The late Mark Supnick (author of Collecting Shawnee Pottery; The Wonderful World of Cookie Jars; and Collecting Hull's Little Red Riding Hood) wrote an article almost twenty years ago explaining how and when gold trimmed jars were produced. In the November 1992 issue of Cookie Jarrin', Mark explores the various decorated jars and shares the facts that Shawnee did not make any cookie jars with gold trim. They also did not use flower decals, patches on pants, hair on the heads of Smiley jars, bees, bugs or any other similar decoration. But they are still Shawnee jars.
According to Supnick, Shawnee pottery was a very quality minded company and when any item was not produced to the high standards that Shawnee set, the items were set aside to be disposed of in the following manner: jars that had chips, dents, indentations, glaze flaws, pock marks, etc were offered to employes through the company outlet store. After the employees had their pick, the items were offered to the general public in the factory store. Some of the biggest customers of this company store were "decorators".
Thus these decorators would buy the seconds and paint over the defects, using patches, gold trim or hair to hide the flaws. Then these hand-decorated jars would be sold to speciality stores at even higher prices than the "perfect" jars were sold.
Supnick mentions that the paints used were china paints, with the gold and decals all fired-on in the kiln.
So you might have a beautiful gold trimmed Shawnee jar, which is an authentic Shawnee, but not decorated by the company.
These jars have traditionally sold for hundreds of dollars, the rarer jars, e.g. Smiley with hair could even command more. Of course the result of this is people trying to cash in and add gold trim to jars that were not originally decorated and of course to make loads of reproductions. Although it takes an experienced eye to know an original gold-trimmed jar, as to one where the gold is added in recent years, it can be done. There is patina of age and most often some sort of wear of the gold. Study the books, pictures and hang out with Shawnee collectors. Sharing knowledge is always a helpful thing.
But it doesn't take as much experience to spot an obvious Shawnee reproduction. These are jars NOT made by Shawnee, but copying the old molds. The decorations are usually nothing like the originals, with ideas that can even be far-fetched. There is no quality to the pieces, as they are not made well and are essentially worth just a few bucks, regardless of what the seller might ask.
- If a seller has a table full of gold trimmed jars, be very wary and be ready to walk right by. Odds are they are not authentic, unless it is an long-time collector selling off their collection.
- Likewise for a table full of Shawnee jars and pottery in general, Shawnee pieces are relatively expensive when compared to other potteries and can be hard-to-find, so check the pieces carefully to be sure it's authentic Shawnee before buying.
- But the recent decline in prices means there are also bargains out there, so don't pass by a jar that is offered at a very affordable price. It just might mean the dealer needs to sell it quickly. Check it out carefully and if you get a bargain, enjoy!
- Know the right sizes for the jars, reproductions are usually 1/2" - 1" shorter.