Ask A Worthologist Question: Rookwood Vellum Plaque

An early 20th century Rookwood Vellum plaque painted by Sara Sax, circa 1914-20.

Vale E. has an unusual piece she inherited four years ago. Not knowing exactly what she had, she engaged “Ask a Worthologist” service. The question was forwarded to me. Here is her question:

“I inherited this small portrait of a mountain winter scene with a pine tree about four years ago. I never really gave it a close look when I received it, as it was boxed up with a bunch of other decorative pieces. I just moved to a bigger place and now have more room for decorating, so I dragged out these boxes and went through them to see what I could use. I found this piece and realized it wasn’t an oil painting; it looks like some kind of ceramic, like a tile. It’s signed “”Sax” on the lower right corner and measures about 9 inches by 12 inches. The frame is sealed on the back and I don’t want to try and take out the tile to see if it is marked in case I break it. I would like to know what I have, who made it and what it is worth.”

I’ve seen a number of these plaques in my travels. Most are European, but this one is not. You might want to look at the rest of the items in those boxes you inherited if this piece is any indication of the quality of their contents. What you have is an early 20th century Rookwood Vellum plaque.

Rookwood was established in 1880 by Mrs. Marion Longworth Nichols Storer in Cincinnati, Ohio. From 1883 until 1913 this American art pottery was managed by William Watts Taylor. The individual pieces produced there were all signed by the decorators. Like the majority of the European potteries of the era, Rookwood was strongly influenced by Japanese Decorative Arts.

An example of the Rookwood company’s marking.

In the early 1900s Rookwood pottery quickly moved into the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles, in glazes known today as Iris, Vellum, Sea Green, Ariel Blue and painted matt.

There would indeed be a Rookwood company marking on the back similar to the one pictured that would indicate its year of production. After 1900, Rookwood added Roman numerals under the reversed “RP” mark to indicate the date. In the mark above the Roman numeral VI for the number 6 means the piece it was on was made in 1906. The signature “Sax” indicates this one was painted by Sara Sax, circa 1914-20. She’s best known for her depictions of mountain ranges and snows capes with thin delicate trees.

Even in the current depressed market, Rookwood plaques like this example are still highly sought after, with comparable plaques of this size having recently sold at auction in the $5,500-$8,500 range.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.


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