The History of Buffalo Pottery and China

Buffalo Pottery Roosevelt Bears Milk Pitcher

Morphy Auctions

Buffalo Pottery’s history began in 1903 when the Larkin Soap Company of Buffalo, New York began making pottery and china to offer customers as premiums when they purchased soap products by mail order or through select retail outlets.

The story began before the pottery was produced, however. While the soap being sold was the focus of John Durrant Larkin, his brother-in-law Elbert Hubbard, who was a salesman with the company, spearheaded the marketing plan that ultimately resulted in the now-famous pottery by devising a gift-with-purchase concept. Silk handkerchiefs, silver, and imported china were given away for years before Buffalo Pottery was conceived. By that time, Hubbard had moved on and was nurturing his Roycroft community.

First Products

Operating nine kilns from the very beginning, the first Buffalo products were actually semi-vitreous dinnerware sets. In fact, this was the first American-based company to produce a line of Blue Willow ware, and their mastery of blue-printing china rivaled that of English factories. They also developed a line named Gaudy Willow which featured multi-colored decor. Other early products included game, fowl and fish sets—styles popular the world over in the early 1900s. They made advertising plates and mugs as well.

Buffalo also made commemorative and historical lines, which included Roosevelt Bears (akin to the “Teddy” bear) pieces like the one shown here. Other pitchers made depict fairy tales like Cinderella or historical figures such as George Washington. Even when these pieces are stained like the example here, they can still easily sell in excess of $1,000 each due to their rarity.

By 1911, this growing pottery company employed close to 250 people. The premium products on which the company was founded continued to be popular with consumers who gladly redeemed certificates distributed with the purchase of Larkin products to obtain their Buffalo Pottery wares.

  • 01 of 02

    Deldare Lines

    Buffalo Pottery Deldare Ware Centerpiece Bowl
    Morphy Auctions

    Buffalo’s most famous art pottery line by far, introduced by the first company manager Louis H. Bown, is Deldare with themes reflecting the literature, art, and village life of period England. The first line produced only from 1908 to 1909 features hand-painted scenes from Cecil Aldin’s Fallowfield Hunt or English village scenes on olive green semi-vitreous china, according to an article by Harry Rinker republished online.

    While more ordinary tableware pieces like plates and mugs can be found in the $25 to $100 range, especially in the online auction arena, serving and display pieces sell in the hundreds with some topping the $1,000 mark in spite of Rinker's assessment that Deldare's popularity has waned with collectors in his 2004 article on the topic.

    Scenes from William Combe’s The Three Tours of Dr. Syntax illustrated by Thomas Rowlandson were reproduced on a line called Emerald Deldare in 1911. These humorous pieces are harder to find than the earlier Fallowfield examples and can be quite expensive. Expect a rare humidor in this pattern to sell for more than $1,500 online, and perhaps more at an East Coast antique show where Buffalo Pottery is in demand.

    In 1912, the Albino line was introduced on Deldare blanks. These featured finely painted scenes of sailboats, windmills, or the sea. They were mainly rust-colored and all Albino pieces were signed and numbered by the artist creating each particular scene, as were Deldare and Emerald Deldare pieces. Albino pieces are even harder to find, and most sell for hundreds if not thousands when they come on the market today.

    Continue to 2 of 2 below.
  • 02 of 02

    Post-1915 and Identifying Marks

    Buffalo Pottery mark on milk pitcher
    Morphy Auctions

    Buffalo’s manufacturing process was modernized in 1915 allowing for greater output of vitreous china making the production of institutional ware more feasible, according to Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide edited by Ellen T. Schroy. The firm became the leader in china commissioned by railroads, hotels, and restaurants, and their production focused on these products during this period.

    In the early 1920s, fine china was made for home use including the well known Bluebird pattern. Buffalo also made additional Deldare pieces from 1921 to 1923.

    In 1950 the company made its first Christmas plate and these were given away to customers and employees for about a decade. These are hard to find in the secondary marketplace today. The company was reorganized in 1956 and renamed Buffalo China before being acquired by the Oneida Silver Company.

    Identifying Marks

    A number of different marks were used by Buffalo Pottery, most featuring an American bison somewhere in the logo, and all indicating the date the piece was made. Buffalo made both semi-vitreous and vitreous wares, and some pieces indicated the type in the mark. Deldare pieces had its own unique marks identifying pieces as part of these lines.

    Buffalo’s Blue Willow dinnerware pattern was marked “First Old Willow Ware Mfg. in America,” according to Warman’s.