The Variety of Spongeware Pitchers
In this blog, I will share one of my special personal interests––the utilitarian spongeware pitcher. These pitchers came in two sizes: the “hallboy” (6 ½”) and full size (9”). They appear to date around 1890 or so. Their origins are a mystery. They are not part of china or kitchen sets. They seem to have been made for independent sale. The quantity of pitchers in the two sizes, especially the larger size, makes me suspicious that they may have been premium giveaways. I remember as a child that my paternal grandmother had a collection of pressed glass goblets that she said came in bags of feed when she was little (1900 to 1910). I also remember my maternal grandmother using rubbery plastic cups that were still coming in bags of feed in the late 1950s when I was growing up. Is it possible that these pitchers were premiums for some agricultural product in the late 19th century? If anyone knows, I would like to add your information to this blog.
These pitchers are fun to collect because they are plentiful, colorful, and found in an endless variety of patterns (or lack thereof). You can probably find one or two in any antique shop or mall. I have dozens for sale on my website. When you put a collection together, it is a colorful, visual delight. That is why collectors fill entire cabinets full of these pitchers. I sold a quantity of them several years ago to a lady who lined a dining room wall floor to ceiling with them. I have lined the top of my bookcases all around my office with them myself.
The patterns used are very intriguing. There is the smoke ring pattern in which the rings form separate vertical columns up the pitcher. There is the chain link or chicken wire pattern in which the rings are connected as in a chain link or chicken wire fence. There is the uncommon vertical column pattern and the perennial favorite on multiple forms of stoneware––the cat’s paw pattern. These are pictured below
The patterns above have long-established names, but some do not. So I will make a few up here! There is the “kissing” pattern which looks like someone kissed the pitcher multiple times. There is the Backward C pattern which has a strong visual presence. Another I call “Sleet” because it looks like sleet sliding down a window. These are pictured below.
One of my favorite patterns is shown here. I bought the smaller pitcher years ago at an antique show because the pattern and color were strong. It was not until I got it home that I noticed that each square contained a bird on a branch. Then I found the larger pitcher with the same decoration in a slightly different configuration.
There are some cut spongeware pitchers as well. They are not common. On these, the pattern is more distinct and added by a block or stencil of some kind. Below I picture four of these pitchers, three pretty nearly identical. They illustrate that a small block or stencil was used over and over with some variation.
One last note. There are also 4 ½” creamers that compliment these pitchers. They are very uncommon and clearly were not sold for long or perhaps not given away as premiums. They do come in patterns, but not as flamboyant as the pitchers due to lack of space to create.
Due to their thin walls and open tops, as well as heavy use, these pitchers often have spout chips and hairlines. Fortunately then still display wonderfully!