Kass China Company
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The Kass China Company was a small, "backyard" pottery in East Liverpool, Ohio. It was founded by John B. Kass (1891 - 1946) in the mid-1930s. The small plant remained in business until 1971. They produced art ware and other novelties. One of his daughters, June Kass Jackson (1926 - 2009) wrote a letter to pottery author and historian Jo Cunningham in 1971. A portion of the letter reads, "Our art ware had a fine china body decorated by hand in colorful lusters and trimmed in gold. We made salt and peppers, animal figures, vases, and many other items too numerous to mention. Later we also went into the ware decorating business, decorating Hall teapots, Homer Laughlin China, and other ware from district potteries."

Lucille Cox wrote many articles about the pottery industry in the East Liverpool area. Her work on Kass China, titled "Kass Family Perfects 'Backyard Pottery' Art", ran in East Liverpool's Evening Review on September 6, 1940:

The only authentic "backyard" pottery in East Liverpool is located in the home of John Kass, Bavarian potter, of Vine Street.

Genuine china, translucent in texture and exquisite in workmanship, is being made in the three-tired basement of Mr. Kass's home, which occupies a lot 22 1/2 by 100 feet.

The backyard pottery is an important factor in the American pottery industry. Many successful domestic potteries, both past and present, proudly trace their heritage to a small, clay-dusted, clapboard building erected near a lay mine many years ago.

There is nothing antiquated about the pottery of the Kass China Co. It is modern in equipment and product and is a family organization. Mr. Kass, his wife and their son and daughters produce the novelties and miniatures which are bringing much recognition to this unusual pottery.

Here is a splendid example of what the best in American backyard pottery making can mean to the industry.

John Kass is a talented and highly-trained potter who went to work in a Bavarian plant when he was 17. Quality, fine workmanship, attention to detail were drilled into his apprenticeship.

His training was completed at some of the finest shops in the Old World. While still a young man, he decided to come to America. Some of his experiences in the early potteries of East Liverpool are worth recounting.

In the "old country," pottery artists were men apart. Their work was highly specialized and they were treated with deference. The young Bavarian's first job in East Liverpool found him working at a bench which formerly had been occupied by an untidy artist who possessed an insatiable appetite for tobacco, as indicated by piles of empty bags and dried wads beneath the bench. Mr. Kass, naturally methodical, was disturbed by this disorder. However, as it was time for the "July Loaf," when every plant was given a thorough cleaning, he did not ask for the refuse to be removed.

Two weeks later, when he returned, the rubbish still was beneath his bench. Indignantly he inquired why it had not been cleared away. Much to his amazement he discovered the management expected the employees to do their own cleaning.

This he refused to do - he was hired as an artist, not a sweeper. Furthermore he was not responsible for the debris. His employer insisted, becoming quite dictatorial in his demands. John Kass removed his apron, collected his pay and walked out of the pottery.

Unfortunately his dreams of a successful future in this country did not materialize immediately. Hard luck seemed to dodge his footsteps. Ill health caused him to leave the potteries in 1923, the depression forced him out of the shoe business in 1933. By this time Mr. Kass had recovered his health fully. He had a trade and possessed a deep appreciation of fine ware. The artistic urge to create beautiful pottery no longer could be denied. He resolved with the aid of his talented family, once again to return to the pottery business, this time as a manufacturer.

In 1935, he obtained his equipment from one of the potteries in town which had failed during the depression. It was installed in the basement of his hillside home and there he began making pottery. From that small beginning the Kass China Co. has grown until it fairly spirals down the hill in back of his home.

The kiln stack, standing 60 feet from its base, rises 32-feet in the air among the neighborhood houses and is one of the reasons for the success of the Kass novelties. This kiln is an exact miniature duplicate of the high-fire kilns used in European china works and can reach excessive temperatures required for china with a minimum amount of firing hours.

The little plant fairly hums with activity. The products made by the unusual family in its most extraordinary home are as outstanding as the makers. A rare quality of appeal has been captured and used as un unstamped trademark. These young people guided and directed by their father who is a master potter in every sense of the word, work enthusiastically and artistically. They know every step of china-making from the mixing of the body to the final decoration.

The knowledge is not confined to the masculine portion of the family alone for each girl in the Kass household is as familiar with the manufacturing of pottery as her brother. They work cooperatively, filling in wherever needed. Their work shows a love of beauty, artistic ability and a keen interest in the job they are doing.

The pottery continued after his death in 1946. His children are mentioned in the article, but not named. They are son John B. Kass (1914 - 1983), daughters Mary Kass Burlingame (1917 - 1980), Wallburgis Kass Clark (1921 - 1985), Ruth Emily Kass DiLucca (1922 - 1983), and June Kass Jackson as mentioned at the beginning of this page. After their mother Amelia Walderhaug Kass (1890 - 1970) died, the pottery was closed.

Kass China order sheet from the mid to late 1950s. At this time, they were decorating wares made by local potteries and mainly with U. S. state specific decals. K-11, the demitasse cup and saucer was made by the Taylor, Smith & Taylor Co. K-19, K-20, K-10, and K-10B were all made at Harker Pottery. The shakers, K-8, were made by the Homer Laughlin China Company.

Left: a pair of Homer Laughlin restuarant ware plates made in the late 1960s. The spray along the rim would have been done at HLC. Kass China added the blue bird decals. They left most of HLC's logo on the back, but marked out the pottery's name in gold before adding their own. Courtesy: R. Hindes.
Right: an East Liverpool Lion's Club ashtray decorated by Kass China.

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