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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Ming: 50 Years That Changed China, British Museum - exhibition review: 'This ...Evening Standard, September 17th
Ceramics using the jade-like celadon glaze are equally exquisite, not least the BM's own stoneware shrine with gilded deities surrounded by decorative clouds. Ming is not the name of a ruling family but a title meaning bright or luminous. The BM has...Read more
The role of rocks in the Gaelic nationsNewsOK.com, September 16th
They have stoneware, and weight is measured in stones. When they die, they are pronounced “stone cold dead.” They are buried in stone sarcophaguses under a headstone in a churchyard surrounded by stone walls protecting the stone church. The rocks ...Read more
One-of-a-kind garments from kimono cloth and other Asiatic waresRock Hill Herald (press release), September 16th
We also have Japanese stoneware plates you can put in the dishwasher. They're $48 a piece. Tell me about these paper goods. The shapes are so sculptural. They're from a line called Wasara that includes 13 different shapes of bowls, plates and cups...Read more
Keen collector secures stoneware mug at auctionChristian Davies Antiques (blog), September 16th
A lucky bidder has managed to track down an antique tankard that he had been after for some time. The 18th-century, stoneware mug was auctioned at Woolley and Wallis in the sale for fine porcelain and pottery. The tavern tankard is dated 1740 and had ...Read more
Forty-fifth annual Antique Show and Sale set for Nov. 29 at Hunterdon Central ...Hunterdon County Democrat, September 15th
Available for purchase will be fine country furniture, folk art, antique quilts, estate jewelry, stoneware, basketry, pottery, antique prints, books, tools, rugs, dolls, glassware and Christmas items. For further information, email HunterdonAntiqueShow...Read more
Brice Stump: With antiques, memories are what matterDelmarva Daily Times, September 13th
For those of you who appreciate country things and things with appeal and history, you know that an old-time stoneware crock is unlike many other country antiques, probably in the same league with fancy, oak, gingerbread mantel clocks and large...Read more
The Buzz | Jon Carloftis at Louisville StonewareThe Courier-Journal, September 9th
Renowned garden designer and author Jon Carloftis brings his talent for awe-inspiring fall tablescapes to Louisville Stoneware's Third Thursday Lifestyle Series 5-7 p.m. Sept. 18. Carloftis will teach you to create unforgettable autumn tablescapes...Read more
Vietnam throws out Alien stonewareTTR Weekly, August 24th
HANOI, 25 August 2014: Vietnam's Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has ordered the removal of all stone statues of animals imported from China or Europe that adorn the entrances of Buddhist temples, historical relic sites and government offices...Read more