Research Notes / Notes de recherche
Identifying Medalta 1916-1954:
A Guide to Markings
1 In 1978 the authors undertook the task of examining the collections of the Glenbow-Alberta Institute to determine the extent of the museum's Medalta holdings.1 We were rather surprised to discover that the collection consisted largely of stoneware products, particularly crocks and jugs. The few pieces of hotel china and art wares were insufficient to mount a display and hardly representative of the wide variety of products produced between 1916 and 1954, the period during which Medalta manufactured its wares.
2 In 1979 Pierre Guy of the Visual Arts Branch of Alberta Culture asked Jack Forbes of the Faculty of Extension at the University of Alberta to prepare an exhibition of Medalta pottery as part of Alberta's seventy-fifth anniversary celebrations. In his travels throughout Canada to examine the major Medalta collections in both private and public hands, Forbes discovered several collections that were for sale. These were brought to the attention of the authors, who had expressed the desire to add to Glenbow's holdings, and with the support of Glenbow's Acquisition Society several collections were acquired.
3 Glenbow's collection has expanded to the point where it now includes over three hundred pieces. As the collection grew and was catalogued it became readily apparent that the standard reference for Medalta by Richard and Jean Symonds2 was incomplete and in need of updating. An ever-increasing number of new stamps was being observed and therefore it became necessary to supplement their list. At the same time we found that the dating of the stamps could be refined. The body of knowledge that had been available to the Symonds had expanded considerably, particularly with the publication of Pottery in Alberta, The Long Tradition.3 This historical sketch of Medalta, coupled with information gleaned from Medalta price and order lists,4 catalogues,5 and a stock ledger,6 was examined in relation to the products and as a result we were able to refine the dates for many of the stamps.
4 Many private collectors deserve our thanks for permitting us to examine and record their collections and for providing some thoughtful comments. We are similarly indebted to several public institutions that gave free access to their Medalta collections: Provincial Museum and Provincial Archives of Alberta, Edmonton; Medicine Hat Museum and Art Gallery, Medicine Hat; National Museum of Man, National Museums of Canada, Ottawa; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto. Their staff members spent considerable time working with us, often providing supplementary information and photographs. We would also like to thank the individuals whom we interviewed who were affiliated with or had first hand knowledge of Medalta Potteries Limited. Jack Barrie, Rose and Christoff Stickle, Ed Philipson, and Roy Ogilvie all provided valuable information that helped to fill in the story. Finally, we extend our thanks to Hugh Dempsey and Jack Forbes who examined the paper for errors and deficiencies.
5 This paper does not purport to be the final listing of Medalta's stamps and identification marks. Far from it, for new stamps and variations are being observed in nearly every collection that we examine. Rather, we hope that this will serve as a working paper, stimulating readers to advise us of ones not yet recorded. The dates of stamps need to be refined further and we would welcome information concerning items which bear specific names, crests, logos, or advertisements that will help in this regard.
6 In carrying out our research we examined approximately 2,000 Medalta items, many that were not recorded in the Symonds' book. In the near future we hope to publish a catalogue of Medalta products, giving the dates when new lines were introduced. Particular attention will be focussed on art wares and utilitarian household products as to date we have not seen a Medalta catalogue listing these items. Any supplementary information concerning Medalta's identification markings will be incorporated in this catalogue as the products can only be examined along with the markings that identify and date them.
7 This paper lists and examines the various markings that are found on Medalta products produced between 1916 and 1954. The first section records the various oxide stamps, mold impressions, and paper labels that the company used to identify its wares. The second section discusses other identifying markings found on Medalta wares, usually in association with the company's name. These include size and content markings, style numbers and names, designers' names, and colour or design markings. The third section is a listing of the specific companies, firms, or businesses that engaged Medalta to produce items bearing their own names for advertising or identification purposes. This final section may seem out of place in a paper concerned with Medalta markings, but since these markings are the most helpful in dating the product and associated stamp, they are considered an integral part of this paper. The appendix illustrates all stamps, markings, and labels for which photographs or photocopy illustrations could be obtained. (They are shown in actual size, plus or minus two millimetres.7) For purposes of ready references, selected examples of these illustrations are included in the text in reduced size.
8 Before discussing the findings, a few comments should be made regarding methodology. Some trails led to confusion rather than resolution and it is hoped that these comments will keep others from making the same mistakes.
