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.
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Recent News: Stoneware
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Beautiful Christmas table setting ideasTelegraph.co.uk, December 7th
2 Flat stoneware plate in grey glaze, £60, Kasper Würtz at Sigmar. 3 Filigree imprint side plate, £14, Anthropologie, as before. 4 Linea Bronzo cutlery, from £12, Mepra Spa, and 5 Argon decanter in blue, £240, Waterford Crystal, both Heal's, as before...Read more
Five for your planner: Sunday, Dec. 8Herald-Mail Media, December 7th
Stoneware bowls, basins, mugs, cups, pitchers, teapots, flowerpots, vases and more for sale by the Mont Alto Pottery Guild and the Nicodemus Center for Ceramic Studies at Penn State Mont Alto. 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday, Dec. 9, through Wednesday ...Read more
Shop Talk | Duo's 'sun spot' accessories out of this worldThe Courier-Journal, December 7th
American Printing House for the Blind; Art Eatables; Clair Raabe Glass; Derby Dinner Playhouse Gift Shop; Frazier History Museum Gift Shop; Kentucky Science Center Gift Shop; Kentucky Derby Museum; Louisville Stoneware; Muhammad Ali Center Store; ...Read more
Louisville Stoneware to get faceliftBusiness First of Louisville, December 5th
The upgrades, which are expected to take about two months, will include renovated restrooms and the addition of a kitchen for cooking demonstrations to show off ways the company's stoneware can be used. The overhaul also will include a new look for the ...Read more
re: Wayne Madison, Stoneware's man of many hatsThe Courier-Journal, November 26th
There's even a Stoneware tile embedded in the floor to commemorate the addition. I have a whole bunch of hats in my office. Those hats represent the many hats I wear at Stoneware — I'm in charge of security, maintenance, assembly and I oversee the...Read more
Sunset Hill Stoneware pottery company partners with The Hang Up Gallery of ...Appleton Post Crescent, November 18th
NEENAH — Sunset Hill Stoneware, a full-service production pottery company in Neenah, has partnered with The Hang Up Gallery of Fine Art to sell handcrafted pottery in downtown Neenah. Customers can now visit The Hang Up Gallery, 204 W. Wisconsin ...Read more
Hack Cheap Stoneware Containers Into A Stylish Hanging GardenLifehacker Australia, November 13th
Hack Cheap Stoneware Containers Into A Stylish Hanging Garden. Chris Jager 14 November 2013 4:30 PM. Share Discuss Bookmark. Hanging gardens are a great way to add a little colour and sophistication to your home's walls — but the good looking ...Read more
Gift pick No. 9: Ben Medansky's irreverent stonewareLos Angeles Times, November 10th
Only about a year has passed since Ben Medansky started his own studio, but already his cheeky wabi sabi ceramics have landed on the shelves of stores in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York. “Ceramics is something you do every day,” ...Read more