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 Ruckel's Stoneware Whiskey Moonshine Jug Crock W Leather StrapSalmon Falls Platter 12" X 8" Holly W/ Red Berrys Around EdgeDoulton Lambeth Large Salt Glazed Stoneware Bacchus Mask Pitcher C.1900Antique Stoneware Albany Glazed Oyster Crock/jar/jug Eastern Shore Md Estate Red Wing Stoneware Sponge Cream & Sugar W/advertising Humboldt, Minn. Rare Mint!Large Vintage Carl Harry Stalhane Swedish Modernist Stoneware Vase For RorstrandVery Rare A.p. Donaghho, Parkersburg, W.va Stoneware Canning Jar (odd Size)Old Antique Haxtun Ottman Stoneware Jug Crock Cobalt Blue Decorated Fort EdwardVintage Advertising B &w Stoneware Rolling Pin,quast Undertaking Buffalo Lake,mnPennsylvania Primitive E. Fowler Brewer Pa Stoneware CrockWhite Hall Stoneware Illinois Ruckel's Pottery Blue Glazed Sawtooth 5" Pitcher2011 Red Wing Collectors Society C Version Bird Churn Rare Stoneware/pottery Greensboro Pa Decorated Stoneware CrockEarly Small Decorated Stoneware Jar Attributed To Clarkson Crolius, C. 18002012 Red Wing Collectors Society C Version Chromoline Vase Stoneware/potteryEarly Catawba Valley Nc Stoneware 5" Decorated Jug Unusual Alkaline Glaze Vgc NrAntique J Y Covington Monroe La Louisiana Stoneware Whiskey Crock Liquor Jug OldVintage Stoneware Crock Blue Writing Jas. Hamilton Greensboro, Pa. 8 1/2"White Hall 6" Icicle PitcherStoneware ..crock...blue Decorated Stripper Colection...pieces Sold Seperaty...White Hall Stoneware Illinois Ruckel's Pottery Blue Sawtooth Squat Pitcher4 Buchan Stoneware 10 1/4" Dinner Plates Thistle Design Made In ScotlandRare Weston & Gregg Ellenville, Ny Beehive Stoneware Jug C.1869-1870 Vintage Red Wing Union Pottery Stoneware Black Letter 4 Gallon Beehive Jug Nice!Red Wing Stoneware Stacking Small 5 Inch Refrigerator Jar Blue Stripes Antique Reppert Stoneware Jar From Pennsylvania - Stencilled Floral DesignAntique Pennsylvania James Hamilton Greensboro Stoneware Crock Jar 10"Rare Ottoman Bros 4 Gal Stoneware Butter Churn With Cobalt DesignAntique Pfannebecker Stoneware Bottle, Script "b" A Great Rare Paterson Nj CrockAntique Single Tulip Pickle Stoneware Crock ~ Lincoln Electric Estate Seville OhGerman | Bellarmine Stoneware Jug Lot Three Pieces Bartmannskrug (19th/20th Ct)Stoneware .. Cream Crock...blue Decorated Stripper Colection...sold Seperaty...Rare Antique Canning Jar Sealer From Pennsylvania With Cobalt Stripes -- MintAafa Signed Cobalt Blue Decorated Stoneware Cake Crock5 Dansk Brown Mist Denmark Rim Luncheon/salad Dishes, Stoneware. Impressed Antique Cowden & Wilcox Primitive Stoneware Crock Pottery Decorated JugAntique Stoneware: Rare Noah White Ovoid Crock W/ Lid & Cobalt, Utica Ny, C.1840Antique Primitive Stoneware Crock Pottery Decorated R&b Diebboll Washington, Mi Antique Stoneware Jug 1 Gal. Pristine Decorated JugIowa Advertising Red Wing Pottery Stoneware Sponge Band Gray Line Casserole +lidAntique Stoneware: Flint Enamel Book Flask, Lyman & Fenton, Bennington Vt, 1850sHenry Bartels Advertising Mini Whisley Jug "the Little One"Attractive English Saltglazed Stoneware Spirit Barrel, Dated 1847Rare Iron Mountain Martha's Flowers Stoneware 6 Cup Teapot Nancy Patterson Lamb Old Red Wing Advertising Blue Band Stoneware Crock Hazel Pure Food Co ChicagoVintage Stoneware Mini Jug, "compliments Of Roth & Co., Klossner,minn"/minnesotaLot Of 2 Juliska Stoneware Pewter Bakers Rectangular & Square - Made In PortugalJuliska Country Estate Delft Blue Set Of 4 Spring Salad Desert Plates In Box 8 7/8" Antique Pinched Spout Pitcher StonewareAntique Weir Stoneware Quart Crock, Los Angeles Olive Growers Association- Nr!Antique Stoneware Ginger Beer Bottle J. Ladd’s Adelaide Port And Gawler With BluLouisville Stoneware Clock Antique Scobert's Whipped Cream Cottage Cheese 9 Lbs. Stoneware Pottery Crock3 Gallon Crock, Maple Leaf, Western Stoneware, Monmouth Il Antique Blue And White Stoneware Crock Grecian Columns Cows And Cornshocks Cabin18th C.german Stoneware Lidded Stein Tankard ''marked''Hand Thrown Stoneware Salt Glazed Crock Cobalt Blue On Gray White Hall Stoneware Illinois Ruckel's Pottery Blue Glazed Sawtooth Mini BowlAntique 19th C Stoneware Decorated Maryland Small Canning Jar Crock 8.5/8" Advertising Stoneware Whiskey Jug E. Swasey & Co Portland Me.