Not only is Frankoma Pottery highly sought after by collectors, the company itself is of great historical significance to the state of Oklahoma. The company has a fascinating history, from its beginning during the Great Depression to modern day production. Discover the history and unique characteristics of this highly collectible pottery line.
Key Frankoma Pottery History Milestones
With the opening of Frank Potteries in 1933, John Frank became proprietor of Oklahoma's first commercial producer of pottery. After just a year of operations, the enterprise's name was changed to Frankoma Pottery. For the company's first few years, Frank divided his time between teaching duties (ceramics) at the University of Oklahoma and his pottery business. In 1936, he stopped teaching and began focusing full time on Frankoma Pottery.
Frankoma Pottery operated in Norman, Oklahoma from 1933 to 1938. The business was moved a bit over 100 miles away to Sapulpa, Oklahoma during 1938. The Sapulpa plant was destroyed in a fire during its first year of operation, but was rebuilt.
Second Generation Leadership
After Frank's 1973 death, his youngest daughter, Joniece Frank, took over the business. An artist, Joniece was well-prepared for operating Frankoma Pottery, as she spent 13 years working with him before inheriting the company.
In 1938, The Frankoma Pottery factory was once again destroyed by fire (having previously burned in 1938). Thanks to a fireproof storage room for the pottery molds, they were spared. The factory was rebuilt and continued to operate, though the business never fully recovered. Frankoma Pottery closed in 1990.
In 1991, the company was purchased by Richard Bernstein, an investor and pewter maker based in Maryland. Following the sale, Joniece Frank remained with the company as VP and Kyle Costa took over the reins as president.
Joniece and her sister Donna founded the Frankoma Family Collectors Association in the mid-1990s. Based in Sapulpa, the association remains active today. The group hosts events that provide collectors with an opportunity to gather and network with one another.
More Ownership Changes
The company changed hands several times during the 2000s.
- The plant closed at the end of 2004, but was purchased a few months later by Det and Crystal Merryman, owners of the Merrymac Collection. They operated Frankoma Pottery until 2008.
- In 2008, the plant was briefly closed before being sold to antiques collector Joe Ragosta. He operated the Frankoma Pottery until the spring of 2010. It remained closed until 2012.
- During the summer of 2012, the building was sold to a manufacturer in a different industry.
- The original Frankoma molds and trademark name were sold to FPC, LLC in 2012.
Frankoma Pottery Reboot
In December 2012, pottery pieces began being produced under the Frankoma Pottery name once again. Current items can be ordered via FrankomaPottery.com. Custom pieces can also be commissioned.
Identifying Characteristics of Frankoma Pottery Marks
While many antiques and collectibles have a single definitive mark, that is not the case with Frankoma Pottery. Markings on this pottery line changed several times over the years. For example:
- Earliest pieces: The earliest pieces are marked with the phrase "Frank Potteries." Some pieces have only that phrase, while others are also marked with "Norman Oklahoma" or "Norman OKLA."
- Rubber stamp: Once the company was incorporated in 1934, the mark became a rubber stamp featuring the name Frankoma. This mark was used for only a short time, so pieces marked in this way are considered rare.
- Impressed - round O: The rubber stamp was quickly replaced with a hand-impressed mark of the name Frankoma, using a distinctive round shape for the "o." This was used until the 1938 fire.
- Cat mark: Some larger pieces produced from 1934 until the 1938 fire were marked with the company's original logo. This graphic featured a ceramic vase and a cat. Collectors refer to it as the company's cat mark.
- Impressed - oblong O: After the fire, the marking continued to be a hand impressed representation of the word Frankoma until the 1950s. However, the shape of the "o" became oblong.
- Mold marking: During the 1950s, many of the molds were modified to include the trademark, so the company stopped using hand impressions. Some molds included the mold number in addition to the trademark.
- Unmarked pieces: Some molds were not modified, so some pieces made after hand-impressing stopped do not have any marking.
- Personalized pieces: John Frank sometimes personally etched his name into pieces he created to give as gifts. Pieces marked this way are the most valuable.
Determining Frankoma Production Era by Clay Color
There are coloration differences in Frankoma Pottery relative to the clay type and additives. As a result, the coloring of the unglazed portion on the bottom of a piece can reveal its production era.
- Until 1954, Frankoma Pottery was made using light tan clay transported from the town of Ada, Oklahoma (a significant distance from Sapulpa). Pieces made during this timeframe will have a light, sandy hue.
- During 1954, Frankoma Pottery began using red brick colored clay (now called Sapulpa clay) from Sugar Loaf Hill, Oklahoma. This red brick color is definitive of pieces made from this time through early 1980.
- In 1980, the company began using additives in the Sugar Loaf Hill clay, which lightened the color from brick red to a lighter pink/orange hue.
Example Values of Frankoma Pottery Pieces
- Dinnerware: Frankoma produced several dinnerware patterns. Four-person place settings have been known to sell for $175.
Figurines: The Frankoma line features numerous figurines. The pacing puma (indicative of the company's logo) typically sells between $45 and $90, while the white buffalo can go for $20 - $40. More intricate and rare figurines can sell for several hundred dollars.
Pitchers/jugs: The value of a Frankoma wagon wheel pitcher ranges from $40 - $65.
Political mugs: Most Frankoma political mugs sell for $15 - $35. Limited edition mugs, such as the Ford/Nixon mugs crafted for the Republican Women's Organization (RWO) have sold for as much as $800.
Learn More About Frankoma Pottery
Want to learn more about Frankoma Pottery? Request a free copy of the Frankoma Reference & Price Guide by Robert and Vickie McBain, via the Frankoma Collector's Association website. If you subscribe to the website, you can also receive a free copy of The McBain Frankoma Book. Additionally, you may want to check out one or more of the other interesting books about Frankoma Pottery, each of which provides a wealth of information.