Upsala-Ekeby – The Rise and Fall of a Company

upsala-ekeby - the rise and fall of a company

Upsala-Ekeby AB was a ceramic and glass company founded in 1886. At the outset, the main focus was the manufacture of brick and tiles for making those gorgeous tiled stoves you find in older houses and apartments all over Sweden. The first few years, they made 500 stoves/year, but in the early 1900s, production was up to 30,000 stoves a year.

In 1887, in an an effort to expand their product line, a potter was hired for making plates, vases and ash trays. This turned out to be a good idea, and production grew in all areas. Over the next few decades, Upsala-Ekeby participated in many large expositions, and acquired several other companies. By 1917, they employed around 300 people.

In the 1920s, central heating was becoming more and more common, and demand for the tiled stoves was steadily declining. By the 1930s, people were starting to look for stylish everyday objects – they wanted both function and form in their homes. The decision was made to focus on wall tiles and craft art, and Gefle porcelain factory was acquired. Two designers were also hired: Anna-Lisa Thomson and Sven Erik Skawonius (Skawonius was later appointed art director for the entire group of companies).

In the 1940s, Upsala-Ekeby made their last tiled stove, and two more designers were hired: Ingrid Atterberg and Mari Simmulson, who both created gorgeous, mod, graphic pieces like vases, bowls and wall plaques.

The 1950s were Upsala-Ekeby’s grandest period. More potters and artists were hired, their export business grew in leaps and bounds, and craft art became very popular.

In the 60s, several more companies were acquired (among them the famous Rorstrand, Reijmyre, and Kosta Boda). But at this point, cheap, mass-produced products had started to flood the market. The artists started to leave, and new hires only stayed for short periods. Fewer craft art items were being produced, giving way to more standardized products in order to be able to compete in the market.

In the 70s, Upsala-Ekeby started selling off and closing companies. By 1973, production of all craft art ceased, and in 1978, the company closed their doors for good. What happened? Some speculate that when the demand for their products was at its greatest, the company was not able to deliver top quality on time. Others think that the acquisition of other companies may have been too broad and fast. Whatever the reason, they left behind a large amount of gorgeous mid-century pottery that looks as good today as it did back then.

Today, Upsala-Ekeby products are sought after collectors’ items. Many of Skawonius’ works, as well as other Upsala-Ekeby products, can be seen at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. There are a number of blogs, websites and even an entire antique shop in Sweden which only focuses on Upsala-Ekeby products.

If you want to know if that old heirloom or flea market find is an Upsala-Ekeby design, just look on the bottom – you should either see the words Upsala-Ekeby, or a stamp with the letters UE, a serial number and the initials of the designer.

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