9 The first hypothesis formulated was that the style numbers8 found on art wares were issued consecutively and therefore the stamps appearing on them would also vary through time. This was wrong on several counts. First, few art wares had stamps other than the impressed ones, which did not necessarily change through time. The same mold could have been used for many years or new molds may have been produced from a master mold and hence remained unchanged. Secondly, the style numbers were not in a consecutive series. The Victory vase, style no. 131, was dated to 1945 and it was expected that higher numbers would have later dates. However, a newspaper advertisement of 19 April 1940 illustrated a lamp with style no. 415.9
10 The second hypothesis was that there would be a correlation between the size and colour of the oxide stamp and the product which carried it. Again, this was not so. Where two distinct size variations of a stamp were used, no correlation with the product could be found. Both the small and large varieties were found on large and small wares. Similarly, the colour of the oxide used for the stamp had no discernible correlation. Dark oxides were used on dark-glazed products, making the stamping all but impossible to read, whereas it had been expected that light oxides would be used on the dark-glazed wares. Informants later advised that they simply used whichever oxide happened to be the handiest10 and this indeed appears to have been the case.
11 The informants also advised that Medalta employees used whichever stamp was handiest. This may, in part, be true and could well account for some of the oddities noted, such as a hotel ware stamp being found on a piece of art ware. But on the other hand, there is no reason to assume that these products were not used in hotels for the records show that hotels did order art wares such as jardinières, vases, and lamps. If, indeed, employees used the first stamp picked up from the box, one would expect a much greater variation than that observed. Since the stamps wore out in a relatively short time, any overlap in use would probably not be significant. Although it was hoped to determine the precise years during which certain stamps were in use, when they were replaced, and so on, the evidence does not permit such a definitive sequence.
12 One other complication should be mentioned as well. Medalta Potteries (1966) Limited did mark a few products with at least one, and perhaps more, of the original Medalta stamps. This came about as a result of the company not having a small enough stamp of its own to mark some of its smaller wares.11
I. Medalta's Identification Stamps, Impressions, and Labels
13 The first section of this paper documents the various types of markings that Medalta Potteries Limited used to identify its products. The numbering system developed for this purpose has an alphabetical prefix to indicate the type of stamp - "G" for oxide stamps, "M" for mold impressions, and "P" for paper labels or decals; a numeral indicates the decade when the stamp was first used and a second number indicates the specific stamp. The variations that may be significant are indicated by an alphabetical suffix. Thus G.1.1 and G.1.2 indicate two of the oxide stamps introduced between 1916 and 1919, and the suffixes "a," "b," and "c" can be added as variations are found.
14 This system of numbering was selected to facilitate the addition of new markings as they are discovered. It seemed that they should be presented in chronological order from the earliest in use to the latest, and this system does at least permit new ones to be placed in the appropriate decade. The main weakness foreseen is that firm dates are not yet known for all the markings.' As the dating is refined, the numeral indicating the decade could well be wrong; however, it was impossible to find any numbering system that would overcome this problem.
15 To facilitate ready comparison with the Symonds' book their stamp and impression numbers (pp. 11-16) are included, with the exception of three. Their number 53 is only the identification crest of a specific customer, while numbers 49 and 62 are only product or style names. Others are considered variations rather than separate stamps and have been grouped accordingly.
a. Oxide Stamps
16 This category of stamps was applied using a rubber stamp. They appear either on the unglazed surface of ovenwares, over the glaze, or more commonly under a clear glaze. They are usually found alone, but do appear in association with the impressed markings. Individual stamps show variability in the colour of the oxide used, the overall size of the stamp, and the size and arrangement of the stamp's lettering. These variables were recorded and analyzed, but unfortunately there was no significant correlation with the type, size, or colour of the product on which they were found. Some stamps have been seen in only one size and/or colour of oxide, but since these were often the specialized or particular stamps or since the sample size was small, the suggested correlation is not considered significant. For the record, however, these are mentioned. The observed variability in the overall size of the stamps and the size and placement of the lettering is readily accounted for when one realizes that the common stamps were ordered by the dozens. They lasted for only a few months as repeated use caused wear and damage that made the stamps unusable. The colour of the oxides that were used with the stamps included black, white, red, metallic gold and silver, and various shades of blue, green, and brown.
b. Impressed Markings
17 The majority of these impressions appear to have been produced by incorporating them directly in the mold; however, a few were obviously produced by impressing a stamp into the wet clay (e.g., M.3.7). As the latter are so few in number, it was decided to include them in this section.
