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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Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker Review: Let the Internet Help with DinnerGizmodo, August 1st
Its six quart pull-out, dishwasher-safe stoneware dish is ensconced in a polished aluminum base. The entire unit measures about 14 x 10 x 17 inches and weighs 15 pounds. Its minimalist faceplate consists of an LED temperature display noting the...Read more
Ask Martha | Summery salad dressingsThe Courier-Journal, August 1st
Q: What's the best way to remove stains from glazed stoneware? A: Tackle stains on glazed stoneware with baking soda. Run a damp cloth over a bar of soap, then sprinkle it with baking soda and rub it over the surface. (Don't use this method on antiques...Read more
Stoneware Yogurt Maker: Not For NovicesSanta monica Observed, July 26th
That's why, when VitaClay offered me the opportunity to review their new Stoneware Yogurt Maker and Personal Slow Cooker, I was instantly filled with noble visions of saving the world from my plastic consumption, as well as creating unique and healthy ...Read more
Princess Anne visited Highland Stoneware in Lochinver todaySutherland Northern Times, July 25th
Highland Stone today welcomed HRH The Princess Royal to its Lochinver workshop to mark the company's 40th anniversary. Princess Anne met with staff and was given a tour of all processes used in the production of Highland Stoneware's distinctive quality ...Read more
Princess Anne to visit Lochinver on FridaySutherland Northern Times, July 22nd
Staff at Highland Stoneware in Lochinver are preparing to welcome an important guest on Friday morning as Princess Anne visits the workshop to mark the company's 40th anniversary. The visit will be followed by an Open Day at Highland Stoneware from ...Read more
Christmas starts in July at Louisville StonewareLouisville Business First, July 16th
Many consumers wait until Christmas is only days away to buy their gifts, but manufacturers always work well in advance of the holiday season. Louisville Stoneware has started production of 3,500 ornaments that it will sell during the holiday season...Read more
Louisville Stoneware lecture seriesThe Courier-Journal, July 11th
The next Third Thursday Lifestyle Series is this week at Louisville Stoneware. The series will feature Valerie Schirmer from Three Toads Farm demonstrating how to pot succulents in stoneware and an offer for a free planting. Succulents have thick...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