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.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
The Bowes Museum: Ceramics
Ceramics at The V&A
Cowan Pottery Museum Associates
The Pottery Studio
Clubs & Associations
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Stoneware
Source: Google News
Pottery artist shows variety of creationsLondon Free Press, July 9th
By Joe Belanger, The London Free Press. Wednesday, July 9, 2014 9:20:06 EDT PM. Occasional Pot #1 is part of a new exhibition of stoneware by Steve Irvine, on at Jonathon Bancroft-Snell Gallery, 258 Dundas St. until July 26. Tweet · Bookmark and Share...Read more
On DisplayNewHampshire.com, July 8th
Stoneware by Bob Roy (including the one above, titled 'Man at Work') and oil paintings by Rick Dickinson (including the piece at left, 'For Sail') are on view at the East Colony Fine Art gallery, 55 S. Commercial St., Manchester through Saturday, July 26...Read more
High flyer explores his passion for potteryThe Age, July 7th
Very early pieces from the 19th century, such as the majolica glazed or stoneware water filters, are now worth up to $10,000 to the network of Campbell collectors. These are considered museum quality. Other Holy Grail items are the character or ''Toby...Read more
Stoneware mugs available for purchase to fund Moore Township's 250th ...Allentown Morning Call, July 3rd
Moore Township residents and natives can purchase stoneware-style mugs with the township's name and date of founding as a special fundraiser for the township's 250th anniversary celebration in 2015. Westerwald Pottery is producing the mugs. They are ...Read more
Louisville Stoneware hosts summer pottery studioWDRB, June 28th
Louisville Stoneware is hosting a Paint Your Own Pottery Studio this summer. It's a chance to customize a pottery piece. Using the same tools and glazes as Stoneware's artisans, and after a quick tutorial, you'll decorate your masterpiece. Once...Read more
New Geneva Stoneware closingUniontown Herald Standard, June 25th
GERMAN TWP. — Thirty-six years ago, Linn Newman wanted to open a store that would rekindle a tradition — one that had brought attention to a couple towns along the Monongahela River. kAmx? `hfg[ }6H>2? 2?5 E9C66 3FD:?6DD A2CE?6CD @A6?65 ...Read more
Martin Brothers birds fly highTelegraph.co.uk, June 23rd
A tall Martin Brothers stoneware bird jar and cover by Robert Wallace Martin, modelled standing A tall Martin Brothers stoneware bird jar and cover by Robert Wallace Martin, in matt green and brown glazes with blue highlights, and raised on an ebonised ...Read more
Kentucky Stoneware hosting wine and chocolate tastingThe Courier-Journal, June 13th
The Third Thursday Lifestyle Series featuring the companies is from 5 to 7 p.m. Louisville Stoneware holds these monthly events to showcase local companies and products that complement Louisville Stoneware products and promote buying Kentucky Proud ...Read more