The founder of the company, John Frank, came to Oklahoma in 1927 as an art and pottery teacher at the University of Oklahoma. Working on various geological digs, he discovered the rich clays of the region and set up a studio using a butter churn to mix the clay and a fruit jar to grind the glazes. It wasn't long until he left his teaching position to further his love for creating pottery, according to the company's website.
Frankoma pieces made since 1954 sport a red clay from Sapulpa, Okla. in comparison to the older pieces formed with a tan colored clay dug at Ada, Okla. Using these source names of Sapulpa and Ada, along with glaze colors and item styles, collectors are able to identify and date Frankoma Pottery.
Frankoma's Inspiration and Colors
The Great Southwest served as inspiration for many Frankoma works. The factory formed pitchers shaped like wagon wheels, attractive boot-shaped vases and interesting Native American masks over the years. Even their dinnerware patterns have a western flair.
Two of their most recognizable glazes are named Prairie Green and Desert Gold. In fact, many people associate Frankoma entirely with their medium green glaze that seemed rather dated and unattractive for quite a few years. Since both these colors were used extensively over the years, it's the type of clay used in the piece rather than the color of the glaze, which determines value.
Many of their works, such as their dated political mugs shaped like elephants and donkeys, feature a wide variety of colors. Other series pieces, including bicentennial plates, were also very colorful. And most of these pieces are still relatively affordable, even for the beginning collector.
The colorful political mugs range in price from about $10-60 and bicentennial plates generally sell in the $15 range with a couple of exceptions for rarities. A 1974 Nixon/Ford elephant mug can sell for several hundred dollars because so few were produced. And a 1972 plate, with the word "states" spelled as "statis" because of a mold flaw, usually sells for more than $100. Many of the Wagon Wheel dinnerware pieces still sell for less than $20 apiece, with only the serving pieces pressing into the $30-75 range.
With the older Frankoma pieces being hard to find and priced quite high, listing in the $1,000-$5,000 range per piece when sold by a knowledgeable dealer, the more recent Frankoma works have garnered some interest during the past few years. The dusty treasures once ignored by pottery shoppers have taken on a new light as collectors make a place for them in their homes.
Frankoma Pottery in the Home
People who use their pottery find Frankoma to be rugged and durable. The Frankoma Family Collectors Association website reports getting many queries about lead being an issue when using this pottery for food service.
In their frequently asked questions section, the site assures readers that food and Frankoma do indeed mix well. They caution against serving food on imported pottery low-fired with brightly colored glazes, but state that the founder of the company was always diligent in making sure Frankoma pottery was safe for use.
More on Frankoma
For a transportable guide to take along on shopping trips, collectors recommend Frankoma Pottery - 1933 through 1990 by Gary Schaum. This comprehensive reference book shows virtually every piece of Frankoma produced since the factory's birth, lists all glazes with dates of production and provides estimated values as well.
Using resources like this one, collectors can learn about the various shapes Frankoma developed and colors used over time. Once familiar with all the varieties made by the Oklahoma factory, dusting off those items languishing on flea market shelves can take on a whole new meaning.