Stoneware is the roughhewn cousin of porcelain. Like porcelain, it is fired at very high temperatures (1,200 to 1,400 degrees), literally melting the minerals (usually feldspar) within the clay to create a non-porous ceramic. This makes stoneware an excellent container for food storage, which is why so many 19th- and 20th-century stoneware pieces were made in the shapes of crocks, jugs, jars, and other household items. Stoneware also has terrific insulating properties, which means it keeps items cool, but can also handle the heat.

In the late 1700s, Wedgwood and other Staffordshire potteries popularized the ware. Because it is non-porous, stoneware could be used unglazed, but most English potteries glazed their pieces by adding salt to the kiln in which the stoneware was being fired. Upon being heated, the salt would vaporize, leaving a glossy layer of sodium silicate on the object.

Just after the Revolutionary War, American potters practiced roughly the same techniques. A rich vein of feldspathic clay ran through Staten Island and New Jersey, so New York and its neighbor became centers for stoneware. Famous 19th-century potter families included Morgan of New Jersey and Crolius and Remmey of New York. Farther afield there were the Nortons of Vermont and Hamiltons of Pennsylvania. All produced egg-shaped jugs, barrel-shaped water coolers, and cylindrical butter churns.

Since salt glazing was not a perfect science, potters in northern New York devised a brown liquid known as Albany slip to seal the interiors of their pieces. Sometimes the slip was also poured over the outside of items to give them a darker hue and enable potters to scratch designs and legends onto their surfaces. Toward the end of the 19th century, spongeware glazing treatments were also found on stoneware.

Though initially dominated by potters, a few factories used stoneware to produce commodities like sewer tiles. For collectors, one of the most interesting footnotes to this aspect of U.S. stoneware history is what happened at the end of a factory’s shift. That’s when workers would fashion everything from animals to busts to baseballs from the leftover clay. Naturally these pieces are highly prized by contemporary stoneware collectors.

Another stoneware player of interest to collectors was Anna Pottery of Illinois. From 1859 until 1896, the Kirkpatrick brothers who ran the pottery made stoneware tobacco pipes, butter churns, storage jugs and jars, and hanging baskets. Today, though, they are best known for their so-called railroad pigs and snake jars.

Usually fashioned as a horizontal flask, with a stopper plugging its end, the kneeling white or brownish pigs featured railroad routes and local, geographic maps on their ample sides, incised and then highlighted with a soft cobalt glaze. Sometimes the names of routes and elaborate, folk-art-like inscriptions would be written on the pig’s back, other times rivers would be depicted coursing through the porcine countryside...

The Kirkpatrick’s other signature item was the snake jar or jug, which betrayed Wallace Kirkpatrick’s love of the reptiles. Snake jugs ranged from simple pieces labeled with the words “Little Brown Jug” on the side and a snake coiled around the jug’s neck, to elaborate objects that riffed on the political cartoons of Thomas Nast and portrayed New York City’s William Tweed and his cronies as a tangle of slithering serpents.

By 1877, Red Wing Stoneware had been founded in Minnesota. Red Wing produced hand-turned jugs, water coolers, and butter churns, some with capacities of up to 40 gallons. Many of these earliest farmhouse pieces had the classic, glassy, mottled, salt-glazed surfaces that we associate with stoneware of this era.

At first, the decorations of these pieces were limited to a single hand-painted blue flower, a tornado shape, or perhaps a small bird. But in the early 20th century, Red Wing replaced its salt glaze with a zinc glaze known as Bristol. The resulting bone-white surface gave Red Wing food-storage products a clean, sanitary appearance.

Just as importantly, Bristol gave Red Wing’s designers a neutral background for decoration, from the “red wing” that would become the company’s logo to custom designs for advertisers. Red Wing had a great run, but by 1947 demand for stoneware had dropped to the point that Red Wing discontinued the line.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Gouda Design

Gouda Design

Stuart Lonsdale and Kim Lindley's excellent tribute to and reference on Gouda Dutch Art Pottery and Delftware. The … [read review or visit site]

The Bowes Museum: Ceramics

The Bowes Museum: Ceramics

This gallery showcases highlights from the 5,000 items in the museum's ceramics collection dating from 1500-1900. I… [read review or visit site]

Cowan Pottery Museum Associates

Cowan Pottery Museum Associates

Dedicated to raising awareness of the ceramic art work of R. Guy Cowan and his Cowan Pottery Studio in northeastern… [read review or visit site]

Ceramics at The V&A

Ceramics at The V&A

A great reference on ceramics from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Learn about different ceramics techniques and st… [read review or visit site]

