We are offering a beautiful antique vase formed in the classic urn style and hand-painted in a lovely orange poppy motif. Produced by the Willets Manufacturing Company sometime prior to 1909 - which was the company’s last year of operation - our vase measures 11-6/8" in height, approximately 6-1/2" in diameter at its widest point, and 3-1/4" in diameter at its base. Our vase is in excellent condition with no chips, cracks, repairs, or signs of wear or use. This gorgeous piece was clearly treasured by its prior owner(s), and rightfully so! The mark on the base is the green snake with a curved ‘BELLEEK’ above, and ‘Willets’ underneath.
Our vase has the one, single green Willets stamp on its base. Conventional wisdom currently holds that Willets items bearing one green stamp were not decorated in-house, but were instead purchased and painted by other artists, including Willets’ artists outside of work in order to earn extra income, in addition to professional artists from other decorating studios, and by amateurs. Based on the skill of the artist who painted the poppy design on this vase, it is evident that it was painted by a professional artist. But who? The orange poppy design was extremely popular, especially from 1905 to 1929, and many skilled, professional artists working for Pickard, Osborne and other design studios produced works with the bright orange poppy motif, many on Willets white-ware. The artist who painted our vase signed his or her work, leaving a cleverly inscribed signature: if you examine our photos you will see that there are intermittent black hash marks set on the vase’s green shoulder, which has a design of light green leaves against a darker green background. These hash marks are placed roughly at 2 o’clock, 4 o’clock, 7 o’clock and 10 o’clock on the round shoulder of the vase. Upon closer examination, it becomes evident that one of the hash marks is, in fact, a signature (see our closeup photo of shoulder with signature). After staring at many, many signatures in many, many reference works, my personal feeling - which cannot be proved - is that this vase was painted by Frederick Walters, who actually worked for Willets for many years. Walters’ signature was so erratic, changeable and unreadable that it has been misread as numerous other names (e.g., Mullens) by many other researchers and collectors. However, Walters specialized in floral painting, including “poppies, lilies, tulips and apple blossoms.” Collector’s Encyclopedia of Pickard China, by Alan B. Reed, p. 68.
Please view our photos of this incredibly lovely and very, very old vase. You will agree that this lovely example of antique American Belleek porcelain is a treasure!
Shipping for this beautiful antique Willets Belleek vase with the vibrant orange poppy design is FREE to the 48 contiguous United States. Please contact us for a shipping quote outside the lower 48 United States @ firstname.lastname@example.org
BRIEF HISTORY OF AMERICAN BELLEEK and WILLETS MANUFACTURING COMPANY: The best extended discussion of the origins and development of American Belleek can be found in Mary Frank Gaston’s excellent book, “American Belleek”. However, here is a very brief overview of the history of American Belleek:
The term ‘American Belleek’ refers to a special type of porcelain that a small number of American potteries made between 1880 to 1930. The name actually references a very fine and translucent porcelain produced by the Irish firm (originally D. McBirney & Co.) founded in 1857, and that was renamed The Belleek Pottery Limited in 1920. Belleek porcelain is manufactured in a special way and is not the same product as hard-paste porcelain or bone china. During the manufacturing process, both Belleek and hard paste porcelain become translucent and vitreous. However, Belleek becomes both vitreous and translucent after the first firing, even in its unglazed form. Hard paste porcelain is translucent but not vitreous after its first firing, with the unglazed pottery referred to as ‘bisque’.
The Belleek Pottery - still in business to this day - produces a very thin, translucent porcelain on which is applied a very lustrous and iridescent glaze, much like the surface of a pearl. In addition, the pottery produces ordinary items in extraordinary shapes, such as cups and teapots with twig-shaped handles, or in dolphin and sea shell shapes. The Irish pottery was named ‘Belleek’ due to the location of the pottery. However, in the United States, the term ‘Belleek’ was used to denote an especially fine and exquisite porcelain.
Fewer than 20 companies located in Trenton, New Jersey, and Ohio produced ‘American Belleek’ during the fifty year period between 1880 to 1930. Some of these companies operated for no more than a few years before they changed their product, or went out of business. The most prominent Trenton companies were Ott & Brewer, Willetts Manufacturing Company, the Columbian Art Pottery (CAP) and the Ceramic Art Company (CAC), which ultimately became Lenox, Inc. The most prominent Ohio firms producing American Belleek porcelain were the Coxon Belleek Pottery (Wooster, Ohio), Knowles, Taylor & Knowles China Company (East Liverpool, Ohio), and the Morgan Belleek China Company (Canton, Ohio), which produced items of extreme luxury, with prices to match.
The Willets Manufacturing Company, founded in Trenton, New Jersey in 1879, operated for over thirty years, but was best known for its Belleek porcelain, which it manufactured from 1884 to 1909. Willets began making its Belleek at the same time as Ott & Brewer, and continued producing its fine porcelain for 24 years, roughly twice as long as Ott & Brewer. During the years it was in business, Willets was an equal competitor with CAC (later Lenox, Inc), and many Willets items produced contemporaneously with those of CAC are often regarded as more collectible and command higher prices. While Willets decorated many of the pieces it produced, it later began the practice of marking all its ‘white ware’ (first firing) in green. Thus, Willets Belleek pieces with only one mark (green) are now thought to have been purchased and painted by non-Willets artists, both amateur and professional.
American Belleek was generally not produced much after 1928 for two reasons: First, these products were luxury items and quite expensive. The Great Depression put an end to purchases of such discretionary items. Second, in 1929 the Belleek Pottery prevailed in a suit it had filed in the American courts against Coxon Belleek, Morgan Belleek and other firms. In that year, the U.S. federal court ruled that the Irish firm was entitled to exclusive use of the name, ‘Belleek’, and all the operating U.S. firms had to cease and desist their use of the term.