Two decades ago, it wasn’t uncommon to see once sought-after Frankoma collectibles being neglected in antique stores and flea markets, but interest in Frankoma pottery has made a comeback.
A testament to the company’s tenacious past, collectors are once more interested in Frankoma pottery and driving up the price of vintage items, with the value of some rare pieces going into the thousands.
Today, we’ll look at Frankoma pottery’s complicated and remarkable history, how to date and identify the vintage antiques, and what to expect in terms of prices and value.
Frankoma Pottery History
Knowing the history of Frankoma pottery is integral to understanding the passion and enthusiasm for its pieces.
John Nathan Frank and his wife Grace Lee Bowman founded the company in 1933 in Norman, Oklahoma, during the Great Depression.
Frank was an art teacher at the University of Oklahoma, where he met Joseph Taylor, a brilliant sculptor and artist. He joined the company, which they renamed from ‘Frank Potteries’ to Frankoma Pottery.
The ‘oma’ was added to represent Oklahoma!
The company moved its pottery business from Norman to Sapulpa in February of 1938, but disaster struck only eight months later when a massive fire burnt down the new factory building, destroying all but a few of the original Frankoma molds used to make their pieces.
Facing unbelievable adversity during the darkest economic period of the 20th century, the company rebuilt and started operations again.
Frank died in 1973, but his company’s legacy carried on through his wife and both daughters—Donna and Joniece Frank—who had also become involved with the business.
Tragically, the company suffered another catastrophic fire in 1985, burning the entire plant to the ground for a second time. But John Frank had learned his lesson.
Before his death, he’d ensured the safety of the master molds by keeping them in a fire-proof room, so the company was able to rebuild and quickly resume production within a year.
The Frankoma name did not die with the sale of the company. Donna and Joniece started the Frankoma family collectors association in the mid-1990s and created an art pottery studio called ‘FrankX2’ in recent years.
For a deeper understanding of Frankoma pottery’s remarkable journey of adversity and perseverance, check out Donna Frank’s book Clay in the Master’s Hands.
Dating Frankoma Pottery
Every piece of Frankoma pottery falls into one of three distinct periods, which can establish the type of clay used.
Figuring out the time period of Frankoma pottery is the first step to determining its rarity and value.
John Frank consulted with several geologists to determine the most suitable clay to work with when he started the company.
For the first nineteen years, all Frankoma pottery was made using light, beige-colored clay found in the Arbuckle Mountains near the southern Oklahoma town of Ada. Even after moving the company to Sapulpa, this same clay was shipped over a hundred miles each week to make Frankoma pottery.
Colloquially known as Ada Clay by collectors and enthusiasts, pottery from this period is the rarest and most valuable amongst Frankoma collections.
Ada clay is lighter and has a tan color, and is characterized by a more muted glaze, giving the pottery a classically “old” look.
In 1954, Frank switched to a reddish, brick-colored clay found in Sugar Loaf Hill, Oklahoma. Known as ‘Sapula Clay,’ this new material was rich in minerals and noticeably changed many glazes’ look.
Using the “wet finger method,” the unglazed bottom of the piece reveals a rich, red clay which determines its time period. Frankoma pottery made from this local Sapulpa clay will still bring in good value depending on its condition and rareness.
With advancements in technology bringing changes to the manufacturing process, additives started being mixed with the clay after the early 80s, giving Frankoma pottery a much lighter, pinkish/orange hue.
While pieces from this period won’t have the same value as the older ones, they are still considered collector’s items, and no set is complete without them.
You can have a look yourself to learn how to date Frankoma pottery by the color of its clay.
Identifying Vintage Frankoma Pottery
The best way to identify vintage Frankoma pottery is to examine its markings, but this can sometimes be tricky as many Frankoma pieces’ specific markings have changed and evolved.
Here is a quick guide on how to spot many of the variations you’re likely to find on a vintage piece of Frankoma pottery:
The first pieces of Frankoma pottery made in 1933 were marked with the insignia ‘Frank Potteries’—the company’s original name. The location of their plant, Norman Oklahoma, was sometimes also marked on these very first pieces.
Given that the company incorporated one year later and changed its markings, Frankoma pottery with the original signature is extremely rare to find.
Once Joseph Taylor joined the company and changed the trademark name to Frankoma Pottery, production briefly used a rubber stamp simply saying “Frankoma.” This stamp was discontinued a few years later, making older Frankoma pieces with this marking very rare.