18 This category of markings is all but impossible to date. Their appearance can seldom be used to date the product as the same mold could have been in use from initial production to discontinuation of the product. Furthermore, mold markings are often difficult to read or even to detect. As the mold was repeatedly used, the impression became worn or, if the glaze was heavy, it was often filled in.
19 The evidence suggests that mold markings were not in use prior to the 1920s. Most appear to have been introduced during the 1930s when Medalta started producing its art wares.
c. Paper Labels and Decals
20 Because few examples of applied stickers have been seen, the dates during which they were in use are not certain. Probably other varieties existed, but since they were produced using a gummed paper with poor adhesion they were easily lost. Medalta informants suggested that they were used to mark products that had no other clear Medalta identification mark. While this may be true, there are examples where a sticker has been applied next to a clear mold marking. The Medalta staff offered a second explanation: any products made for the export market had to clearly indicate Canadian manufacture and the gummed labels could have filled this requirement.
d. Combined Stamps
21 The following chart lists the markings that are combined on a given product together with the dates that have been assigned to them. Eventually such a chart will help to date a specific product more precisely, but that will have to await examination of more products and confirmation of the suggested dates. If the dates are correct, however, then it should be possible to state, for example, that items bearing stamps G.3.8 and M.3.7 (1930-40 and 1931-54) date 1931-40 rather than 1930-54.
Ⅱ. Other Identification Markings
22 Medalta's identification mark is often found in association with other markings that served to define the product more fully, particularly for stock-taking purposes. The majority of these were produced in the mold, but some were applied using various coloured oxides, usually black or white. These additional markings have been categorized as those defining the size of the product, those identifying a particular style or brand name, those bearing the name of the designer, and those indicating a particular colour or motif.
a. Size or Content Markings
23 These markings are usually produced in the mold but occasionally appear in ink and grease pencil and are usually found on a wide variety of products. Crocks, jugs, churns, pickle jars, and ice-water coolers usually bore a prominent indication of the gallons held, made by a stamp under the glaze. Some of these products and others, such as chicken fountains, often had an impressed numeral on the bottom as well. The impressed numerals found on bean pots indicate quarts, pints appear on pitchers, ounces are found on creamers, and one bowl, probably for butter, was impressed "2 LB" [sic]. "Trade sizes" such as 24, 30, 36, 42, and 60 are impressed into the bottom of teapots and at least one type of small bowl, perhaps a sugar or candy bowl. They indicate that the item held 8, 6, 5, 4, and 1 cups respectively. One teapot was impressed "6 CUPS" rather than the trade number. The impression found on vases indicates height, while those on bowls, pie plates, casseroles, and jardinières indicate the effective inside diameter of the product.
b. Style and Name Identification
24 The most common impression found on the majority of Medalta's art wares was called a "potter's" number by the Symonds. This numerical designation is usually prefaced by an impressed "No.", but sometimes only the numeral is found. These markings were not always permanent. Some were occasionally applied over the finish using ink and, in one instance, grease pencil. This number was believed to designate a specific mold until it was found on products that were different sizes. However, the shapes were the same; only the size differed. It seems likely that this was a style number, used for stock-taking purposes as well as on order forms and catalogues to identify the specific wants of a customer. Unfortunately, as no Medalta art ware catalogues have been seen, it has not been possible to confirm this hypothesis.
25 The first appearance of style numbers in the Medalta stock ledger was in 1931. Prior entries refer to the items by name alone. As it was in 1930 that Medalta started designing and producing its diversified line of art wares, any products bearing a style number probably date from that time. It is unlikely that the few vases and jardinières in production during the 1920s had a style number, but some of the later molds for these products apparently had the style number incorporated.
