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The term American Stoneware refers to the predominant houseware of 19th century North America—stoneware pottery usually covered in a salt glaze and often decorated using cobalt oxide to produce bright blue decorations. The vernacular term "crocks" is often used to describe this type of pottery, though the term "crock" is not seen in period documents describing the ware. Additionally, while other types of stoneware were produced in America concurrently with it—for instance, ironstone, yellowware, and various types of china—in common usage of the term, "American Stoneware" refers to this specific type of pottery.
Stoneware is a type of pottery. It was fired to a high temperature (about 1200°C to 1315°C). While it originated in the Rhineland area of Germany circa 1400s, it became the dominant houseware of the United States of America circa 1780-1890.
Americans began producing salt-glazed stoneware circa 1720 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Yorktown, Virginia. By the 1770s, the art of salt-glazed stoneware production had spread to many centers throughout the United States, most notably Manhattan, New York. There the Crolius and Remmey families (two of the most important families in the history of American pottery production) would, by the turn of the 19th century, set the standard for expertly crafted and aesthetically pleasing American stoneware. By 1820, stoneware was being produced in virtually every American urban center, with potters from Baltimore, Maryland, in particular raising the craft to its pinnacle.
While salt-glazing is the typical glaze technique seen on American Stoneware, other glaze methods were employed by the potters. For instance, vessels were often dipped Albany Slip, a mixture made from a clay peculiar to the Upper Hudson Region of New York, and fired, producing a dark brown glaze. Albany Slip was also sometimes used as a glaze to coat the inside surface of salt-glazed ware.
While decorated ware was usually adorned using cobalt oxide, American Stoneware potters used other decorative techniques. Incising, a method in which a design of flowering plants, birds, or some other decoration was cut into the leather-hard clay using a stylus, produced detailed, recessed images on the vessels; these were usually also highlighted in cobalt. Stamped or coggled designs were sometimes impressed into the leather-hard clay, as well. Potters occasionally substituted manganese or iron oxide for cobalt oxide to produce brown, instead of blue, decorations on the pottery.
In the last half of the 19th century, potters in New England and New York state began producing stoneware with elaborate figural designs such as deer, dogs, birds, houses, people, historical scenes and other fanciful motifs including elephants and "bathing beauties."
A significant percentage of American Stoneware was signed using maker's marks and, much more rarely, incised signatures. Many pieces can be attributed to particular makers based on the cobalt decoration, clay body, form, etc. The gallon capacity of the vessels was often denoted using numeral stamps or incised or cobalt oxide numbers or hash marks applied in freehand.
American Stoneware was valued as not only a durable, decorative houseware but as a safer alternative to lead-glazed earthenware produced in America before and during its production there. This earthenware, commonly referred to today as American Redware, was often produced by the same potters making American Stoneware.
Stoneware manufacturers of note include:
- Manhattan (New York City) — John Remmey, Clarkson Crolius.
- Bennington, Vermont — Julius Norton.
- Utica, New York — Whites & Co.
- South Amboy, New Jersey — Captain James Morgan, Warne & Letts.
- Harrisburg, Pennsylvania — Cowden & Wilcox.
- Waynesboro, Pennsylvania — John Bell.
- Greensboro, Pennsylvania — Hamilton & Jones.
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — Richard C. Remmey.
- Baltimore, Maryland — Henry Remmey, David Parr, Maulden Perine.
- Alexandria, Virginia — B.C. Milburn.
- Richmond, Virginia — John P. Schermerhorn, David Parr, Jr.
- Strasburg, Virginia — Samuel Bell, Solomon Bell, J. Eberly & Co.
- "Red Wing bailed jug with Jacob Esch advertisement". MNHS Collections.
- The Adam Weitsman Collection of American Stoneware in the New York State Museum.
- Paul Cushman: Albany Stoneware Maker
- Ornate Manhattan Stoneware Teapot — From the New York Historical Society