Between 1934 and 1938, several of Frankoma’s larger pieces featured the original logo used by the company, dubbed by collectors as either the ‘the cat’ or ‘pot and puma’ mark.
The marking is of a cat walking in front of a ceramic vase above the ‘Frankoma’ insignia.
Except for the larger early pieces featuring ‘the cat,’ the rubber stamp was replaced entirely with a hand-impressed signature of ‘Frankoma,’ with a distinctly noticeable round’ O’ in the name.
Having lost everything in the 1938 fire, the company returned to the hand-signature marking once operations were up and running again, only this time making a distinctive change to the style of the ‘O’ in the name, distinguishing it as a post-1938 piece.
The company gave up hand impressions and started to modify its pottery molds to include the signature trademark. Many of these molded-in markings also had the mold number.
It’s important to note that they did not modify every mold, and some pieces of Frankoma pottery were made without any markings whatsoever.
Here are some tips on how to identify antique pottery without any markings.
Finally, John Frank was known to etch his name personally on some of his limited edition pieces. Authenticated Frankoma pottery with a personal John Frank signature is one of the most valuable collector’s items.
Frankoma Pottery Value and Notable Collectibles
Vintage Frankoma items come in a large variety of styles, colors, and pieces, and some of the company’s wares are highly sought-after.
Frankoma pottery made dinnerware, figurines, mugs, jugs, pitchers, sculptures, and vases.
The value of Frankoma antiques varies according to the usual factors of age, condition, and rarity.
Single ceramics and smaller dinnerware pieces can be as cheap as $15, but vintage items could be in the hundreds.
Some of Frankoma’s most famous ceramic dinnerware patterns—including Wagon Wheel and Mayan-Aztec—can reach up to $200 on Etsy.
Prairie Green and Desert Gold—two of Frankoma’s most popular glazes—are also two of the most valuable amongst collectors, with just about any prairie green object carrying the distinct mark.
Pitchers / Jugs
The Wagon Wheel pitcher in Prairie Green is the most popular and well-known of Frankoma’s pieces amongst non-experts. At the current market price, Frankoma wagon wheel pitchers can bring in anywhere between $40 and $65.
The Frankoma bulbous vase is another famous example, selling for over $600 in 2008.
There are hundreds of Frankoma figurines, and certain ones can bring in some of the highest value. Two of the more well-known examples are the Pacing Puma and White Buffalo figurine, garnering between $20 and $90 if in good condition without any chips or cracks.
However, some rare pieces—like this Cowboy figurine—are available on eBay for $1,500.
Another famous series of the company’s collectibles are Frankoma political mugs.
Donkey and Elephant mugs—representing the US Republican and Democratic parties—are still considered popular mugs and are valued at around $60.
A limited-edition mug, designed by Frank’s daughter during the Nixon / Ford era, is worth between $500 – $800.
Frankoma also produced a line of clay Christmas cards and sets of clay Christmas plates.
In excellent condition, a set of Frankoma dinnerware with the Christmas pattern will cost around $200.
Whether it’s a set of older Frankoma dinnerware or one of the more recent Frankoma works, owning a piece of Frankoma pottery is having part of its history and a reminder that out of the direst of circumstances, there is still hope.
A final note on safety:
According to frankomapottery.com, the leaded glazes used in early pottery production are no longer in use, but even antique Frankoma doesn’t pose any health risks as long as there are no significant crazing or chips.
Irrespective of how old a piece of Frankoma pottery is, it is safe to use in an oven or dishwasher. Though it is not generally recommended, the expensive ceramic can also withstand microwave usage for short periods of time.
Have any questions? Be sure to leave us a comment.
3 thoughts on “Vintage Frankoma Pottery Value (Identification & Price Guides)”
I have a pair of lamps that might be Frankoma pottery that I liken to modern art cactus. But nothing like the cactus Frankoma that I find on various sites. Someone wrote into my listing (Ebay) and told me that they were not Frankoma, but I do not know if he was an authority. They are not marked Frankoma. They have numbers on the bottom. They have the characteristic green and brown glaze however the bottom are whitish. They have vintage wiring making me think they are of an age when they used non polarized plugs. There two lamps both what I call cacti and as in nature they are both different. Could send pics.
I have 3 vases that were my grandmothers. She passed away back in 1997.
They have the rubber stamp mark on them with numbers, I would like to see if I can find out the value. I can send pictures
I’m sorry , they are pitchers/jugs – not vases