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    

Red Wing Stoneware #4 Gallon Crock Daisy Petal Top Lid Bar Handle Cover PotteryAntique Red Wing Stoneware 25 Gallon Crock Bale Handle Daisy Pattern Large LidAntique 19th C Stoneware Flower Decorated Pennsylvania Cake Crock W/ LidRed Wing Stoneware Excelsior Springs Miniature Mini Jug Excellent ConditionAntique White Hall Stoneware Illinois Blue & White Pottery Lunch Hour Seated PigH T Williams 6 Gallon Stoneware Crock Decorated Stoneware Crock...jas. Hamilton & Co..pa Early Antique..Red Wing Stoneware Sponge Band/grey Line 4 Inch Bowl Bottom MarkedWhite Hall Pottery Works Illinois Stoneware No Spill Baby Chick Chicken WatererVintage Breweriana Hanleys Bulldog Ale And Lager Beer Hanging Sign*nr* Antique Stoneware: Figural Bennington Rockingham Book Flask Bottle, Ca.1860Early White Hall Il Pottery Stoneware 5 Gallon Two Handle Crock Field Jug MarkedWonderful Old/vintage 5 Gallon Red Wing Stoneware Crock With HandlesWhite Hall Stoneware Illinois Pottery Sewer Tile Lunch Hour Large Toad Frog OoakAntique Stoneware: Rare Whites Utica Ny 1896 Syracuse Turners Souvenir Stein MugAntique 19th C Stoneware Es&b New Brighton Pennsylvania 4 Gal Jug Glaze DripsRed Wing Stoneware 9 Inch Nokomis Vase #195, Bottom StampedBeautiful Vintage 9" Stoneware Crock Jug With Salt Fire Glaze White Hall Whsp&s Illinois Pottery Stoneware 2 Gallon Crock Jar Columns PatternAntique Red Wing Union Stoneware 4 Gallon Birch Leaves Elephant Ear CrockAntique 19th C Stoneware Flower Decorated Maryland Ovoid Crock 10 3/4"White Hall Stoneware Illinois Pottery Mary Lyons 1912 Large Cake Plate Crock LidRare Vintage Advertising Stoneware Crock “adams & Son Hardware Co, Sturgis Ms”Double Sided Red Wing Advertising Beater Crock Stoneware Jar Baxter IowaAntique Stoneware: White's Utica Hunt Pitcher W/ Dogs & Horses, Ny, C1890s, RareRed Wing Stoneware 3 Gal Preserve Crock Jar Locking Lid UnionEarly White Hall Stoneware Illinois Pottery #2 Crock Presentation Jar Mrs M WeilA Rare German Saltglazed Stoneware Lidded Jug Of Westerwald Type, Dated 1696 Vintage Stoneware Three (3) Gallon CrockRed Wing Stoneware Elephant Ash Reciever #875 Bottom MarkedStoneware Pottery Sewer Tile Dog Doorstop Red Wing White Hall Western ? BulldogAntique Stoneware: Bennington Vt Picture Frame & Peale's Silhouette Portrait, NrAntique C 1899 Cobalt Stenciled "zachman & Myers Stoneware Stacker Jug YqzAntique 6 Gallon Pickle Stoneware Crock ~ Cobalt Blue Tulip FlowerWonderful Old/vintage 3 Gallon Red Wing Stoneware CrockDecorated Stoneware Mug Incised A.a. Van Loon Fort Edward Ny Fulper Bros &coStorage #47: Circa 1865 2g Stoneware Jar With Freehand From Greensboro, PaLyons Antique Stoneware Jar Crock With Cobalt Blue Wreath I Gal Size Good ConditPrimitive Antique Stoneware Jug Bottle With Bail Handle *akron Ohio* Pat PendEarly Huge 5 Gal Ovoid Jug , Druggist Advertising Stoneware Jug With Cobalt BlueAntique 19th Century Ovoid Redware Jug Crock Americana Early Stoneware1890-1910 Stoneware Mini Advertising Jug - Sweet Mash Corn Jacksonville, FlaAntique Blue Waffle Weave Stoneware Old Salt Butter Crock Daisies Mccoy?*nr* Antique Stoneware: Rare Miniature Whites Utica Ny Freundschaft Schnapps MugLarge! Antique C 1870 Baltimore/philidelphia Salt Glazed Stoneware 2g Jug Nr YqzVintage Anita Meaders Face Jug Alkaline GlazeAntique German Villeroy & Boch Mettlach Monumental Stoneware Punch Tureen Nr YqzExquisite Vintage Robinson Ransbottom Luxor Stoneware Birdhouse 7 1/4" Tall Jug Salt Glaze Stoneware Crock Light Brown Or Tan Old Vintage 9" Butter Churn?Antique Stoneware Crock Brown Whiskey Salt Glaze Jug Single Handle NiceVintage Breweriana Cremo Old Stock Ale Bottle Holder Die CutLe Creuset Stoneware Butter Dish Lime Green 13-40 Rare Antique Coffee Pot Ceres Blue Wheat 1859 Elsmore & Forster IronstoneVintage Stoneware Mini Jug, "compliments Of Henning & Weige"Antique W.h. Lehew & Co. Strasburg Va Stoneware Crock Water Cooler Wooden KegAntique Flower Decorated Stoneware Jar/crock 1 1/2 Gal. Made In Va Or Md ?3 Dansk Blue Mist 5" Soup Cereal Berry Dessert Bowls Stoneware DenmarkAntique Red Wing Stoneware 5 & 6 Gallon Crock Bar Handle Daisy Petal Pattern LidAntique White Pitcher Cockson & Chetwynd IronstoneRed Wing Gopher On Football Red Wing Potteries Red Wing Minn Stoneware/pottery