The predecessors to wall pockets, those flat-backed ceramic vases intended to be hung on a wall, were wall-mounted wooden boxes that held candles, matches, or eating utensils, as well as cloth pockets designed to hold sewing tools such as scissors, thimbles, or thread. Decorative wall pockets, or “wall vases,” first became home fixtures in the late 18th century, when porcelain potteries were popping up all over Europe. Staffordshire, Minton, Wedgwood, Royal Worcester, Royal Doulton, and Meissen all produced elegant wall pockets made out of fine china.
More recently, wall pockets meant for flowers experienced a revival in postwar America, when the demand for fun, novelty ceramics like head vases, cookie jars, and salt-and-pepper shakers exploded. Some of these ceramic pieces, which hit their peak of popularity with homemakers in the '50s, were made in home-grown U.S. potteries, like those by Rookwood, Roseville, Weller, McCoy, Hull, the California Cleminsons, Frankoma, and Holt-Howard. Others were produced in occupied Japan and imported by Lefton, Napco, and PY.
While clay is the most popular material for collectible wall pockets, they’ve also been made out of wood, glass, cloth, plastic, and metals such as copper or tin. Intended to hold everything from living plants to cut, dried, or fake flowers, along with house keys and even sink scrubbers, wall pockets can be anywhere from a few inches to a foot tall. While untold thousands of ceramic wall pockets were made between the '40s and '60s, their tendency to drop from walls and crack or break has made them scarce today.
Vintage and antique wall pockets come in every shape imaginable: You can find full figures or busts of realistic men, women, and children, as well as fantasy characters like mermaids, cherubs, and angels. There is also a wide range of animal characters like cats, dogs, sea horses, fish, birds, butterflies, roosters, and owls. Wall pockets are sometimes shaped like fruits and nuts, while their depictions of flowers runs from realistic to anthropomorphic, the latter often typified by their cloying, smiling faces. Others look like buildings, boats, trees, seashells. Wall pockets shaped like teapots and pitchers are also popular, as are those resembling objects like violins, umbrellas, bells, irons, and hand fans.
Some of the most valuable and collectible wall pockets today are those with a basic trumpet or cone shape that have been decorated with breathtaking luster and iridescent glazes. Wall pockets featuring gorgeous hand-painting and relief sculpture characterized the fine china and art pottery of companies like Noritake in Japan and Rookwood, Roseville, and Weller in the United States. In particular, the most desirable wall pockets made by Roseville include art-vase patterns such as Donatello, Rozane, Apple Blossom, Carnelian, Columbine, Dogwood, and Florentine. Unfortunately, because Roseville is so popular there are myriad knockoffs on the market; usually the low quality of the decor is a dead giveaway that it is a fake.
On the kitschier side, McCoy Pottery, known for its cookie jars, tended to produce cute figural wall pockets shaped like cuckoo clocks, lilies, or birds on a bird bath. Another common theme for McCoy pockets were ceramic trivets with random objects on their fronts like clothing irons or owls. But the most popular McCoy wall pockets are fruits against a leafy background. Pears and apples are relatively common, while oranges and some grap clusters are particularly hard-to-find.
The Cleminson pottery, also known the California Cleminsons, started out in 1941 as Betty Cleminson’s hobby and a business she ran from her garage. Her wall pockets are character...
Holt-Howard, esteemed for its “Pixieware” kitchenware, also made a line called “Cozy Kitchen Kitties.” While “kitchen” was in the name, many of these sly, expressive cats could be used in any room, including the clever kitty wall caddy which had a planter on its head and a key hook for its tail, as well as front legs that could hold watches and jewelry. Another popular line were the girl and boy mermaids riding on sea horses in sets called “Minnie and Moby.”
Other American potteries that produced wall pockets include Hull (conch shells), Frankoma (acorns), Deena China (known for its Savoy line), American Ceramic Products, Metlox, Roselane, Florence, Twin Winton, and Barbara Willis.
Ceramic wall pockets were also produced in Germany, Czechoslovakia, and, of course, Japan. In the '50s and '60s, two American companies that imported novelty ceramics from Japan—PY and Napco (National Potteries Company of Cleveland)—capitalized on anthropomorphic wall pockets shaped like apples, sunflowers, or daisies with flirty, adorable smiles. The identical versions of the iconic, expressive “flower face” wall pockets, such as the mama sunflower and her babies, could be marked with either importer’s name.
Starting in the '40s, Lefton also imported campy ceramics from Japan, including wall pockets, cookie jars, salt-and-pepper shakers, and bathroom wall-plaque sets shaped like mermaids, fish, or sea horses. Often wall pocket characters echoed those of Lefton cookie jars, like the cute girl Dainty Miss or the blue cat Miss Priss. Often Lefton pockets came in flirtatious pairs like bonneted girls in pink and boys in blue. Others were shaped like violins, purses, and open Bibles (spelling out the Lord’s Prayer) with applied flowers and ribbons.