Dear Helaine and Joe:
This pretty little vase was my mother’s, but I wonder if it was first her mother’s. Most of the things my mother had were midcentury modern, but this little vase stands out as being different. It is 51/2 inches tall and 5 inches across.
It has a delicate white flower on the front with green leaves with some gold. There is some damage to one of the petals. The bottom of the vase is marked with the number 613, a star shape and “Nancy China” written in script. Can you tell me how old it might be?
Dear J. A.:
Yes, we have a reasonable range for when this piece was made, but unfortunately, its current owner may be a bit disappointed because it is not as old as she seems to hopes.
Searching on the web for “Nancy China” several possibilities pop up. There is, for example, “Fancy Nancy,” “Miss Nancy,” “Aunt Nancy,” Daum Nancy,” “Nancy Lewis,” Nancy Gallagher” and on and on and on.
Contrary to popular belief, the web is practically useless in this case. If, for example, you try a site like eBay, a couple of examples do turn up for sale. Unfortunately, the information that accompanies these entries does not answer J. A.’s question (not even close).
A good library, however, does help. A fast check of Lehner’s Encyclopedia of U. S. Marks on Pottery, Porcelain and Clay supplies the data required in this case — kinda sorta. Lehner reports that Nancy China was founded by Gerber Plumbing Fixtures Corporation in Woodbridge, N.J.
We checked and found Gerber is still in business (founded in 1932), and they do indeed claim to have founded Nancy China during the World War II years when there was a downturn in the demand for plumbing fixtures. The problem is Gerber was and is located in Woodridge, Ill., and not Woodbridge, N.J.
This leads us to believe there was a mix-up in the location of the enterprise, but not in the identity of the establishing company or the time of the founding. Gerber’s website does not give the exact time of Nancy China’s formation or the date when it closed, but there seems to be consensus among various sources that this ware was produced for only a short time in the 1940s.
Generally, the products of Nancy China are described as being “artware,” but we think today’s collectors might dub it “commercial artware” because there is a very real aspect of mass production. To be sure, the petals on the flower decorating the vase belonging to J. A. were probably hand-applied, but this is a relatively repetitive task that could be done by a worker as opposed to an actual artist.
The damage on the vase is not all that unsightly, but it is there and would make this piece hard to sell. As is, the insurance value of this early to mid-1940s vase is less than $25.