Collectors Corner: Early American Stoneware
By Michele Alice
Most people acquire stoneware to use as decorative elements in their homes. Others regard their homes as displays for all their pieces of stoneware. These are the collectors.
Early American stoneware is more than just the familiar straight-sided crock. It can range from butter churns and coolers to pitchers, jugs, birdhouses, and banks. Extremely hard and durable, stoneware results from the firing of clay at temperatures reaching over 2300 degrees Fahrenheit/1260 Celsius. Though several different glazing techniques were employed at various times and in different regions, salt glazes that produced the iconic "orange-peel" effect predominated.
Because most stoneware served utilitarian purposes, it is often difficult to find specimens in perfect condition. Many collectors will overlook the minor chips and scratches resulting from heavy everyday use, but large gouges and cracks will definitely affect value. If a piece is important, restoration can be considered, if done well and included in any description.
Size, shape, and maker's mark also affect value, but design - especially the lack thereof - can have the greatest impact. Specimens incised and/or painted with floral motifs are more common than those with birds, dogs, or other figures, but all are much more valuable than the same pieces without decoration.
The difference can be several hundred dollars or more, a fact that has encouraged the marketing of fakes and reproductions. One unscrupulous tactic is to paint a design on a genuinely old but plain piece of stoneware. Since the cobalt-blue designs on genuine pieces were created before firing and lie under the glaze, not on top, close examination can often identify the impostors.
Because stoneware was produced in such variety and abundance, collectors tend to specialize. They may collect the more common ovoid forms of the pre-1850 period or the straight-sided specimens that proliferated in the later half of the 19th century. They may concentrate on certain decorative motifs, like a favorite animal or depictions of the American flag. They may seek out particular makers or regional potteries - the Bennington (Vermont) and Red Wing (Minnesota) potteries are two of the more popular.
And while very few can afford the $100,000 or more paid at auction for some of the rarest specimens, many pieces can still be found at yard sales, junk shops, and even Goodwill thrift stores.
Interested in finding out more about this popular collectible? Check out the resources listed below, and
American Pottery Auction - Link to website - Site is especially worthwhile for their Past Auction Results and tips for spotting Reproductions and Fakes.
Collecting American Stoneware - Link to website - Well done piece by dr. crock covers all the basics.
Crocker Farm - Link to website - Auction house specializing in antique American stoneware and redware. Very informative website offers FAQ's, Highlights, lots of pics. And don't miss their blog, Fahrenheit 2300.
Early American Stoneware - Link to website - Site offers really nice photographs of current and past (Archives) offerings, but also check out the pages on collecting, books, and billheads (in this case, fancy stoneware company receipts).
Maine Antique Digest - "Recently Discovered Boynton Stoneware Cooler Highlights Spring Ceramics Sale" - Link to website - Article by Karl H. Pass about the record-setting auction of this ($103,500) and other important stoneware pieces (over $300,000 total).
Red Wing Collectors Society - Link to website - Offers History of Production, Ask the Experts, links, more.
The Weitsman Stoneware Collection - Link to website - Part of the New York State Museum. Informative intro; some nice pics.
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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