In 1890, George F. Young founded the Roseville Pottery Corporation in Roseville, Ohio, as a utility ware manufacturer. The move was a risky one—Roseville was home to a cluster of other pottery companies all competing in the same crowded market, but Roseville slowly gained a foothold. By 1897 it owned two plants, and in 1898 Roseville moved to Zanesville, Ohio, the center of the Ohio pottery industry and home to competitors such as the J. B. Owens Company and S. A. Weller Pottery. This environment spurred Roseville to innovation and, eventually, greatness.
Around that time, Weller had just introduced one of the first lines of American art pottery, Louwelsa. Art pottery seemed like a promising new market, and Roseville’s Young was eager to get in on the ground floor. To catapult his company forward, Young hired artist Ross C. Purdy to design an art-pottery line for Roseville, one that would outsell those of his competitors.
In response, Purdy designed the Rozane line, its name a combination of Roseville and Zanesville. Rozane was Victorian in design, with floral motifs and swirls. Unfortunately, Rozane looked pretty similar to the competing lines of the time, like Weller’s Louwelsa and the Owens Company’s Utopia. The Rozane went largely unnoticed by the public, so Young pushed forward.
In the first few years of the 20th century, Young hired a slew of new designers: John J. Herold, Gazo Foudji, Christian Neilson, and Frederick Hurten Rhead. With this new roster of talent, Roseville’s fortunes began to change. Herold’s Rozane Mongol line won first place at the St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exhibition in 1904 for its design and glaze. Christian Neilson’s Rozane Egypto line skillfully spanned a number of styles, including the recently popular Art Nouveau and the just emerging Art Deco.
At the same time, Roseville began publishing a free promotional pamphlet entitled, “The Story of Rozane Ware,” which touted the artistic merit of Roseville pottery. By 1905, Roseville employed about 300 people and produced about 5,000 pieces per day. The bulk of Roseville’s production was utility ware, like stoneware and painted flowerpots, and these sales helped keep Roseville afloat financially. Its art lines, with their lavish decoration and scrupulous detailing, kept the company prestigious.
In 1906, Roseville introduced the exquisite Della Robbia line. Each piece was handcrafted (no molds were used), and Young purposefully limited the line’s production—as he did with many other art lines—in order to keep demand high. Today, Della Robbia pieces are perhaps the most collectible of all of Roseville’s output. This line and the others of the decade make the early 1900s a kind of Golden Age for Roseville pottery.
In 1915, Harry W. Rhead (brother of designer Frederick Rhead, who would go on to design Fiesta for Homer Laughlin) became Roseville’s new art director, and he designed the first Roseville line that would become instantly successful: Donatello. Often appearing in ivory color, the Donatello pieces generally featured a fluted shape with a wide band. This band framed a frieze, which frequently depicted cherubs in pastoral settings, sometimes dancing. These figures were based, of course, on the sculptures of Donatello...
After the success of Donatello, Roseville’s Muskingum Stoneware Plant in Zanesville burned down in 1917, and Frank Ferrell replaced Rhead as art director. Over the next 37 years, Ferrell introduced more than 80 Roseville lines and helped define the classic Roseville look—flower embossed pottery with a matte finish.
The 1920s were a period of great success for Roseville, but the company’s fortunes soon took a turn for the worst—the Depression hit, and president Russell Young died soon after, in 1932. Young’s mother, Anna Young, replaced her son, focusing her attentions first on advertising and marketing. She opened a tearoom and showroom on Highway 40, one of the main east-west national thoroughfares. To stimulate demand, the company put extra effort into generating beautiful new designs, like Blackberry, Wisteria, and especially Laurel, which was introduced in 1934. Despite all this effort, times remained tough.
In 1935, Roseville salesman Charles Snider found samples of the Pinecone design, which Roseville had previously rejected, and pushed to have it reconsidered. Roseville released the line, and Pinecone became the company’s most successful—just what it needed to weather the Depression.
Business improved in the late 1930s and 1940s, but with the end of World War II, new competition loomed. The introduction of plastic and plastic alternatives to pottery threatened Roseville’s business, as did new competition from abroad.
In the late 1940s, in an effort to adapt to changing fashions, Roseville began sacrificing its traditional look in favor of shiny new glazes. In its attempts to follow the lead of other companies, Roseville lost its distinctiveness—and its success. Lines like Mock Orange failed, as did Ming Tree and Wincraft.
In 1952, Roseville made one last gamble with Raymore, a line that combined art pottery and utility ware. The effort required retraining a large portion of Roseville’s staff, but this line, too, failed to sell.
In late 1954, Mosaic Tile bought the Roseville name, and New England Ceramics bought all of Roseville’s dies and molds. The Roseville story had come to an end.
Today, however, Roseville pieces are highly collectible. Some particularly valuable pieces include the mug shots—drinking mugs with faces of various ethnicities molded on the side. Cupidon mugs, Bowls and Birds (introduced in 1916), and the Golden Azure vase (introduced in 1908) are also particularly rare and desirable. Still, pieces from the Della Robbia line remain the most prized pieces in the Roseville family.