It wasn't so long ago that many pieces of Frankoma pottery languished on antique shop shelves and in flea market stalls collecting dust. Although Frankoma did have a few admirers, only the company's older items produced during the 1930s were the main focus for pottery lovers. Now the more common pieces are getting attention, and prices are starting to rise. Finally, it's fashionable to take another look at Frankoma pottery.
The founder of the company, John Frank, came to Oklahoma in 1927 as an art and pottery teacher at the University of Oklahoma. While working on various geological digs, he discovered the rich clays of the region and set up a studio using a butter churn to mix the clay and a fruit jar to grind the glazes. It wasn't long until he left his teaching position to further his love for creating pottery.
Frankoma pieces made since 1954 sport a red clay from Sapulpa, Oklahoma, while older wares were formed with a tan colored clay dug at Ada, Oklahoma. Using these source names of Sapulpa and Ada, along with glaze colors and item styles, collectors are able to identify and date Frankoma Pottery.
Frankoma's Inspiration and Colors
The Great Southwest served as inspiration for many Frankoma works. Over the years, the factory formed pitchers shaped like wagon wheels, interesting Native American masks, and attractive boot-shaped vases, bookends, and wall pockets. Even their dinnerware patterns have a western flair.
Two of their most recognizable glazes are named Prairie Green and Desert Gold. In fact, many people associate Frankoma entirely with their medium green glaze that seemed rather dated and unattractive for quite a few years. Since both these colors were used extensively over time, it's the type of clay used in the piece rather than the color of the glaze, which determines its value.
Many of their works, such as their dated political mugs shaped like elephants and donkeys, feature a wide variety of colors. Other series pieces, including bicentennial plates, are also very colorful. Most of these pieces are still relatively affordable, even for the beginning collector.
The colorful political mugs mentioned above range in price from about $15 to $80. Bicentennial plates generally sell in the $10 to $15 range with a couple of exceptions for rarities. A 1974 Nixon/Ford elephant mug can sell for several hundred dollars because so few were produced, and a 1972 plate, with the word "states" spelled as "statis" because of a mold flaw, usually sells for more than $100. Many of the Wagon Wheel dinnerware pieces still sell for less than $20 apiece, with only the serving pieces selling in the $30 to $75 range.
With the older Frankoma pieces being hard to find and priced quite high, selling from several hundred dollars per piece to several thousand when sold by a knowledgeable dealer, the more recent Frankoma works have garnered some increased interest. The dusty treasures once ignored by pottery shoppers have taken on a new light as collectors make a place for them in their homes. These can still be purchased for $10-50 or so depending on the item.
Frankoma Pottery in the Home
People who use their pottery find Frankoma to be rugged and durable. The Frankoma Family Collectors Association website reported getting many queries about lead being an issue when using this pottery for food service. In their frequently asked questions section, the site assures readers that food and Frankoma do indeed mix well. They caution against serving food on imported pottery low-fired with brightly colored glazes, but state that the founder of the company was always diligent in making sure Frankoma pottery was safe for use in American homes.
More on Frankoma
To learn more about this pottery with a past, enthusiasts recommend Collector's Guide to Frankoma Pottery - 1933 through 1990 by Gary Schaum. Although this book is now out of print, it is still a comprehensive reference showing virtually every piece of Frankoma produced from the factory's birth through 1990. It also lists all the company's glazes with dates of production although the pricing information is out of date at this point. Doing a completed item search on eBay can yield up-to-date prices on many Frankoma pieces.
Using resources like Schaum's book and eBay, collectors can learn about the various shapes Frankoma developed and colors used over time. Once familiar with all the varieties made by the Oklahoma factory, dusting off those items languishing on flea market shelves can take on a whole new meaning.
The End of an Era?
Frankoma closed in 2010 and assets of the company, including the remaining pottery on hand, were sold at auction to satisfy lenders in 2011.
As of 2012, however, select Frankoma pieces were being manufactured and sold by a licensed limited partnership doing business online only. The product line started with political mugs and has expanded to include a dozen or so different items in various colors.