September 21, 2021

Van Briggle Glazes 1969-1988 by Jeff Stevenson, June 2021

Introduction
1968 was an important year for the Van Briggle Pottery Company, as that was the year all
operations were consolidated at the 21st Street plant (located in the old Midland Terminal
Railroad roundhouse) after the Memorial plant on Uintah Street was sold to Colorado College.
The following year, 1969, was an important year for me personally, as it was the year I started
working at the pottery. Early that year, my dad, Ken Stevenson, who had worked at Van Briggle
since the late 50s, purchased the company from J.H. Lewis, who was ready to retire after
running the pottery since the early 1920s. As summer approached, my dad asked if I’d like to
work at the pottery for the summer, and I jumped at the chance. I was 13 years old, and ended
up working at VB until late 1988: summers and Saturdays until 1977, and then full-time after
that. During those years, a number of new glazes were introduced, and others were
discontinued or modified. This short article is intended to provide a summary of all the glazes
produced during that time.


1969-1977

From the mid-1950s until 1969, Van Briggle pottery was produced at the two locations listed
above. Pieces with matte glazes (Turquoise Ming, Moonglo, and Persian Rose) were made at
the Memorial plant, and pieces with gloss glazes were made at the 21st Street plant. To
differentiate them from the traditional matte pieces, gloss pieces were labelled “Anna Van
Briggle” instead of “Van Briggle” on the bottom. This led to all kinds of confusion; people were
constantly coming up to us at the sales counter and saying, “I’ve got a piece of Van Briggle
personally signed by Anna Van Briggle. What’s it worth?” Needless to say, they were
disappointed when we told them that their piece dated from the 50s or 60s (and that Mrs. Van
Briggle was actually named Anne, not Anna). Fortunately, after operations were consolidated
at the Roundhouse, the “Anna Van” designation was dropped, and all pieces from then on –
matte or gloss – were labelled “Van Briggle”.


Persian Rose was discontinued when the Memorial plant shut down (due to poor sales,
according to my dad), so when I started at Van Briggle in the summer of 1969, there were only
5 glazes in production: 2 matte glazes (Turquoise Ming and Moonglo) and 3 gloss glazes (Jet
Black, Brown, and Dark Brown).


Turquoise Ming, the signature glaze, actually consisted of two glazes: a base turquoise glaze
(applied by dipping followed by spraying) and a blue “mottling” or overglaze (applied by
spraying). Moonglo was an off-white glaze (without mottling) applied by dipping followed by
spraying).


Regarding the gloss glazes, I’ve seen brochures from the 1960s that refer to a brown glaze
called Honey Gold, but we never used that term while I worked there, and the photos I’ve seen
of Honey Gold pieces lead me to believe that that glaze was modified in the late 60s to the
brown and dark brown that were in production when I started at Van Briggle in 1969. The gloss
glazes were sometimes referred to as “Volcanic Ash” glazes. I think this was mostly for
marketing purposes, although their recipes did include some bentonite, which is a clay derived
from the decomposition of volcanic ash.

While the matte glazes required two applications (dipping followed by spraying), the gloss
glazes were applied with a single dipping step. After dipping (and drying), the black glaze was
generally topped (again by dipping) with a white overglaze (which looked bluish due to
interaction with the colorants in the black glaze), and the brown glaze was generally topped
with either a white or green (or, occasionally, black) overglaze. Flatware, such as the leaf and
butterfly trays, were frequently decorated with splashes of white, green, dark green, and/or
yellow overglaze (applied with a paint brush).


Overall, I’d guess that up until the time the gloss glazes were discontinued in the late 70s, the
number of pieces produced in each glaze was approximately as follows:


Turquoise Ming 30%
Moonglo 20%
Brown 25%
Jet Black 20%
Dark Brown 5%

A large percentage of the brown and black pieces produced in the 1960s and 1970s were
personalized mugs, tumblers, pitchers, and ashtrays, so the percentage of “art pieces”
produced in the gloss glazes was somewhat lower than the numbers above would indicate.


One significant factor that complicated the consolidation of operations at the 21st Street plant
was the fact that the pottery at each plant was fired at a significantly different temperature.
The matte glazes (formerly produced at the Memorial plant) were fired to Cone 6
(approximately 2200 degrees F.) and were applied to pieces thrown or slip-cast using a clay
body (i.e., mixture of clays and other minerals) specifically designed for those glazes and that
high firing temperature. On the other hand, the gloss glazed pieces produced at the 21st Street
plant were only fired to Cone 03 (approximately 2000 degrees F.) on a very different clay body
developed for these lower temperature glazes.


So, when I first started working at Van Briggle in the summer of 1969, both clay bodies were in
use. There were two “blungers” (large steel tanks with motorized stirring paddles) in the slipcasting area for mixing up the two different slips, and it was very important that the casters,
etchers, and glazers all kept track as to whether or not each piece was cast or thrown using
“Van Briggle” or “Anna Van” clay, to make sure each piece received the right kind of glaze.


To simplify matters, Joe Jezek and Fred Wills (in 1970, I think) came up with a “compromise”
clay body that was compatible with both the high temperature matte glazes and the low
temperature gloss glazes. This greatly simplified the production process, although the fact that
the new clay could withstand the high temperatures of the matte glazes meant that it was
significantly under-fired when used for the gloss glazes. As a result, the gloss glazed pieces
were not as strong as the matte-glazed pieces. As noted below, incompatibility between the
new clay and the gloss glazes also led to an increased tendency to craze (i.e., develop hairline
cracks in the glaze).


Joe Jezek’s retirement in the early 1970s left Van Briggle without an experienced glaze
chemist. As my high school graduation approached in 1973, I suggested to my dad that
maybe I should pursue a degree in Ceramic Engineering to try to fill that void. He thought that
was a great idea, so in the fall of 1973 I enrolled at the University of Missouri-Rolla (now
Missouri University of Science and Technology). I returned home each summer to work at Van
Briggle (throwing demonstration pot for the tours, loading and unloading kilns, applying gloss
glazes to bisque ware, etc.), and then, after graduating in the spring of 1977, went to work full-
time. From then until I left the company in late 1988, I was responsible for glaze development
(and troubleshooting), and also shared general management responsibilities with my dad.


1977 – 1988
During the mid-1970s, the gloss glazes – especially the brown glaze – showed an increasing
tendency to develop hairline cracks (referred to as crazing) soon after firing. This was puzzling,
as nothing had changed in either the glaze or clay recipes. I actually began trying to address
this issue while still in college, focusing my senior project on that topic, and I continued to try
to come up with a solution after graduating and beginning full-time work at Van Briggle. I
developed several alternative glaze recipes that showed some promise, but ultimately (1978, I
believe), we decided to discontinue the gloss glazes. Actually, I think my dad welcomed having
a legitimate reason to discontinue them, as he wasn’t much of a fan of gloss glazes anyway.
So, for a handful of years, we essentially only produced matte-glazed pieces, although we
would still occasionally make small production runs of the low-temperature gloss glazes to
provide regular customers with replacement personalized mugs and that sort of thing.


During this time period, I developed a number of new glazes., which are described below.
Unfortunately, I left most of my notes behind when I left Van Briggle in late 1988 to go to
graduate school, so for the most part I’m relying on memories from many years ago. Hopefully,
over time, others will be able to provide additional information.

More information from Jeff Stevenson will be added with each glaze color under the GLAZES drop-down menu. Thanks to Jeff for this much sought-after information; which could have easily been lost had he not been inclined to take his time and attention to record for the benefit of all collectors!

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