More than pastels – Hull Pottery

Classic Hull Pottery has such a strong collector base that bargains are hard to find. Go to any auction, antique show, or flea market and you’ll find yourself competing with serious Hull collectors. Whenever I run across a piece of Hull at an auction, I know it will bring a good price. I rarely bother to check the condition of Hull “just in case it goes cheap” because I know it’s not going to happen. The stiff competition and strong prices have always kept me from delving too deeply into the world of Hull. I can spot a piece of pastel Hull from yards away. I don’t even have to look for the mark. The Hull colors and styles are so distinctive they can be recognized at a glance. Like many of those who admire, but don’t collect, I once thought that the pastel colored pieces were the sum total of Hull. There are more than pastels when it comes to Hull, however.

My interest in Hull was renewed recently by the death of my uncle, Bill Rogers, who was a long-time collector of Hull. I remembered seeing his collection when I was a kid and was curious to see what the pieces would fetch when they sold at auction. My own tastes run more to primitive stoneware, so I had no intention of making a purchase myself, but it’s always fascinating to see a large collection of a popular collectible sell.

Bill focused on the pastel Hull that even non-collectors can easily recognize, but he also collected other pieces, such as the Little Red Riding Hood salt & pepper shakers, New Magnolia, and Water Lily Gloss pieces in his collection. I sent away for price guides and was surprised by the wide variety of patterns and pieces made by Hull. I soon discovered that pastels are only the beginning.

The history of the Hull Pottery Company, from its beginnings in the 1890s-1900s to its closing in 1985 is recounted in The Collector’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Hull Pottery, Volume I, by Brenda Roberts. Generally, such histories are limited to a few paragraphs, but in this book Hull collectors can find a wealth of information on the history of the pottery they love.

The pastel lines of pottery that most recognize as Hull weren’t produced until the late 1930s and early 1940s. Like many manufacturers of art pottery, Hull began with more utilitarian stoneware. Pitchers, bowls, canister sets, chamber pots, soap dishes, and spittoons were among the early pieces produced by Hull. Soon, there was an even greater variety of pieces produced in an impressive array of colors. It is the wide variety of colored glazes that makes the pieces from the early years of Hull stand out. It’s easy to think that a piece of Hull is decades later in date than it actually is because Hull was ahead of its time in the production of unique, colorful glazes. It took other manufacturers sometimes decades to catch up.

Over its long history, Hull produced just about any item one can imagine being produced by a pottery company. In addition to the pieces mentioned above, Hull manufactured candle sticks, flower frogs, jardinières, figurines, tiles, tea pots, tumblers, ash trays, lamps, cookie jars, mugs, casseroles, and, of course, vases.

Many pieces of Hull go unrecognized since most collectors think only of pastel vases when they think of Hull. When I was a kid, my parents used heavy Mirror Brown mugs. I never realized they were made by Hull until I looked through a price guide. A great many other pieces have escaped my notice as well. When I browse through a price guide I find myself stopping and thinking “That was made by Hull?”

Pieces that aren’t so easily recognized as Hull tend to be among the most affordable – both because they often go unrecognized and because there isn’t as great of a demand for them. This is good news for those who don’t have the $150+ that many pastel pieces fetch.

Pastel Hull pottery is too pricey for many collectors. It’s not usual for Hull vases to have price tags of $200 or $300 attached. There are plenty of collectors out there, however, who are more than willing to pay the price. Hull can even be considered a bargain when compared to similar wares made by Roseville and Weller.

I took note of the selling pieces of a handful of Hull pieces at my Uncle Bill’s auction. Following are the pieces, their values as listed in the price guide mentioned above, and the price the pieces fetched at auction. All the pieces listed here were in excellent condition with no chips, cracks, or wear: A Magnolia vase valued at $200-$240 sold for $125. A Wildflower vase valued at $250-$300 sold for a mere $70. A Magnolia ewer with a listed value of $375-$435 went for only $140. A blue Serenade basket valued at $400-$500 sold for $90. My favorite piece, a Water Lily vase valued at $240-$275 bought $110.

As you can see, the selling prices at this auction were well under the listed values. Does this mean the values in the price guide are unreasonably high? Not necessarily. Remember, auction prices are notoriously unreliable. The main bidders for the Hull at my Uncle’s auction were a handful of dealers and a handful of collectors. One very knowledgeable collector, who purchased most of the pieces sold, considered the selling prices very low. On another day, the prices may well have been much closer to the values listed in guides.

I believe that Hull prices have become somewhat unstable in recent years due to eBay. As with so many antiques and collectibles, many pieces of Hull that were once difficult to find can now be found easily on eBay. I was rather surprised when I checked out the selling prices of Hull on eBay. I expected them to be much higher.

I advise collectors who aren’t knowledgeable to do their homework before buying Hull. Read price guides, research the selling prices on eBay, and browse antique malls, shops, and flea markets to get a feel for prices before making a purchase. It’s wise to do this with any collecting area. Once you’ve done the homework, you’ll know how the selling prices match the values listed in price guides. I often think of this as fine tuning a price guide. Remember, the values listed in guides aren’t carved in stone. They are guides, nothing more. Fine tuning a price guide will make it of much greater assistance when making a purchase.

While the pastel Hull so loved by collectors is probably the most beautiful, it’s only the beginning. Collectors shouldn’t hesitate to familiarize themselves with the wide variety of Hull that is out there. Whatever pieces one decides to collect, Hull Pottery is sure to bring years of enjoyment.