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Tile Work Of Famous Rookwood Pottery
Uncovered In Indiana

Rookwood tile works.
Rookwood tiles are scattered around underfoot on the porch of the West Baden Springs Hotel.

Rookwood remains one of the most popular and interesting of America’s art potteries, for several reasons. It was the first one to gain national recognition, in the 1880s. There are continually new discoveries being made of Rook­wood pieces, especially tile work, from the early 20th century. Furthermore, the company has never totally disappeared and is actively producing pottery again today.

A re-discovery of tile work from the 1920s occurred when the falling-down hulk of the West Baden Springs Hotel in southwestern Indiana, which was about to be demolished, was rescued by Indiana’s Landmark historical society, and later by the Cook Group foundation in the late 1990s. Prior to this, the hotel had been used from the 1930s to the 1960s by the Jesuits, who had covered up all the beautiful art work incorporated into the hotel in the 1920s. Following the Jesuits, the hotel had been used as a college for about 20 years. Then it was abandoned and went through multiple ownership changes.

Rookwood tile works.
This is a portion of the Rookwood tile work surrounding a huge fireplace that was covered up for many decades in the huge central domed lobby of the West Baden Springs Hotel.

As the massive restoration, part of a several hundred million dollar project, was underway, work began in the central dome, one of the largest free-standing domes in the world. At one side is a huge fireplace with what looks like a painted mural surrounding it. When one looks closer, it’s not a painted mural at all but hundreds and hundreds of Rookwood tiles. If you love early art pottery, this is a must-see. And almost as an afterthought, don’t miss looking at all the Rookwood tile arrangements on the wrap-around porch of the hotel.

But as I mentioned at the beginning, Rook­wood is still an active art pottery. The company today, still based in Cincinnati, Ohio, where it began, recently provided all the tiles for a hotel renovation in Chicago. Especially interesting is the fact that it also makes some special ceramic trophies.

Since 2010, it has provided ceramic trophies for the Western and Southern Open (Cincin­nati Masters) tennis tournament. The 2015 trophy, in shades of cream, burgundy and green and decorated with leaves and tennis-ball flowers, weighs nine pounds. (Previous trophies weighed twelve pounds but were a little too heavy for weary winners to lift over their heads.)

The current trophy program is a revival. Rookwood also provided prizes for the winners of the first tournament in 1899. That time, the men’s champion was awarded four beer mugs. The women’s winner got a vase.

Rookwood collectors will probably not have much luck adding a tennis trophy to their collection. But an interesting collection can include examples from not only the original years, from 1880 to the mid-1960s, but examples of its various revivals through the years. The company, before its closing in the 1960s, was relocated to Starkville, Mississippi. I’ve only seen one piece of Rookwood with the Starkville mark on the bottom. A few years later, a Michigan dentist bought the molds and produced some pieces on his weekends. These are simple pieces, but well-marked with the date when they were made. All of the molds were bought from him and the pottery moved back to Cincinnati early in the 21st century, and some nice art ware, as well as tiles, is being produced. Again, these are well marked with the date of production.

Don’t snub the newer pieces. As I was advised several years ago, there is a difference between a large collection and an excellent collection. An excellent collection has more than big numbers of pieces. It has representative pieces of everything a company has made. And while you might argue that the different ownerships represent different companies, they all bear the well-known Rookwood logo and use original Rookwood molds.

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Umbrella Repairman Once A
Very Busy Man

One of the professions that has disappeared from the American scene is the itinerant umbrella maker/repairman, who traveled from house to house, looking for umbrellas that needed his help. Many of these umbrellas were made of a rattan stick framework with an oiled linen fabric. They were coarse and clumsy, and probably needed the help of the umbrella maker fairly frequently.

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English Inventor Worked With Bottles

Hiram Codd was an inventor, born in 1830, who worked in the bottling industry in England. He developed several improved methods for bottling drinks, measuring the flow of liquids and ways to cut cork.

One of his ideas involved the use of a small marble inside the bottle. In effervescent drinks the pressure of gas kept the marble in place against the top of the bottle. To open the drink, one pressed against the marble. This released the pressure and when the bottle was tilted, the liquid could be poured out.

Countries throughout the world made use of the technique. The bottles were known as Codd bottles.

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