26 Medalta also assigned names to specific styles. These are usually found in association with the style or shape number, but not always, as in the case of the "Cypress" and "Czma" pitchers. These names have always been in script and the majority have appeared on vases. "Polygon," however, is found on a variety of products, including a teapot, mixing bowl, casserole dish, bulb bowl (style no. 21), and a jardinière (no. 23). The names observed on vases include "Asia" (no. 2), "Edward" (no. 3), "Hexagon" (no. 60), "Amour" (no. 65), "Betty" (no. 70), "Mikado" (no. 90), and "Victory" (no. 131). The Medalta inventory ledger suggests that "Egyptian" may be on vase no. 61, "Rosetta" on vase no. 62, and perhaps "Spills" or "Duco" on some vases no. 104. To date, however, no examples of these pieces have been seen, only pictures of the products or references to them in the inventory ledger.
c. Designer Names
27 So far only one product bearing the designer's name has been seen - the Winston Churchill jug. It is in script, impressed into the mold, and appears to read "Carter Scott" though the surname is not clear. Presumably other designers' names will be found, but they will probably be few in number. The majority of Medalta's design work was done by Tom Hulme and the only products seen bearing his name are those marked with stamp G.5.9. Apparently Carter Scott did not work for Medalta, and perhaps only those items designed out side the plant had the designer's name impressed into them.
d. Colour or Motif Markings
28 Many Medalta products carry numbers which were apparently used to indicate the type of finish applied to the raw product. These numbers refer to the colour of glaze or lacquer, the stencilled or embossed design, or the combination of colour and design. That they were used for this purpose was determined from the inventory ledger which had the number, finish, and product listed together.
29 These numbers are usually penned in oxide as suffixes to the impressed style number, separated by a penned slash. However, some exceptions to this have been observed. One cookie jar carried the penned number "5/49" applied on the lacquer finish; "49" indicated the green tulip pattern, but the meaning of "5" is still unknown. The second exception was a vase, style no. 71, which had "37/36" prominently scratched into the clay prior to glazing. Presumably "37/36" refers to the opaque white glaze on which is found alternating yellow and blue daisies, each with a coloured stem and leaves below; however, these numbers were not listed in the inventory ledger.
30 The following two lists, of "confirmed" and "unconfirmed" markings, contain all relevant information found in the inventory ledger. The first list gives the numerical code and the corresponding colour or motif term, as entered in the ledger, which match the numerals and finishes seen on actual products. In a few cases the ledger recorded only the number and therefore the specific colour or motif term is not presently known.
31 The second list includes numerical designations alone as well as those which had the numeral matched to a specific colour or motif. While none of these numbers has yet been found on products, it is expected that they will be confirmed as more art wares are examined. The list shows several incongruities. Some glazes appearing to be the same have different numbers, while other, obviously different glazes were given the same numbers. Some of these may be transcriptional errors, but as they appeared on listings for different years, they may simply reflect a glaze change from one year to the next. The duplications are presented as recorded.
Ⅲ. Businesses and Institutions Utilizing Medalta Products
32 During the late 1920s and possibly earlier, Medalta started producing items that carried the name of a specific product or firm. Many of these were special orders from merchants who wanted both to advertise their business or products and to thank their customers for their patronage by giving them a small gift. These highly prized items, now commonly called "advertiques" by collectors, are some of the most useful products for dating Medalta's stamps and products since they can be pinpointed to a specific year. One company in particular, Ogilvie Flour Mills, entered into a joint venture with its retailers or agents to provide gifts of measuring cups, pitchers, and sugar bowls which advertised both the milling products and the store that carried them. Equally useful for dating purposes are those items carrying a monogram or name. Many of the hotel wares produced after 1937 were prominently marked with the name of the hotel, restaurant, or institution that was using Medalta's vitrified hotel china.
33 This section lists those merchants, businesses, or institutions which are believed to have used Medalta products, as well as all monograms, names, and other lettering which might have been custom-ordered. The starred (*) ones have actually been seen on products; the others are thought to be custom orders on the basis of rubber stamps which have been seen, correspondence requesting products, or specific references in Medalta's records. The individual wording and style of lettering varies from stamp to stamp and it was not possible to record the full markings here. The underlined words indicate those which appear in script; the others are reproduced more or less as they appear in upper and lower case. The authors' comments are included in brackets. For convenience the Ogilvie items have been separated from the rest because they comprise such a large grouping.
a. Ogilvie's "Advertiques"
34 The Ogilvie stamps generally fall into one of two basic formats, round or oval, as illustrated: