How to make a thrift store for vintage Heath ceramics

Shopping at thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales can be overwhelming. With the sheer volume of things, how do you know where to start? How to spot the gems among all the trash?

As a professional dealer who has been combing through thrift stores for nearly 30 years, I can help. If you’re ready to cut your shopping time in half, score bigger deals, or walk away with some bragging-worthy finds you can flip for cash, read on.

From hard-to-find household items to resale revenue, anything in my “Thrift Shop Like a Pro” series is considered a BOLO (“on the prowl”) item. When you find it, buy it!

Featured Discovery: Heath Vintage Ceramic

Heath Ceramics was founded in 1948 by Edith Heath and her husband, Brian Heath. Trained at the Chicago Art Institute and the San Francisco Art Institute, Edith was the potter.

The couple launched the business shortly after Edith’s dinnerware caught the eye of Gump’s, a San Francisco-based luxury homewares retailer.

Behind the scenes, Brian managed the business and helped design new equipment to automate production without sacrificing quality.

Together, Edith and Brian have made Heath Ceramics an internationally renowned brand known for its high quality modern tableware as well as its architectural tiles.

Shortly before Edith’s death in 2005, Heath Ceramics was purchased by the design team of Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey. Thanks to collaborations with new artists and an expanded product line that includes wallpaper and linens, the company is still going strong.

Why buy it?

Edith Heath is a mid-century icon. His designs are deceptively simple, the result of exacting standards and an incredible understanding of the properties of different clays and glazes.

His work is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In practice, Heath rooms are incredibly easy to live with. The glazes are fairly neutral, and the clay formulation used by the company has produced durable tableware that can last for generations. If you’re lucky enough to come across a complete set, consider making it your daily dish.

And if you’re interested in reselling for profit, Heath Dishes make the wishes come true.

This large serving bowl recently sold for $250 on eBay and these four dinner plates sold for $125. On Etsy, this hand-thrown studio bowl costs — brace yourself — $8,500. If that doesn’t get your thrift shop juices flowing, I don’t know what will.

What to look for

No need to guess if you have found an authentic Heath. The vintage pieces are well marked with a printed logo on the underside.

The most common version features an all caps “HEATH” with the falling line of the “T” falling lower than the wordmark to create an “L” shape. A small inverted triangle rests on the horizontal line of the “L”. Although there is little information to help us deconstruct the logo, I believe the “L” and triangle combination is meant to evoke a piece of pottery lying on a table or a potter’s wheel.

Pro tip: On factory-made pieces, the printed HEATH mark is often obscured by glaze that builds up during the firing process. Confirm the manufacturer by examining the bottom surface from different angles. The changing light helps capture the subtle details of the logo.

Heath studio pieces are usually hand marked with a single incised “HEATH” in capital letters. If you’re not careful, you could easily dismiss the “signature” as that of a high school art student or hobby potter.

While all vintage pieces are valuable, Heath collectors particularly appreciate the following:

  • Workshop parts: Studio pieces are unique or limited edition handmade creations. Identify them by the roughly inscribed wordmark mentioned above.
  • Serape Pieces: Heath’s Serape line features a striking blue glaze that was created by mixing three glazes with Heath’s Moonstone glaze. Fairly rare, Serape coins can sell for three times as much as other production coins.
  • Buttons: Nicknamed “kiln fillers” by Edith, the ceramic knobs were a short-lived extension of the Heath product line. Examples are so rare that I could not find any value estimates.

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