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“What Are We Talking About?: The Language of Stoneware Collecting”


Whether you have collected stoneware a long time or are just starting, one of the frustrations in this endeavor is knowing just what sellers are talking about in their descriptions. Here I explain what I understand what terms describing stoneware mean.

I have organized the terms into major categories.

This blog will continue to be expanded and will be illustrated.

Creation of Stoneware

Albany Slip: The brown clay from the Upper Hudson Valley in New York can be mixed with water to form a slip. It is sloshed around the inside of stoneware and when the stoneware is fired the Albany slip becomes an impervious interior glaze. It came into wide use in pottery making in the early 19th century.

Bristol Glaze: a white glaze into which stoneware is dipped prior to being put in the kiln. It became prominent in stoneware manufacturing around 1900.

Drying Line or Firing Line: These two are hard to distinguish. A drying line appears in stoneware as the wet clay dries prior to being fired in the kiln. A firing line appears as stoneware is being fired in the kiln. These lines are typically surface only and glazed over.



Kiln Burn: If stoneware was close to the wall of the kiln, it may be darker or even burned on one side.

Kiln Furniture: Clay pieces that have been fired and used to help stack stoneware in a kiln before firing. These pieces include donut-shaped pieces or collars to ring and protect spouts and pieces of all shapes and sizes used to separate stoneware and stabilize layers of stoneware in the kiln.

Kiln Touch: If stoneware touches another piece or kiln furniture used to stack stoneware while in the kiln, the area of contact will not be glazed and may even be a bit rough if the two pieces involved did not separate easily.

Manganese Oxide: An oxide sometimes used in stoneware manufacture to create a purple or black decoration. More commonly used in redware decoration.

Molded: Stoneware created using a mold versus being hand-thrown on a potter’s wheel

Ocher: A brown clay bearing iron that was used on the interior of stoneware and sometimes used on the exterior for decoration (as in the Boston area).

Orange Peel or Overglazed: Salt glaze that has been applied too heavily becomes uneven and bumpy like an orange peel.

Recess or Indentation: In the firing process in the kiln, the weight of stoneware above or beside a piece can push it in, causing a recess or indentation.

Salt Glaze: This term describes stoneware that was placed in the kiln into which salt was thrown. The salt dissolves and adheres to the stoneware to provide an impermeable, shiny gray glaze.

Slip: A mixture of clay and water.

Straw void. Sometimes straw was accidentally mixed with the clay and when the stoneware was fired, it burned away leaving a void in the clay. Often you can see the pattern of the side of the straw in the void.

Wheel-Thrown: Stoneware created on a potter’s wheel versus being created in a mold.

Forms

Mini Jug: Small jugs from 3” and under are typically called mini jugs. They were typically made from 1900 to 1920 and used to provide customers with samples in hopes they would return for a larger jug full of the product. Samples were typically liquor and vinegar.

Miniatures: This designation includes mini jugs but also any stoneware that is a smaller version of the normal size, typically from 5” and smaller. These would include pieces made to scale for a dollhouse to rare older pieces made as whimsies.

Reeded Neck: Late 18th and early 19th century stoneware often sports a spout with rings up the side rather than being smooth.

Ovoid: Stoneware from the late 18th century to the mid-19th century was often shaped like a ball on a footer with a spout attached. As we approach the middle of the 19th century, pottery was made with straight sides.

Platform Jug: Stoneware made around 1900 to 1930 was made with a cylindrical base and upside-down funnel-shaped top. The seam between the two often has an approximately ½” platform.

Water Cooler: A water cooler is basically a crock with a manufactured hole near the base designed to insert a spigot for the dispensing of water. These can be elaborate, with an upper portion with an interior stoneware filter.

Varieties

Blue and White: Blue and White stoneware describes stoneware with blue and white glaze. This stoneware was made from around 1890 to 1930, often in forms meant for the kitchen: bowls, pitchers, salt crocks, canister sets, etc. Many were molded with designs of swans, peacocks, cows, and flowers to name a few.

Salt Glaze: Stoneware whose glaze is created by evaporating salt in a kiln.

Spongeware: Spongeware is stoneware that typically has a white glaze over which other colored glazes are added with a sponge. Typically, cobalt blue was used, but also yellow, red, brown, and black.

Tanware: A type of stoneware from southwestern Pennsylvania from the 1880’s in which the stoneware is unglazed and the decoration is applied in a brown slip.

Decoration

Applied Decoration: Hand or molded clay decoration added to stoneware with slip prior to firing in a kiln.

Brushed Decoration: Applying cobalt decoration with a brush versus a slip cup or in combination with a slip cup.

Capacity Number: An impressed, freehand, or stenciled number indicating the gallon capacity of the stoneware.

Embossed Decoration: Raised decoration molded or pressed into the stoneware prior to firing. Very prevalent in the manufacturing of blue and white stoneware in the early 20th century.

Freehand: Decoration applied by hand. It typically includes flowers, birds, houses, animals, etc.

Sgraffito: Decoration scratched or incised on stoneware when it is still wet from the initial making. The interior space created is often filled with cobalt. This technique was used from the late 18th century to the early 19th century.

Slip Cup: a cup with a narrow tube with a quill nozzle at the end that allowed cobalt to be used to draw decoration on a piece of stoneware in the decorating process.

Sponging: using a sponge to apply colored glaze to stoneware. Typical colors were blue, yellow, red, brown, and black.

Stenciled: Decoration applied with a stencil. It became popular around 1870 as a way to cut costs in stoneware manufacture.

Aging and Damage

Fleabite or Nibble: A tiny chip, say under 1/8”, that typically would not detract from the aesthetics of a piece.

Chip: A chip is larger than say an 1/8” and does begin to detract from the aesthetics of a piece depending on its location.

Hairline: A hairline goes all the way through a piece of stoneware. It is so fine it looks like a hair has been placed over the stoneware. Typically, it has a negligible impact on the structural integrity of stoneware.



Crack: A crack also goes all the way through a piece of stoneware. It is wider and begins to affect the stability of the stoneware depending on its width and placement on the piece.

Crazing: As stoneware ages, it can develop a series of fine lines in the glaze that is called crazing. This is superficial and not damage.



Stain: A stain is a discoloration caused by chemicals leaching into the stoneware from use with food or oily substances. Most stains on stoneware can be removed with soap or peroxide.


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Thank you for all the wonderful information!!

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Elizabeth Coene
Elizabeth Coene
Jun 16, 2023

Helpful and informative. You answered a few questions for me, too. Thank you!

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Great stuff. Keep it coming!

Love the photos.

Thank you!

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Thank you so very much for all of this information. Extremely helpful.

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