Collecting antique stoneware is a very rewarding and deep study which has hundreds of paths one could walk.
The basis of antique stoneware is rooted in American history. That history could apply to your home town, your home state or could apply just in general to American history as a whole. We know collectors with backgrounds and family lineage going back generations to other parts of the world that find fascination in the journey their fore-bearers took coming to this country, so it could even be global history. One thing is certain which is, that each collector has their own eye. This means that each collector sees in these forms, histories, colors, artistry, backgrounds and makers, something they like to be around. Something that makes them happy and something that fulfills a part of their life which is very private yet happy to be shown off and discussed.
Our story with collecting antique stoneware began as a fun side hobby. The more we learned the deeper the meaning became. This evidence of early Americans settling our country is one of just a few places you can go to learn how America unfolded. It's all there, in clay, in front of you. AND YOU CAN OWN IT!
In the 1600's and 1700's (mostly) early Americans made red ware or earthenware. Even into the 1800's red ware was still being made. This is another great area to collect, but much much harder to figure out who made it, when, why and where. Most is not stamped by the makers. Some red ware is intricate and incredible and like stoneware, some is utilitarian and plain. This is all in the collectors eye and is opinion not factual. Some see vast beauty in the primitive nature of early pieces.
Starting in the mid 1700's potteries began making stoneware and as time went on began stamping their names and towns on the pieces. This allows for documentation and answers the questions of who, where, and when. Then you can attach that information to the historical record of that person(pottery), that town city or village and the date at which this all happened.
The stories of perseverance, courage, dedication and grit are amazing and the more you learn the deeper it gets. There are stories of adventure, risk taking, innovation, patriotism and of course artistic prowess.
Visit the museums! New York State Museum (Albany N.Y.), Bennington Museum (Bennington VT) are great places to start and have huge collections of amazing stoneware.
GOOD HUNTING! If you find something let us know we will help!
American antique salt glazed stoneware collecting makes a great hobby and a historically deep and important study of our American culture. The manufacture of this ware encompasses a very long lineage of trial and error processes that evolved into the stunning pieces you see here on our website. This work was done largely in the 1700's and 1800's here is America by talented and hard working artisans driven to make quality ware for the American home.
One question that comes up regularly from beginning collectors is , " What IS salt glaze?"
Salt glazing stoneware was a process that was first brought to America by immigrants arriving on our shores from Europe in the 1700's. Until this process was introduced to our society, only red ware or earthenware was being manufactured. Red ware is made of red clay which was easily found in most areas of The United States. Farmers would locate and mine red clay and use the winter months to make primitive plates, tankards, bowls, crocks, flasks and more. Some farmers made ware just for use in their home, others made extra and sold or bartered them in the spring when they could fire the kiln. Red ware had some short falls in that the ware was brittle and easily broken. It also was somewhat porous and did not hold liquids for a long period of time.
When the artisans from Europe brought the art of making salt glazed stoneware to America it changed every household in the country. Stoneware clay was much more sturdy and held liquids for an extended period allowing for canning and the making of preserves.
The process began with the clay. In The United States the first stoneware clay deposits were found in and around New York and New Jersey. Along the Raritan Bay near Cheesequake opposite from New York City on the coast of New Jersey, a huge stoneware clay deposit was found in the 1700's and mining there took place until the Industrial Revolution ended the stoneware era around 1900. That deposit along with others in Long Island and surrounding Long Island Sound supplied most of America's stoneware clay for over 100 years.
The clay, mined in New Jersey and New York, needed to be distributed so this was done by two methods originally and then a third later on. Initially, the clay was cut into raw blocks and loaded on horse or ox drawn wagons and hauled overland to the pottery or to a distribution dock where the clay was barged to another dock to be picked up once gain by wagon and taken to the pottery. Later on, when the railroads were built clay was loaded by rail and distributed that way.
The potter would need to clear the clay of impurities consisting of minerals and pebbles lodged in the clay. If these impurities ended up in the kiln and subsequently fired at 2200 degrees, they would expand and actually explode causing damage to that piece and pieces near that piece in the kiln. Once cleaned the potter could make the ware by "throwing" the clay on a kick wheel. The ware would be set on a drying rack, dried and then glazed for firing in the kiln. Most stoneware was fired upside down as the interiors would be washed with Albany slip glaze and need not be salt glazed to hold water. After the glazed dried, now it was time to load and fire the kiln. Some estimates speak of ten cords of hardwood needing to be loaded in the one, two or possibly three days of firing, in the wood burning kiln. Temperatures needed to reach 2200 degrees for an extended time to harden the stoneware to rock hard consistency.
Shortly before the firing was over and at the peek of the blazing hot temperatures, the potter would climb to the top of the kiln, open a small hatch and pour in buckets of salt. The amount was predicated on the size of the kiln and the amount of ware fired. The salt would immediately vaporize in the intense heat of the kiln, form a wet gas and this would settle on the stoneware inside, evenly coating the exterior of the ware. This salt glaze would harden as the kiln cooled and the coating would turn to a glass-like surface on the outside of the ware. This helped the stoneware become very durable and strong. It also gave the pottery a clean, shiny, finished look.
This was the finishing touch to a process developed through trial and error over hundreds of years.
Glazes used on antique American Stoneware were generally cobalt and Albany slip glazes.
Cobalt glaze is the blue coloration that makes our American antique stoneware so beautiful. The glaze itself was purchased for the most part by the potteries in powder form and was mostly imported from England or other parts of Europe. It was a very high expense to the potter and during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 at a complete premium. The glaze was mixed with water to form a paste and brushed or hand applied to early stoneware. Later stoneware made use of a slip cup. These were similar to cake decorators and when filled with the now liquid cobalt glaze could leave a trail of the glaze behind as it was moved across the stoneware vessel. Artisans would create farm scenes, animal or birds, scripted company names or multitudes of flower varieties. There was really no end to the creativity, as the better your ware looked, the faster it sold!
Albany slip glaze got it's name from the city itself as the glaze minerals were mined from the banks of the Hudson River in New York State in gigantic quantities. It was said that so much of this was mined the river's course began to change, worrying surrounding towns of the possibility of flooding as an issue. Albany slip, when fired becomes a tan brown color and sometimes turned a golden yellow. It was generally applied as a wash as the vessel would get a dip of Albany slip put into it, the potter would slosh it around to coat the interior fully and the remainder, returned to the supply. The stoneware would be left to dry upside down until the Albany slip dried completely.
Cobalt and Albany slip glazes were used predominantly, however, these are not the only glazes used by potters of the 18th and 19th centuries as some used ocher, Bristol, Rockingham or many, many others to coat the beautiful stoneware of early America.