity and eye-catching design is what attracts people to it and makes it a collecting category to watch.
One of the indicators that Dutch pottery shouldn’t be counted out is that higher-end pieces continue to attract attention, not unlike many other categories of antiques today.
“There appears to be a line in the sand with Gouda right now,” said Stuart Slavid, vice president and director of Fine Ceramics, Fine Silver, European Furniture & Decorative Arts at Skinner, Inc. “Spectacular pieces are still doing very well, but there is very little or no movement at all for lower-end pieces.”
The reasons for that vary, but some contributing factors appear to be advanced collectors looking for advanced pieces rather than more basic items; and the way in which people collect overall has changed some, Slavid explained.
“It used to be more people would start with good pieces, move to better pieces and then to great. Now more people with available discretionary income are starting with the very best pieces,” he said.
Riley Humler, auction director and art pottery expert at Humler & Nolan, echoed Slavid’s sentiments, adding that high-end pieces in every collecting arena are doing far better than the rest.
“I think the reason is serious collectors are looking for better pieces and avoiding lesser items,” Humler said. “Quality has finally taken over for quantity. Part of that may be that serious collectors are generally older and have money. There are not enough young collectors to buy the more reasonable pieces, so one end of the market is doing fairly well and the other, not so well.”
As with many situations, there are exceptions to the status quo, and that’s also true in today’s Gouda pottery market. While the most common Gouda pieces are seen in matte finishes, which are more modern and also more plentiful, early pieces, especially those with birds or butterflies under their gloss finishes, may be somewhat hard to find and tend to be more interesting, according to Humler.
Another example of an exception to the overall slow down of interest in Gouda, is white ground ware, which remains popular, according to experts at Rago Arts. At an unreserved auction Jan. 12-13, 2013, at Rago Arts, the highlight of the 33 available lots of Gouda pottery was a pair of high-glaze white Zuid-Holland vases, circa 1905, featuring a floral motif, which sold for $3,375 – more than three times the lot’s high estimate. Of the Gouda pieces featured at this sale, 22 commanded more than their low estimate and of those 22 lots, eight fetched more than their high estimate.
Looking at the history of Gouda pottery, it’s possible the founders of the earliest factories would be surprised to see what has become of their pottery — especially since many of the first companies to produce Gouda pottery did so to diversify their primary operation of clay pipe production. With an abundance of clay in the Gouda region of the Netherlands, it made good sense for the companies to expand into pottery; and the public demand confirmed it, according to information on the MuseumgoudA website, www.museumgouda.nl.
It was 1898 when Plateelbakkerij Zuid-Holland, often referred to as PZH or Zuid-Holland, produced their first piece of Gouda pottery. Named for the region in the Netherlands, Gouda encompasses the pottery produced by several factories located there. While the earliest examples of Gouda were not the same as the brightly colored, matte glaze pieces collected today, they were often sought after for the same reason as today: décor for the home.
However, like many types of pottery, it didn’t necessarily start out that way, said Joe Altare, founder of the Regina Pottery Collectors site (www.reginapottery.com). “One of the key points to remember about these wares is that some were designed as giftware and others for day-to-day use,” Altare said. “Both were marketed to the middle class who finally had discretionary income to purchase decorative, rather than utilitarian wares.”
Yet, it is its decorative appeal that people, then and now, are drawn in by the remarkable colors and designs.
“I stumbled across my first piece, a Regina compote, on eBay about 10 years ago. I knew nothing about Gouda pottery or the Regina factory but the design captivated me and I had to have it,” said Altare. “The design, variety and quality of execution captured my attention and the many untold secrets of the [Regina] factory have fueled my passion these many years.”
Although many of the companies that produced Gouda pottery remained in operation through the mid-1960s and 1970s, many consider the heyday of Gouda to have lasted through the first three decades of the 20th century. In fact, in the 1920s, a quarter of the workforce in the Gouda region was employed in the pottery industry, according to MuseumgoudA.
While Gouda pieces may not be setting high-profile auction records today, it remains a strong and serious representative of the ingenuity of decorative pottery. Plus, as more people are shopping at places like IKEA and Crate & Barrel for modern décor and furnishings, decorative pottery like Gouda lends itself nicely to that scene.
“I think Gouda fits very well in that space. It just hasn’t caught on yet,” said Slavid.
In addition to fitting into society’s modern décor and design interests, another advantage for Gouda is that it is more affordable, according to Humler. “Even the best pieces are in most people’s price range,” he said.
With a history steeped in innovation primed by practicality and fans across the globe, a renewal and widespread rediscovery of Gouda pottery isn’t out of the question.