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Contributions To American Ceramics
Enhanced By Rivalry

The Rookwood Pottery is without doubt the best known by collectors of American art pottery. It was established in Cincinnati in 1880 by Maria Longworth Nichols Storer. However, before Maria began making her pottery, another Cincinnati woman, Mary Louise McLaughlin, had already developed the techniques that Nichols appropriated for her own use.

McLaughlin was the first person in the United States to perfect a method for painting under the glaze of a piece of pottery, which she did in the 1870s. In fact, at that time, there were only two other potteries in the world that had figured out how to use this technique. With the decorating secured under the glaze, it would not chip, rub off or smear.

A long-lasting rivalry developed between Louise McLaughlin and Maria Longworth. It came to a head in 1875, when the ladies of Cincinnati held a Centennial tea party, with 35 decorated sets of cups and saucers auctioned off as a fund-raiser. Two separate sets received the record high bid of $25 (equivalent to about $350 today.) One set was made by Longworth; the other by McLaughlin.

Catering to the interest in china painting throughout the United States, McLaughlin wrote a guidebook in 1877. China Painting: A Practical Manual for the Use of Amateurs in the Decoration of Hard Porcelain was a great success. More than 20,000 copies in ten editions were sold.

McLaughlin in 1879 established the Women’s Pottery Club in Cincinnati. It had twelve active members. “For a time, it was a wild ceramic orgy,” McLaughlin is quoted as saying. Whether by accident or on purpose, Maria Nichols did not receive an invitation to join.

The women of the Pottery Club turned out a large quantity of decorated pottery. The most well known was Louise McLaughlin’s “Ali Baba” vase, made in 1880 and now on exhibit at the Cincinnati Art Museum. It was publicized as the largest piece of art pottery made up to that time, standing 37 1/2 inches high and with a diameter of 16 1/2 inches. (Maria Longworth countered with her “Aladdin” vase in 1883, which was 30 inches high.)

McLaughlin and her Pottery Club ceased to produce art pottery after the company whose kilns they had been using closed. Without access to kilns, the ladies returned to china painting.

McLaughlin’s final contribution to American ceramics was in 1898, when she built a small kiln in her backyard and became the first American to work in studio porcelain, according to The Cincinnati Wing, a publication of the Cincinnati Art Museum.

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Cartoon Character Was Advertising Sensation

Buster Brown’s first appearance was as a cartoon character in 1902, in the New York Sunday Herald. He was a mischievous little boy, the son of well-to-do parents. Buster and his talking bulldog, Tige, plagued every adult with whom they came in contact. After getting into trouble in every issue, he then resolved to behave himself (until the following Sunday.)

Buster Brown’s creator, Richard Outcault, capitalized on the popularity of the comic strip at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. He hired a midget dressed like Buster Brown, a trained bulldog that looked like Tige, and set out to sell his product.

In a very short time, 45 companies were marketing Buster Brown products – dolls, masks, yo-yos, horns, rings, spoons, mirrors, buttons, shoehorns and shoes.

The most important of these companies, and the one that keeps the name familiar today, was the Brown Shoe Company. Buster Brown shoes have been known to families for about 100 years, as the company has continued to feature the boy and the dog, almost totally unchanged in appearance, as its mascots.

Buster Brown items can make an interesting collection, with many different products made over a fairly lengthy time span.

The Brown Shoe Co. has issued at least two dolls over the years. One was a 13-inch cloth doll; the other one was a smaller, all-bisque one. Collectors also watch for the earlier plaster and later plastic models that were used in store displays.

Another company that purchased the name was the Buster Brown Textile Company. Doll collectors may also find examples of their cloth cut-out doll still around, as they were produced as late as 1974. The front and back were stamped on fabric, to be sewn and stuffed at home.

Buster Brown and his gang were the stars of a radio series in 1943, and a television series from 1951 to 1954, helping to keep this character well-known.

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Women’s Brooches Followed Fashion Trends

No form of jewelry has more clearly reflected the change in fashion trends than the woman’s brooch. During the Victorian era, heavy and florid pieces predominated. Some brooches were even set with marble. Heavy cameos were popular. If the wearer could afford precious gems, they would definitely show up in her brooches.

As the 19th century ended, the Art Nouveau movement rebelled against these “overdone” pieces and brooches from this period of time were lighter and much more delicate. Filigree metal enhanced the light look. Precious gems such as diamonds were avoided.

As the Art Deco period came into being, by the 1920s, brooches took on a geometric look and became more solid looking once again. It was a time for showing off one’s wealth and diamonds, rubies and emeralds sparkled on a woman’s shoulder clip.

In the 1930s, the Art Deco fashion continued with those who could afford it. However, the Depression insured that most women were not spending much on jewelry. Instead, they flocked to the dime stores to buy colorful brooches made of the new plastic materials; these could be easily purchased for under a dollar.

By the 1940s and ’50s, brooches had again changed. Costume jewelry was more common and had become socially acceptable. Pieces were designed to complement an outfit. The relaxation of the post-war years also was reflected in a light-heartedness in the jewelry designs and brooches were made that resembled monkeys, lions, donkeys and other animals. The ostentatious display of gems was once again avoided.

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