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    

Scarce Cowden & Wilcox Colbalt Floral Stoneware Batter Jug W/ Original HandleAntique C 1870 Ap Donaghho Wv Cobalt Stencil Salt Glazed Stoneware Crock Jar YqzAntique American Stoneware Water Jug Pitcher With Cobalt Blue Flower DesignAntique Palatine Wv Pottery Cobalt Stencil Dog Crock Stoneware Wax Sealer JarAntiq Stoneware Crock Whites Utica Salt Glaze Blue Bird 2 Gall. Old Letters BottAntique H.a. Schunk Family Liquor Dubuque Iowa Crock Jug Fort Dodge Stoneware CoAntique C 1820 Northeast American Rare Ovoid Form Stoneware Jar W/ Handles YqzAntique Old Breckenridge Whisky Addison Ky Stoneware 1qt Kentucky Whiskey JugAntique Stoneware: Bennington Vt Crock W/ Cobalt Floral, E & Lp Norton, C1861-81Antique Mid 19th C Pa/md Cobalt Flower 9½" Salt Glazed Stoneware Jar Crock YqzS H Sonner, Strasburg, Va 1 Gallon Blue Decorated Stoneware Jar Antique 19thc Stoneware Whites Utica New York #1 Butter Crock & Lid Hunters DeerAntique Late 19th C Ohio "4" Cobalt Stencil Salt Glazed Stoneware Crock Jar YqzOld Red Wing Beater Jar~ Advertising Munger And Kreusch~blue Banded StonewareRed Wing Stoneware Rolling Pin Tipton IowaAntique 19th C Stoneware Decorated E&lp Norton Bennington Vt Cake Crock Rare Antique 19th C Mid Western Cobalt Bee Sting Salt Glazed Stoneware Crock Jar YqzAntique New Orleans Louisiana La Stoneware Jug Croll Huber Early Southern CrockWhite Hall Stoneware 1qt Crock Illinois Pottery Whitehall IlAntique Stoneware Cobalt Decorated Jug Fort Edwards New York Ottman Bros 11.5"Antique Stoneware Jug Sunnyside Mercantile Co. Utah Old AdvertisingN & A Seymour Rome Salt Glazed Tulip Stoneware Crock Jug LargeRed Wing Union Stoneware Company 4 Page Brochure March 1, 1927 Check The Prices2014 Red Wing Collectors Society Rare Sponge Filter 1 Of 6 Stoneware/pottery Advertising Weir Crock Stoneware Mason Fruit JarAntique Saltwater Glaze Crock Stoneware Blue Bird Rowe MintVintage J. P. Connor & Co Lowell Mass Stoneware Whiskey Wine Jug Crock 9 3/4" Vintage Stoneware Advertising Whiskey Jug Pueblo,co.John Bell Stoneware, Crock Rare Shape, Waynesboro PaAntique Red Wing Union Stoneware Birth Leaf 5 Gallon Crock Bright Blue Logo RareVintage Monmouth Stoneware Pottery Old Sleepy Eye MugGerman | Bellarmine Stoneware Jug Lot Three Pieces Bartmannskrug (19th/20th Ct)Xx Rare 1936 New Hampshire Tractor License Plate XxFabulous Doulton Stoneware Bear Open Salt 4" Tall By Florence Barlow Ex Cond.Very Rare C1800 T & J Hollins Marked Georgian Classically Sprigged Stoneware JugRed Wing Stoneware Advertising Bean Pot Pillsbury North DakotaHamilton & Jones 2 Gallon Jug ? Stoneware 1870s Really NiceIron Mountain Stoneware 6-cup Teapot, Signed Kaneko '74; One-of-a-kind; RareWhite Hall Stoneware Beater Jar Illinois Pottery Whitehall IlAntique 1890's Western Pa Cobalt Stencil "4" Salt Glazed Stoneware Crock Nr YqzPrimitive A.p. Donaghlo Parkersburg West Virginia 3 Gallon Stenciled Stoneware JSuperbly Sprigged 1830s Derbyshire Georgian Pheasant & Hare Stoneware Coffee PotNice Find! Vintage "haxstun & Co. Fort Edward, Ny" Blue Decorated StonewareFitz & Floyd Habitat Americana "regatta" Nautical 20-piece Dinnerware Dish SetEarly 19th C New England Cobalt Blue Decorated 4 Gallon Stoneware CrockUltra Rare Redwing Stoneware 3lb Butter Crock "w. J. Dougan The Babies Milkman" Antique C 1822 D Goodale Connecticut Cobalt Salt Glazed Stoneware Jar Crock YqzAntique 19th C Stoneware Red Wing Midwest Tornado Bee Sting 3 Gallon Jug 15 1/2"Antique Stoneware Crock Whiskey Crock Antique Moonshine Jug #2 W/ Blue ExcellentVintage Dansk Niels Refsgaard Blt Blue & Gray Stoneware 12 Piece Set, Pristine!L. Lewith & Son Wilkes-barre Pa Liquor Vendor (2) Gal. Stoneware Whiskey JugRed Wing Mason Fruit Jar (union Stoneware Company)Antique 19th C Stoneware Bee Sting Decorated Midwest Red Wing 4 Gal Crock 11.5"F.t. Wright & Sons Blue Cobalt Design CrockJuliska Set Of Four Colette Green Beverage GlassesMini Stoneware Red Wing Jug Dixie Club M.r. Miller Co Bristol Va 1 1/2 Oz JugNice Find! Vintage "r.h. Macy & Co. New York" Stoneware Handled Jug-nrVintage Stoneware Bowl - Green & Yellow Ware -cool Design- Large Bastine Pottery Noblesville Indiana 1983 Bowl Antique Stoneware Butter Crock With Daisies