Identification of Morton Potteries

  Works of the Morton Potteries are fairly difficult to identify because "Morton Potteries" actually encompasses several different companies, all located at one time or another in Morton, Illinois.
   The first clay operation in Morton was established in 1877 by six brothers from Germany: Andrew, Barthol, Christian, John, Samuel, and Matthew Rapp. The Rapp brothers operated Rapp Brothers Brick and Tile Company and the Morton Pottery works until 1915, when Samuel and Christian renamed the brick operation Morton Brick and Tile Company. Andrew had died in 1911, John retired, and Matthew and Barthol had left the pottery. Four of Andrew's sons took over the pottery side of the business and named it the Morton Earthenware Company. Production ceased in 1917 due to World War I.
    In 1920 Matthew Rapp and his four sons opened Cliftwood Art Potteries, Inc. on the same property as the previous business. Production moved from the old utilitarian works to more decorative pieces. Matthew died in 1938, leaving his sons John, Carl, Lawrence, and Theodore to run the pottery. Although each son was very competent in different aspects of pottery making, none had the drive to continue the business without their father so they sold the pottery in 1940 to some businessmen from nearby Peoria, while staying on at the newly formed Midwest Pottery to continue in their specialties. Several changes of management ensued, and the Rapp brothers left disillusioned in 1943. The pottery was destroyed by fire the following year.
   The four brothers came back together in 1947 and opened the American Art Potteries (AAP). The management they hired got the pottery into trouble in the 1960's, when the pottery was seized by the IRS and put up for auction for non-payment of taxes.
   The American Art Potteries molds and equipment were bought by Morton Pottery Company, which was established in 1922 by Andrew's sons (headed up by son Danie and William) as an evolution of the Morton Earthenware Company. Soon after the pottery was up an running, Daniel left to become a furniture maker, while his brothers Andrew, Henry, Nathan,Solomon, and Samuel joined their brother William at the pottery. Although plagued with fires over the years, the pottery managed to turn out large numbers of beer steins (post-prohibition, of course), political memorabilia, lamp bases, and art pottery. The late 50's and early 60's brought labor problems and competition from Japanese imports. Deaths of two of the siblings in 1969 caused the remaining family to sell the pottery. After the sale, Morton Pottery continued under the same name with a third generation Rapp, Henry Jr., heading up plant operations. Bankruptcy followed in 1971, followed by another sale. The art pottery lines were phased out, replaced by inserts for Rival crock pot cookers, until the plant finally closed in 1976.
   This is a hard one. Because the Morton Potteries comprises several different companies, there really isn't a rule-of-thumb one can use to tell whether a piece is or isn't Morton. A good reference book, like the book from Doris and Burdell Hall, is a must for positive identification many Morton pieces.
   The earliest Morton Potteries concentrated on Rockingham, Yellow Ware, and Earthenware. Cliftwood Art Potteries ushered in an era of relatively high-end art pottery, including vases, flower bowls, and a whole host of lamp bases. The remaining potteries appeared to concentrate more on common, inexpensive pieces of art pottery - the kind that would be purchased in Kresges, Sears, and the like.
   The Midwest Potteries and American Art Potteries often used stickers, shown in Figure 1, to mark their wares. This makes identification difficult since the stickers are often removed.
   Of all the potteries located in Morton, the Morton Pottery Company is probably the easiest to identify. Some flowerpots from this pottery are shown in Figure 2. Many planters were marked "Morton USA" (Figure 3), and there is a fairly consistent "look and feel" to Morton Pottery that isn't evident in the other Morton companies. Morton Pottery is typically heavy, as illustrated in Figure 4, and is often heavier than Brush or McCoy (although it could be easily mistaken for either). Glazes are similar to their contemporaries with blue, green, and yellow being popular colors.
Figural Planters
   It is not easy to tell you have a Morton pottery animal just by a look and feel. As shown in Figure 5, they made a wide variety of animals over the years and there was much overlap between the companies. I picked up a pottery pig (Figure 6) a little while back that was almost light enough to be a "Made in Japan" planter. However, much to my surprise, it had a "Norwood" sticker, used by the American Art Pottery in Morton. Although the pig was not pictured in the reference book, the planter did have a similar look and feel as other AAP and Norwood pieces I have seen.
   More easily identified, the pottery animals from Morton Pottery are relatively heavy because the walls of the figure are thick. An example is shown in Figure 7. If the opening of the figural planter is fairly roughly finished, then the Morton Potteries book is the first place I'd look. The bottoms of the pieces are usually unglazed.


Figure 1: Paper labels used by American Art Potteries, left, and Midwest Pottery, right.

Figure 2: Flowerpots from the Morton Pottery Company.

.Figure 3: Bottom of a Morton Pottery Company flower pot. The "Morton USA" mark was used on many of the pieces from this pottery.

Fig. 4: Relative Weights of American Pottery


Bone China
Made in Japan
Norwood, AAP
Hull, Red Wing
McCoy, Brush, American Bisque


Figure 5: The Morton Potteries made a wide range of animal planters. Click on the picture for a better view.

Figure 6: The glaze looks like airbrushed Brush or Shawnee, and the weight of the planter is lighter like Shawnee or Japan, but the "Norwood" sticker on this pottery pig identifies it as being made by the American Art Potteries in Morton, IL.

Figure 7: "Inconsistency" is the word of the day when dealing with Morton Pottery. Although these are both the same planter, the figure on the left has the more typical opening for a Morton Pottery figural planter: a relatively small opening with thick walls and a rough-cut appearance.

Morton animal planters
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1. Doris and Burdell Hall, Morton Potteries: 99 Years, 1995
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Last update 04 July 1999