|By Susan Emerson Nutter
CHICAGO, Ill. — The closing of any 100-year-old business makes one take pause – to reflect on what has come before and what will no longer be. In May 2016, the Haeger Potteries ceased its manufacturing operations in East Dundee, Ill., and so the beginning of the end began.
The company’s president, Alexandra Haeger Estes, stated in a letter posted to the company’s website: “This is the most difficult decision we have faced. The ongoing recession has reduced our customer base, and foreign competition has decimated our artware and decorative accessory business. Gift shops and independent furniture stores are almost non-existent, and the larger stores that have survived are purchasing goods from abroad. The reality is that we are finding it more and more difficult to compete in a market with significant wage pressure, increased regulation, and generally rising costs.”
Haeger Potteries was founded in 1871 by David H. Haeger as the Dundee Brick Company, which manufactured bricks used to help rebuild Chicago after that infamous fire. In the 1900s, David Haeger’s son, Edmund, stepped into the leadership role of formalizing a pottery company. It was the pottery’s display at the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair that garnered the company national and international attention.
By 1938, Edmund’s son-in-law, Joseph F. Estes, became the company’s General Manager and in doing so developed Royal Haeger. In the late 1970s, his daughter Alexandra Haeger Estes became president. Haeger Potteries has been operated as a family-owned American business for four generations and has called East Dundee home for 145 years.
Estes also stated, “Haeger has an enormous connection to this community and is grateful for its ongoing support. We want to thank our wonderful and dedicated employees, our customers and suppliers for supporting our business over these many years.”
And so the final pieces from the pottery and its museum, as well as unique pieces from family members, sold via Leslie Hindman Auctioneers on Feb. 24 at their Chicago location. Many items were affordable buys. Others commanded top dollar. In the end, the auction enjoyed an 87 percent sell-through rate with several purchases taking place post-sale.
Items representing all the decades Haeger was in production – and examples by some of the pottery’s most desirable designers – found their way to the auction block, though the top lot of the sale actually sold the day after the sale.
A bid of $6,250 (est. $6,000-$8,000) won a monumental Haeger Pottery vase signed “Glenn Richardson – Designer, Alrun Guest – Ceramist, Wally Eggert – Kiln, Bob Kyle – Glaze, Ron Wallace – Glaze, Carol Lentz” that included the incised Sebastiano Maglio signature to the lower body.
Prices include a buyer’s premium.
Made in 1976, and having an ovoid form with a tapering cylindrical neck, this vase featured horizontal banded decoration and depicted classically draped women and angels painting pottery vessels. The vase stood an impressive 92 1/2 inches tall.
A 28 1/2-inch-tall hand-thrown and hand-decorated maquette (a sculptor’s small preliminary model) of the lot listed above also sold strong, making $1,625 (est. $400-$600).
Of the other vases offered for sale, a 1930s example in a cylindrical form, marked Royal Haeger by Royal Hickman and signed “Hick ’39” on the underside, realized $750 (est. $100-$200). At 15 3/4 inches tall, this vase was missing some floral elements to the base as well as a branch of the applied palm tree figure.
Lamp bases were numerous at this event. Two pottery lamp bases attributed to Harding Black, each in a bottle form with the tallest being 26 inches high, sold together for $1,063 (est. $500-$700), while two Haeger Pottery lamps – one modeled as a bucking bronco and rider with the other shaped like a pagoda – also sold together for $531 (est. $200-$400).
Other Haeger items that did well included a collection of 13 Haeger Pottery ash receivers in various shapes, forms and colors making $500 (est. $100-$200). And of course, the iconic Haeger Pottery panther figures were in demand. A lot of five panthers in various sizes with one being 24 inches in length sold together for $1,000 (est. $150-$250).
Finally, unique Haeger Pottery items also sold this day, pieces with a special significance to the company. Two oversized Hummel figures – Merry Wanderer at 14 3/4 inches high and Meditation being 32 inches high – sold together for $1,500 (est. $2,000-$4,000). Meditation wore a plaque stating – “To: Joseph F. Estes/ Best Wishes on Your 50th Anniversary/ With Haeger Industries/ Dieter Schneider and Your Friends at Goebel.”
Several oil-on-Masonite murals attributed to V.L. Howard (American, 20th century) created for Haeger Pottery for the 1934 World’s Fair were offered. Two images made $375 each; another $406; and the top seller realized $500 (est. for each was $500-$700). The top-selling mural measured 102 inches by 75 inches, showed a scene of pottery and had the word “Haeger” written on a pottery vase. The other three views showed potters throwing and decorating ware.
One of the most interesting lots to sell at this event had to be the Haeger Pottery time capsule put together for the company’s 125th anniversary. Selling for $405 (est. $100-$200), it was a mystery known only to the buyer as to what was inside.
And several lots of 20th century Mexican silver marked Royal Haeger by Royal Hickman finished off the auction. A set of five trays each circular in form and having openwork foliate handles sold for $1,875 (est. $1,500-$2,500), while a lot of five silver table articles including three pitchers and two brandy warmers reached $1,625 (est. $800-$1,200).