Tips to Identifying American Pottery

Have you ever walked into a pottery shop and wondered why everyone keeps turning the pottery over and making some sort of inspections? You probably thought it was a ritual or probably they were dusting it, or better yet emptying unwanted contents from the pottery. Well, we can tell you for sure that neither of the above reasons is correct. The truth is, many turn the pieces over to identify them.

With most American Indian pottery pieces, the bottom says a lot more than the glaze does. At the bottom you might find a name, the color of the clay used, how the piece was fired along with some other characteristics that make the pottery unique.

If you are looking to identify a marked piece if American Indian pottery, below are some ways you can.

The obvious

If you come across a piece of pottery that has some identifying marks like an artist logo and name on it, it is easy to identify the maker. But while this is wonderful and pretty straight forward, these marks are not always available. And since not all of the pottery are marked, you might have to do a little bit of reading and be resourceful.

The weight

This is the best way to identify a piece of pottery that has not been marked. Many of the American Indian pottery pieces have a specific weight to them. Their weight makes them easily distinguishable from the japan imports dated between the 1940s and 1960s which are fairly light.

Knowing the right weight however is a talent that you will have to learn over time. You should however note that it is not entirely about the weight. This is to mean that not all pottery pieces above a certain weight are American Indian. Weight has to be in relation to its size as well. For American pieces, the bottom should feel heavier and the walls should be slightly thicker than those from Japan and other countries.

The clay

The color of the clay is one of the first things you will find at the bottom of the pottery. You can identify the maker from the color of the clay. It is imperative that you look for the unglazed area to better determine the color of the clay.

The foot

The glazing, markings and shape of the foot or base of the pottery can be just as revealing of the texture and color of the clay. The foot is the part that makes contact with the surface it has been placed on. Many of the pottery pieces available on the market have a round bottom that experts refer to as the dry foot.

There are some pottery that come with a completely unglazed or dry bottom and those that have wedged bottom shapes.

The Royal Copley used different bars at the bottom while the American Bisque made use of the wedged bottoms often.


For years 3 numbers were used to identify the shapes of the American Indian Pottery. There are some companies that only made use of two numbers for specific shapes and there are those that used four. Bear in mind that the numbers are not handwritten but they are inscribed in the mold at the foot of the pottery.

In addition to the numbers, you should pay attention to the tilt of the numbers. If you notice a tilt on the numbers inscribed at the foot of the pottery, it probably is Brush pot or McCoy pottery. There are also some companies that have the pottery marked with a letter and a number separated by a dash. As such, you should not be shocked when you find an engraving ‘M-3333’.

With these tips, you are more than good to go identifying an unmarked pottery piece of art. Constantly build on your identification skills though to be accurate and more precise.