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The Antique Detective: Sewer Tile Ceramics

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What Is It Worth?


One of a pair of rare sewer tile armchairs. Photo courtesy Garth's Auctions, Delaware, Ohio

Lion Sewer tile door stop. Photo courtesy Skinner Auction Galleries, Boston, MA

News Article

Sewer Tiles Ceramics are Unusual and Collectible

As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, August 2007

When you first hear the words sewer tile objects, they may sound very unappealing. Can you even imagine that such items can sell for several hundred dollars? If you have never heard of sewer tile items it isn't surprising. They were made during a short time from 1880 to roughly 1950 and usually only in Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. However examples have come to auction made in St.Louis, Mo., Red Wing, Mn., Monmouth, Ill. and Cannelton, In.

Sewer tile ware was made from the same type of ceramics used to make sewer tiling for drain pipes. However, the basic materials could have been both redware and stoneware clays. Yet, the end result was vastly different than the items we have come to associate with stoneware and redware, as are the prices. Unlike the popular and pricey stoneware with its' blue decorations, and equally expensive redware in a variety of forms, figures and decorations, sewer tile ceramics have been largely ignored by collectors until recently. Now, they are being included in both ceramic and folk art collections. They had their beginnings in the stoneware manufactories primarily in the Northeast and Midwest.

When the kilns closed in the late 19th centuries many of the potters went to work for companies making sewer pipes for the cities and drainage tiles for agricultural purposes. Just as glass workers found creativity after hours, so did the ceramics potters. Using whatever clay and glazing materials were available they created one-of-a- kind utilitarian objects, from pitchers to chairs, and figurines. They were popular as gifts or home use.

The figures, often cast in molds, were influenced by English Staffordshire figures, popular in the late 19th century. Other times Victorian pressed glass designs were used. Other methods were used in addition to mold casting. They included hand-modeling or a combination of modeling and molding. Few were wheel thrown. Decorating techniques were influenced by whatever was popular at the time, such as applied decorations, embossing, incising and combing. Combing would be used, for example, to make a tree trunk more realistic. Incising to detail a bird's feathers.

CLUES: Few types of glazes were used. Mostly a plain salt-glaze or shiny brown. Less common were metallic brown, yellow, greenish salt-glaze, tan and tan metallic. Look on the bottom for names or initials of makers and dates. Some are also stamped with the marks of the tile factories where they were made. That and the uniqueness of the piece can fetch a higher price. Shops, flea markets and garage sales are a good place to go search. Not everybody appreciates or recognizes this type of ceramic folk art. Over the last two years prices have gone up at auction houses as more collector interest grows. The rarer the form, such as chairs or Indian figures, the higher the price. These days a sewer tile chair with detailed decorations could sell at auction for several thousand dollars. A lion's head doorstop could fetch as much as $600. The good news is that as of this writing sewer tile folk art hasnít been reproduced.

If you have any questions, you can Email us at

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