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Cataloguing Maker's Marks

Posted on April 28, 2021 at 1:53 PM by Guest Writer

Cataloguing Maker's Marks

By Jasmine Beul, graduate student in Art and Visual Culture, ISU

For the past two semesters, as a museum intern, I have been working on a collaboration between the Brunnier Art Museum and the non-profit organization, The Marks Project. The Marks Project is a free and accessible online database to record and preserve the stamps and signatures of ceramic artists. It acts as a legacy tool for the ceramic arts, to ensure that future scholars and artists will be able to study this field.

The Brunnier has many works of art in the permanent collection made by ceramic artists who are not represented by The Marks Project. This includes many Iowa artisans, both contemporary and from the mid-20th century.

The project began with re-photographing ceramic objects in the collection. While most were already catalogued, photos of the signatures on the bottom of each object were missing. Next came research to try and identify some of the unknown marks, but to also find out more about most of these artists in general. While there were some dead ends, there were also some surprising discoveries. Besides identification, the types of marks on pots can also be revealing of the types of artists behind them.


For example, Paul Ernest Cox and Mary Yancey, who ran Iowa College Pottery (1920-1939) are not currently documented in The Marks Project. Many pots are marked with the same "ISC/AMES" circular stamp, and accompanied by either the signature "Cox," of Paul Ernest Cox, or a "Y" in a circle for Mary Yancey. More information about Iowa College Pottery can be found by searching the University Museums' eMuseum database at and selecting "Iowa College Pottery" from the left-hand navigation.


The permanent collection also features a number of examples from Rookwood Pottery, a manufacturer which operated out of Cincinnati, Ohio from 1880-1959. Founded by Maria Longworth Nichols, it was the first manufacturing company in the United States to be founded by a woman. The following vase features the characteristic stamp of a backwards R and P. The number of flames and the roman numerals indicate the date each work of Rookwood Pottery. Post 1900 the R and P were surrounded by the 14 flames, and the XXVII mean that it is from 1927. 


Contemporary Iowa artist Robert Anderson is also missing from The Marks Project. His whimsical creations feature many illustrations of Iowa life such as corn, pigs, and other livestock. The Brunnier Art Museum contains several fine examples of his functional pottery. They are normally signed "Anderson" in cursive, accompanied by the year.

The way ceramic artists choose to mark their art can say a lot about their work. A manufacturer like Rookwood Pottery would need a uniform stamp to apply to all of their objects. The work of Iowa College Pottery also used a uniform stamp, but it was accompanied by the hand mark of a particular maker or artist. An artist like Robert Anderson, who makes pottery for a living but not on an industrial scale would take the time to sign every work of art individually but using the same signature every time to make them identifiable.

As a direct result of my year-long University Museums internship experience, this past week, I was offered a summer internship with The Marks Project to focus on the cataloguing of the American Museum of Ceramic Art's (AMOCA) - American Ceramic Society Collection.

Visit The Marks Project online:

Editor's Note: Thanks Jasmine for making your "mark" on our permanent collection and adding to the accessibility of the objects in our holdings! -Allison

Images - top to bottom: 

1. Jasmine Beul holds a ceramic vessel by Bennett Bean, gift of Carmon Slater and Donald Randall, within the University Museums Hilsinger-Janson Art Vault. 

2. Vase, n.d. by Mary Yancey (American, 1902-1983). Studio: Iowa College Pottery, Iowa State College, 1920 - 1939. Earthenware. Impressed "ISC/Ames" in circle, "Y" in circle, incised "374". Transferred from the Department of Materials Science. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. UM2014.211

3. Vase, 19th cent. Manufacturer: Rookwood Pottery (Cincinnati, OH), 1880 - 1959. Ceramic. Impressed XXVII-402, KJ ink or marking pen. Gift of Ann and Henry Brunnier. In the Ann and Henry Brunnier Collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. 2.15.5

4. Platter, 1993 by Robert Anderson (American, born 1946). Ceramic. Gift of Drs. David G. Topel and Jay-lin Jane Topel. In the Topel and Cheng Art Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, IA. UM2016.293

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