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    

Rare 1800's Pennsylvania Va Ny Cobalt Decorated Stoneware Jar With Lines And LipRed Wing Union Stoneware Co. Tiny Miniature Jug ~ Cute For Shelf ~ 3" X 2"Vintage Stoneware Blue Decorated Crock R.j.smith Grocer Wheeling, W.va. 8.5" 1800s Blue Flower Decorated 10" Stoneware Crock Maybe Baltimore 1 Gallon1800s Ottman Brothers Fort Edward, Ny 2 Gallon Cobalt Blue Quail Stoneware CrockRed Wing Stoneware 1# Butter Crock "bill's Beans" Mint ConditionColorado Advertising Stoneware Whiskey Crock Jug.red Wing Western. City BottlingRare Cobalt Dec Holmes Savage Dundee New York Early 1855 Salt Glaze Crock OvoidRed Wing Stoneware 1# Advertising Butter Crock "gould's Baked Beans" Mint Cond.Antique Robinson Rans Bottom Stoneware Water Cooler Jar Dispenser1870 Ruckels White Hall Illinois Stoneware Crock Blue Jar Saw ToothColorado Advertising Stoneware Crock Jug. Red Wing Western. Colorado CityOld Small Western Pennsylvania Striper Canner Stoneware Crock Blue DecoratedRed Wing Stoneware 1# Advertising Butter Crock M.m. Gasser Co. Mint ConditionButter Crock Salt Glaze Stoneware? 4 3/4" Tall Chocolate Brown/black Strasburg?Antique 1800's Pennsylvania Blue Gray Striped Stoneware Crock Greensboro Pa?Ruckels White Hall Illinois Stoneware Blue Saw Tooth Crock PitcherAdvertising Stoneware Beater Crock Jar L.l. Fassett From Monte Vista Colorado CoPa Decorated Stoneware Lid3 Gallon Enterprise Pottery Company Stoneware Crock New Brighton PennsylvaniaRare Meyer's Texas Stoneware Pint Jug Antique Xmas Christmas Ellison SpiritAntique Cg Taylor & Co Petersburg, Va Primitive Jug / StonewareT. Crafts & Co.whately Mass.aafa Stoneware Jug Primitive Nashua Nh InterestAntique Pa Stoneware Canning JarMiniature Stoneware JugRed Wing Pottery Nokomis Jug Pitcher Stoneware, ExcFort Dodge Iowa Plymouth Stoneware Chicken Stoneware Crock F T Wright & Son Stone Ware Taunton, Mass. Brown Glazed Bean Pot Germany | A Brown Stoneware Jug (19th/20th Century) Tienshan Stoneware Coffee Mugs Set Of Two Indian Chief In Head DressVintage Antique Stoneware Small Brown Glazed Churn Jar - No LidAntique Stoneware Whiskey JugCobalt Blue Decorated Two Gallon Stoneware Pottery Pitcher Virginia Near Mint Cowden & Wilcox Cobalt Decorated Stoneware Jug CrockW Va Decorated Stoneware Crock G W Staats Evans West Virginia Jackson County Huge Very Rare 1840s Stephen Green Lambeth Mr&mrs Caudle Stoneware Reform FlaskAntique Cowden & Wilcox Harrisburg Pa 1 Gallon Blue Flower Stoneware JugBrady & Ryan Ellenville N.y. Bluebird Stoneware Crock #6 Blue Bird 1 Gallon Vintage John B Taylor Louisville Country Fare Oval Tureen With LidBoone, Ia., Iowa ,boone Dairy Red Wing Beater Jar 1925Antique 19th C Stoneware Decorated Virginia Southern Pottery Small Pitcher 9.5"5 Antique Blue & White Stoneware Crockery Spice Jars & 2 LidsAntique Red Wing Stoneware Company Drop Eight Salt Glazed Crock 1800s Stamped Bobby Flay Stoneware Set: 5 Dinner Plates & 4 Salad Plates Pre-owned NrAntique 1876 Centennial Little Brown Jug Mini Norton Bennington Vt StonewareAntique 19th C Stoneware Flower Decorated Haddonfield New Jersey 1 Gal Pitcher Antique Stoneware Decorated CrockRare 19th C 2 Gal Pa Cobalt Blue Decorated Stoneware Tobacco Jar "fine Maccoboy"Vintage Salt Glazed New York Stoneware Co Jug With Cobalt Flower, Very Good CondAntique 19th C Stoneware Clover Decorated Maryland 1 Gal Crock Peter HerrmannAntique Decorated Stoneware Crock Jar Jas Hamilton Greensboro PaAntique Stoneware: Rare W. States Slip-glazed Ovoid Jug, Stonington, Ct, Ca.1815J Fisher Pottery 2 Gallon Jug Salt Glazed StonewareStoneware Batter JugAntique Stoneware: Rare Hartford Ct Ovoid Jar W/ Impressed Swag & Tassel, C.1825Country Fare Serving Dishes, 'rare' J.btaylor, Louisville, ZanesvilleAntique 2 Gal. Saltglaze Stoneware Jug Crock Cowden Blue Decorated SnowflakeEarly Mccoy Blue And White Bluebird Decorated Stoneware Pitcher-hallboy StyleGorgeous Antique Buckeye Pottery Bean Pot - Mountain Scene - Good ConditionAntique 2 Gal. Saltglaze Stoneware Jug Crock Blue Decorated Double Tulip