A. Teco is art pottery that was made in Terra Cotta (now Crystal Lake), Illinois, from the late 1800s to the early 1920s. The name comes from the first syllables of "terra" and "cotta." The company that produced Teco pottery, Gates Potteries, was an offshoot of the American Terra Cotta and Ceramic Company, owned by William Gates, which manufactured building materials such as bricks and drain tiles. Gates developed the ancient-looking, waxy green matte glaze that distinguishes most Teco pottery (other colors are brown, yellow, blue, pink, maroon, and buff); he and his design staff created most of the shapes. He also hired architects associated with Frank Lloyd Wright and the Chicago School to design some pieces. Most are vases in one of three defined forms: geometric, organic, or architectural.
John Toomey, owner of John Toomey Gallery (818 North Blvd., Oak Park, 708-383-5234), has handled many Teco pieces over the years, and says they come up for auction fairly often. "Teco was designed by different architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Hugh Garden, and George Grant Elmslie," he notes. "The great pieces-the organic and architectural forms-are rare. The classical forms, which were inexpensive to begin with, are more common and don’t bring as much.
It’s not always possible for nonprofessionals to tell faux Teco from the real thing, so consult an expert if you’re really curious. "I’ve seen fake Teco signatures and I’ve seen unsigned ones that are Teco, too," Toomey says. "It goes for a wide range of prices, anywhere from $300 to $100,000, depending on form, designer, and condition."