The Pottery Studio

The Pottery Studio

This 7,000-plus page site lives up to its self-billing as a 'knowledge base' with examples of work from all major a… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Stoneware Jug Cobalt Blue Bird Floral Ny PotteryVintage Red Wing Stoneware 1 Gallon Advertising Crock With Bar Lid! Wowwweee*nr* Antique Stoneware: 4g Ny Jug W/ Double Birds On Stump, Ft. Edward, Ca.1875Vintage Crock Pottery Advertising Rolling Pin - Wm. F. Siewert & Co.Antique 9" Tall West Troy Ny Pottery Glazed Cobalt Stoneware 2 Crock Blue BirdAntique Stoneware: 4g Crock W/ Cobalt Floral, E&lp Norton, Bennington Vt, C.1870Antique C 1865 Cowden & Wilcox Pa Salt Glazed Cobalt Flower Stoneware Crock YqzAafa Massachusetts Cobalt Blue Decorated Stoneware Jug Somerset Potters Works 1/2 Gallon Stoneware Advertising Script Jug Allentown, Pa Blue Decorated CrockAntique Red Wing Minn. Union Stoneware #131-12" Angels Oil Jar Cherub Floor VaseAntique C 1899 Baltimore/philadelphia 1½ G Cobalt Stoneware Butter Churn Lid YqzAntique Stoneware Wax Sealer Canning Jar 8 1/2" W/ Cobalt LinesAntique Stoneware Wax Sealer Canning Jar 8 1/2" W/ Cobalt DecorationRare Antique Adam Caire Po' Keepsie Ny Stoneware Crock With BirdAntique Stoneware: Miniature Crock W/ Primitive Cobalt Bird, Att Ma, C.1860, Nr!Antique Stoneware Wax Sealer Canning Jar 6.25" W/ Cobalt LinesYelloware Covered Butter Crock W Early Applied Bar Handle Zanesville Mccoy BrushVintage Orange Band Stoneware Advertising Rolling Pin Strahorns Robertson Iowa Antique Western Stoneware 2 Gallon Butter Churn Crock ~ 13" TallNice Antique Decorated Stoneware Crock Marked White & Wood, Binghamton, New YorkAntique 19th C Stoneware Decorated Baltimore Maryland 3 Gallon Crock P. HerrmannStoneware 1 Gal. Butter Crock; "return To R. H. Hicks"; Cobalt DecoratedAntique 19th C Stoneware Decorated Baltimore Maryland 2 Gallon Crock P. HerrmannAntique Stoneware Jug, Cobalt Blue Script M.h. Haussling,newark ,n.j.(nice !)Antique Redwing Red Wing Stoneware Jug W/ Blue Decoration - Large 15"Aafa 19th Blue & White Spongeware Milk Pitcher Blue & White Stoneware Pitcher Antique Salt Glazed Stoneware Crock Cobalt Stencil Flowers L. M Mead OhioBaltimore, Md. Estate 1 Gallon Blue Flower Decorated Handled Stoneware CrockA Keeper - London Saltglazed Stoneware Jug / Bottle, Possibly Fulham, Circa 1780Red Wing Stoneware 4 Gallon Crock Lid Top Star Union Stoneware Cover Redwing Antique Cobalt Decorated Stoneware Pitcher - Pottery Beauty With Loss Antique 1 Gallon New York Stone Ware Co Blue Decoration Stoneware JugAntique 19thc Stoneware Red Wing Bee Sting Decorated 4 Gallon Crock Churn 1 Quart Chas Parker Lewiston Idaho Advertising Stoneware Jug Spokane Pottery CoAntique 2 Gallon New York Stone Ware Co Blue Decoration Fort Edward Ny Jug4 Gallon Red Wing Double P CrockWestern Stoneware Jug12" Antique Flow Blue Stoneware Plate Platter Vtg Homemade Wire Rack Vine FlowerAntique Stoneware Pottery Crock Light W/ Blue Markings 10 1/4" Tall X 6 3/4" DiaRare 1 1/2 Gal J. Norton & Co. Bennington Vt Cobalt Bird Decorated Stoneware JugStoneware Wme Warner West Troy Crock Blue Decorated Flowers 3 Gallons NyBlue Wreath Blue & White Pottery Stoneware Jug Bank Circa 1900 Ex Condition! NrMini Jug 3" B&h Peabody Club Whiskey Kirspell ,kenmore & C0 Esau, Arkansas Doulton Lambeth Stoneware 3 Piece Condiment Set 1877 Artist SignedAntique Vtg Salt Glaze 5" Stoneware Blue Trim Pitcher Side Handle PalcementAntique Miniature Whiskey Jug Crock Pottery Albany Glaze 1/2 Quart 1800s VintageEarly Marked Stedman & Seymour, Ovoid Stoneware Jug New Haven, ConnecticutVintage Murphy's Boston Stoneware # 2 Jug Antique Stoneware Pottery Crock Dark W/ Blue Markings 9" Tall X 5 1/2" DiameterVintage Short Bros, Moberly, Mo Guckenheimer Stoneware Mini JugAntique Fort Dodge Stoneware Co. (iowa) Brown Crock 5″ BowlScarce Two Miniature Stoneware Jugs - Southern PotteryLarge Jacob Medinger Redware JarT. F. Reppert, Greensboro, Pennsylvania Stoneware Butter Crock W/ "successor" AdOld Stoneware Salt Glazed Crock With Cobalt Blue Decoration On 4 Sides 10"Antique 2 Gallon Stoneware Jug Blue Decoration Fa Buck & Co Boston MassRare!! Antique Medinger & Bros Grocers Stoneware Jug Baltimore Maryland Vintage J. Simonds Whiskey Beer Soda Jug Stoneware Salt Glazed 19th CenturyVintage Red Wing Crock Union Stoneware 4 Gallon With Lid Antique Salt Glaze Stoneware Pitcher W/ Cow High Relief Green And Cream