Most of the "Moby Dick" pieces are not expensive.
Dear Helaine and Joe: I am enclosing a photograph of a small chocolate pot (I think) with a “Moby Dick” pattern by Rockwell Kent. It was made by Vernon Kilns. It is 5.5 inches tall with dark blue lines and a sailboat depicted on the front. I have searched many antiques books and have yet to come across this pattern. I would appreciate it if you could tell me this item’s value. — E.G., Vero Beach, Fla.
Dear E.G.: Kent was born in 1882 in Tarrytown, N.Y. After studying with such greats as William Merritt Chase, Robert Henri and Abbott Thayer, he became an accomplished painter, illustrator, printmaker and writer.
We will not belabor his many accomplishments, but will focus on the time in 1926 when he was approached to produce an illustrated edition of Richard Henry Dana’s “Two Years Before the Mast.” But Kent demurred and suggested that he illustrate Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” instead.
Kent’s three-volume set of “Moby Dick” was published in 1930. It was filled with Kent’s haunting and dramatic black-and-white drawings and the edition sold out almost immediately. Random House issued a trade edition, also immensely popular. “Moby Dick” reportedly was a rather obscure book until the 1920s, but the new edition with Kent’s illustrations helped to bring the work to the attention of the American reading public.
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In 1931, Faye Bennison bought the Poxon China Co., which was located in Vernon, Calif., and renamed the enterprise Vernon Kilns. The Great Depression and an earthquake almost put Vernon Kilns out of business, but the company turned its attentions to art ware and dinnerware and survived.
Other than producing items for Disney, the company hired three famous designers: Kent, Gale Turnbill and Don Blandings. Kent designed three important lines for Vernon Kilns between 1938 and 1940: “Salamina,” the name of Kent’s housekeeper when he was in Greenland; “Our America,”emblematic scenes from eight different regions of the United States; and “Moby Dick.”
This last pattern, first produced in 1938, was the most popular of all the Rockwell Kent designs for Vernon Kilns. The images were taken directly from Kent’s illustrations for the book by the same name and featured sailing ships, leaping dolphins and soaring sea birds.
The designs can be found in four colors: blue, brown, maroon and, much more rarely, orange. They were used on Vernon Kilns’ very modern “Ultra” shape, and these designs are highly sought after by many collectors.
Most of the “Moby Dick” pieces are not terribly expensive. A cup-and-saucer combination in blue is $50 to $60, and a bread-and-butter plate is $25 to $30. Rarer items such as the blue 14-inch-diameter chop plate can bring $250 to $300 on the current market.
Prices for brown and maroon pieces are about the same as the blue, but examples in orange should be priced about 25 percent to 30 percent higher. The piece belonging to E.G. is a teapot rather than a chocolate pot and should be valued for insurance-replacement purposes in the $300-$400 range if it is in perfect condition.
(Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of “Price It Yourself”(HarperResource, $19.95). Contact them at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928. Email them at email@example.com.)