Rookwood Pottery was established in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1867 by Maria Longworth Nichols Storer. During that period, wealthy women would paint blank pieces of china as a hobby. Being a daughter of a wealthy family, Maria Storer was one of those women. She was unhappy with the temperatures of the local kiln and had one of her own built. She began experimenting with different types of glazes and Rookwood Pottery was born with the help of her family. It has been recognized as one of the largest producers of high-quality art pottery in the United States and a highly succcessful business. Contributing to its success was William Watts Taylor, who was hired as general business manager in 1883.
William Taylor paid close attention to all the details of making it a success, such as hiring a chemist to develop the glazes and the artists, which built their careers on painting pottery.
A patent was issued for a process called airbrush-blending in 1884. It was invented by one of her employees, Laura Fry. There were several lines designed that used this process of blended backgrounds. One of which was called "Standard". The Standard glaze was deep yellow, orange, and red over dark brown with a high gloss. A flower or leaf motif was usually used, as well as, American Indians and portraits. Some of the earlier lines were "Sea Green"(1894), a blue green glaze painted on soft blue, yellow, and red, was commonly used in fish and floral scenes; "Iris"(1894) painted in a floral motif, is a glossy white glaze over a grey, pink, soft blue and yellow; "Jewel Porcelain", "Wax Matt", and "Vellum"(1904), used for landscapes, is a matte glaze, commonly a pale blue, over a lightly colored clay. Some later lines were "Ombroso"(1910), was used on incised pieces, is a matte glaze with shades of gray and brown; and "Soft Porcelain"(1915). After the turn of the 20th century, Rookwood began to manufacture production pieces that were molded designs and forms.
Although, there are some unmarked Rookwood pieces, it is a rarity. Many of the early artware pieces are signed by the artists. Kataro Shiriyamadani of Japan was a superior artist and his pieces can reach very high prices today. He worked as one of the pottery's artist from 1890 until his death in 1947 at the age of 93. Some of the other well-known artists were: Carl Schmidt, Matt Daly, A.R. Valentien, Artus Van Briggle, Sarah Sax, Grace Young, Sarah Coyne, Laura Ann Fry, Edward Timothy Hurley, Sarah Alice Toohey, Lorinda Epply, Elizabeth Barrett, and William McDonald. Each artist's signature mark can be found on the base of the pieces they decorated. There are pieces of Rookwood pottery that have applied silver overlay done by Gorham. There may be many other marks, but the most common is the "RP" mark. It is a reversed "R" placed back to back with the letter "P", surrounded by flames. It was first used in 1886 with a flame point being added for each year until 1900. After that, a Roman numeral was added below indicating the year of manufacture. Impressed letters were also added to indicate the type of clay used for the body; "G" for ginger, "O" for olive, "R" for red, "S" for sage green, "W" for white, and "Y" for yellow. There was also a die-stamped number used to identify the shape.
There were other identifying marks; "S" identified a special piece; "Z" required a matte glaze; Vellum glaze was marked with a "V"; trial pieces were marked "T"; and imperfect pieces were incised with an "X" and sold for a reduced price.
Rookwood pottery could be found in Tiffany, Ovington and other large department stores in major cities across the country. Later, Rookwood began producing commercial architectural pieces about 1902. Soon these pieces began to appear in buildings across the country. Rookwood tiles were used in major hotels, train terminals, Grand Central Station and several subway station stops in New York City.
During the Great Depression, Rookwood Pottery, like many other pottery companies struggled. Most individuals could not afford such luxury items. Rookwood Pottery filed for bankruptcy in 1941.The original Rookwood Pottery closed its doors in 1961. The rights and the molds were sold to a clock company in Mississippi. A few pieces were made from 1961-1965. In 1983, a dentist purchased the molds. One firing of tiles a year are made, using comparable glazes. They are then sold exclusively to retailers. The original Rookwood Pottery factory is now a restaurant called The Rookwood Pottery Restaurant.