Discover Vintage America - OCTOBER 2014

Keeping pottery backstamps straight can be challenging

Q: I just bought this pitcher and wash bowl basin. I know it was made by Sterling Co. But can you tell me the value and when it was made?

A: Your question did not include a photograph of the backstamp or mark on the bottom of either piece so I am going to assume that "Sterling Co." is included in the mark. From the photograph I can determine that the pieces are not metal so I can say with all certainty that they are not sterling silver so that moves us on to when the pieces were made and by whom.
Without seeing the manufacturer backstamp I will give you some history as well as provide a couple of photographs of backstamps and hopefully will hit the nail on the head. If not, please send me a photo of the marks and I will respond via email.

Some American pottery, porcelain and china companies changed hands, and names, so often that it is sometimes difficult to keep it all straight. This is the very reason that antique dealers and collectors spend a lot of money each year on quality reference books.

Here we go.....
The Sterling China Company was established by B.E. Allen in 1917 with a factory in Wellsville, OH and later had offices in East Liverpool, OH. In the early years production consisted of small items such as cups, bowls, coffee mugs, ashtrays, etc. as the years went by new wares, shapes and designs were added to the line.

From the very beginning the primary customer base of the Sterling China Company were hotels and the company continues to operate today as a major supplier of hotel dinnerware. During WWII they supplied a tremendous amount of china to the military and also manufactured china for a few railroad companies.

Over the years Sterling China acquired other hotel ware factories such as Scammell, Lamberton, the Puerto Rico factory of Iroquois and Wellsville. It is not unusual to see Sterling China marks that include one of the above names. Shortly after WWII, Russel Wright designed a few styles for Sterling China and MOST of these pieces are clearly marked. If the backstamp includes "East Liverpool, Ohio" or "Wellsville, Ohio" then it too was made by the Sterling China Company.

Frank A. Sebring opened a factory in Sebring, OH around 1918 under the name of Sterling China Company. It did not operate under this name for very long due to the already existing company in Wellsville and it was changed to the Sebring China Co. This name went bust pretty quickly too due to the similarity in name to the Sebring Pottery Co. in East Liverpool, OH.
Mr. Sebring once again renamed the company to Limoges China Company. In the late 1940s the company was threated with a lawsuit from the Haviland interest in Limoges, France over use of the word "Limoges" and was settled when Mr. Sebring successfully renamed his company the "American Limoges China Co." Wares made by Sebring under the Sterling name are marked very simply with Sterling Co. and sometimes include a crown.

To further add to the confusion, Colonial Pottery Company of East Liverpool, OH which was in operation from 1902 – 1929 also had a mark with the word "Sterling" above a wreath which encircles stylized initial for Colonial Pottery Co. beneath the wreath is the word "Porcelain."
Homer Laughlin also used the "sterling" work on backstamps early in his career.
Taking all of this in to consideration and based on the style of your items I would date it to the early to mid 1900s. As to which company actually made the wash basin and pitcher set I cannot say with any certainty without viewing the backstamp. Resale value, no matter which company made it, is $45-$50 if in excellent condition.

I certainly hope that this has helped to answer your question and not add further confusion. One thing is for sure, the marks on pieces give us a tremendous amount of information.

Note: All prices given are for sale in a private sale, antique shop or other resale outlet. Price is also dependent upon the geographic area in which you are selling. Auction value, selling to a dealer or pawnshop prices are about half or less of resale value.

Michelle Staley is a Lenexa, KS-based dealer and researcher with 35 years of experience in the antique trade. Send questions with photos to Michelle to Please keep queries to one question; questions without photos of the item may not be answered. Michelle is also available for consulting and extensive research work beyond this column. If you would like an appraisal on an antique or collectible please go to for a one on one appraisal.