In 1878, Andreas Bauer, later known as J. Andy or J.A. Bauer, started his life in the pottery business in Louisville, Kentucky at Preston Street Pottery, which was owned by his eldest brother John. By 1885, J. Andy struck out on his own, purchasing Paducah Pottery, in Paducah, KY.
The company gained success producing a variety of utilitarian pieces for direct sale and to other manufacturers and distillers, such as crocks, whiskey jugs, and oil jars. The company also produced standard redware pieces for the garden, like flowerpots, saucers, seed pans and hanging baskets.
In 1910, after having wintered in Southern California a few times, Bauer decided to seek relief from the Midwestern cold and move his family and business to Los Angeles permanently. The J.A. Bauer Pottery Company opened in Lincoln Heights, just north of downtown. Initially, they began producing many of the same items that had been made in Paducah, but they didn’t stop there. Bauer Pottery quickly added items more suited to their new surroundings. A wider variety of nursery and floral items joined the line, as well as western-styled pieces befitting the California bungalow aesthetic, such as the Indian bowl.
During the next decade, potters Louis Ipsen and Matt Carlton would join the company. Business expanded with floral and gardenwares continuing to drive much of the company’s production. As the company grew, so too did J.A. Bauer’s personal fortune. He owned multiple properties in Pasadena and a ranch in Norwalk. He was active in his church and other community organizations. In 1922, he retired, selling two-thirds of the company to investors from the Bernheim family of Louisville and the other third to his daughter Eva and son-in-law Watson Bockman. The next year, J.A. Bauer passed away in his sleep, a little over a month before his 67th birthday.
Though the man was gone, the company that bore his name carried on. Despite its success to that point, the company was yet to create the pottery that Bauer’s name is associated with to this day. Seeking change and growth, the Bernheim family spurred the transformation of the company with the introduction of a line of dinnerware, designed by Ipsen and Carlton. This “yelloware” line (tinted earthenware with transparent glazes) stood out, as typical dinnerware of the time was almost exclusively white.
The decision was made to add more color to the pottery line, which prompted the hiring of ceramic engineer Victor Houser. A set of ringed flower pots in different colors was the first test, and salesmen quickly snapped them up. A line of brightly colored dinnerware followed soon after.
Despite the popularity of the colored pottery they produced, the Bernheims were losing business primarily due to poor management. In 1929, they sold their two-thirds of the company to J.A. Bauer’s son-in-law Watson Bockman, who held the remaining third. Thus began the most famous era of Bauer pottery. Despite Bockman’s early ambivalence to Houser and his colored glazes, the California ring line, or “ruffled” as it was referred to at the time, exploded. The ring pattern, credited to Ipsen, took over and was applied to anything and everything. Plates, coffee mugs, beer steins, butter dishes, carafes, pitchers, mixing bowls, cigarette holders, honey pots, candle holders and more were all encircled by Bauer’s rings.
Bauer’s colors sold well across the west with some penetration in eastern U.S. However, the 1936 introduction of the Fiesta line by the Homer Laughlin China Company in West Virginia effectively halted further eastward expansion by Bauer pottery. Homer Laughlin’s location, larger automated production lines, and established sales network gave them the advantage in the east.
As the 1930s drew to a close, the colorful era of Bauer pottery began to wane as well. By the early 40s, war loomed and access to crucial materials such as copper, tin, lead, and uranium among others was limited because they were vital to the war effort. Unfortunately, they were also vital to producing Bauer’s brightly colored pottery line.
Through the 1940s and 50s, changing tastes, modern styles, adjustments to the glaze formulas, as well as competition from lines like Russel Wright’s American Modern pushed the evolution of the Bauer product lines. New Bauer dinnerware like La Linda, Al Fresco, and Monterey Moderne owed more to the aesthetics of Russel Wright and mid-century modern design than to Ipsen’s rings.
Failure to modernize their production processes, as well as battles with the pottery worker’s union, finally led to the demise of the company. A strike vote was approved in October of 1961 and little new work was done after that. In March of 1962, the plant was closed.
Decades after the original factory ceased production, Bauer Pottery continues to captivate antique collectors across the country. In 1998, current owner Janek Boniecki purchased the trademark rights to reproduce Bauer Pottery designs. Thus began the newest era of Bauer. Using existing vintage pieces to derive new molds, the company now manufactures replicas of original Bauer designs, in many original and new colors. Now manufactured without harmful elements like lead and uranium, 21st-century collectors can feel confident that while their Bauer 2000 pottery is glazed as brightly as the original line, it is completely food-safe.
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