Stoneware differs from other types of pottery, in that it was made from a specific type of unrefined clay fired at very high temperatures. It was often colored with cobalt blue wash and salt-glazed: salt vaporized in the kiln added a glassy glaze to the piece. Antique pickle crocks came in many colors, but white to gray colors are preferred, and the more decorated the better.
Stoneware burgeoned in the mid-19th century, as river and canal systems expanded the market. Craftsmen working in early factories decorated the pieces with etched designs of birds and flowers and accented them with blue cobalt wash. These pieces are rare, and a signed antique pickle crock from this period starts at $1,000 in auction. Early makers included Crolius, Remmey and Morgan in New York and Fenton and Carpenter in Boston.
Early stoneware is prized for how unique each piece is, and the decoration helped housewives differentiate between products: the oats went in the crock with a tulip, the salt in the stoneware with stars.
Stoneware was an early form of advertising: grocers, liquor dealers and other vendors paid potters to inscribe their names and wares on jugs and crocks.
With the advent of industrialization, decoration became the way producers of stoneware tried to distinguish their pieces and compete with others. Some factories became known for trademark designs.
White’s of New York used running birds; Norton’s of Vermont used floral dotted spray, peacocks and reclining deer; the Remmey and Bell factories of Pennsylvania and Maryland are identifiable by their rolling flower and vine designs and stylized gallon markers; and leaf designs mark Midwest stoneware.
Other factory names to look for include: Burger, Cowden and Wilcox, Harrington, and Stetzenmeyer and Clark.
Types of Decoration
The first stoneware decoration were etched or incised fine lines. Later these were accented with blue cobalt wash. These designs might be simple or complex vines and florals, birds or fish, serpents or sailing fish. Complexity increases value and unique, signed and dated, special-order or commemorative designs can sell for tens of thousands of dollars to as much as $100,000.
Later, craftsmen painted designs on stoneware with cobalt blue rather than etching them. This was easier and faster and usually less complex but you might find an elaborate image painted on your antique pickle crock.
The slip trail method was a slower and more involved method of decorating stoneware. Similar to cake-decorating, clay was squeezed out in fine lines to create images and designs before firing. This artwork value ranges from hundreds of dollars to the low thousands for common designs to as much as $100,000 for complex motifs and presentation pieces.
The value of antique pickle crocks depends upon their origin and their craftsmanship. Collector Barbara Cilyo says that as stoneware started coming from molds rather than off the wheel, it lost uniqueness and value. President of Rockdale Pottery Peter Jackson says that as stoneware became industrialized, it became too uniform and boring.
An antique pickle crock is handmade if it has a ridge or a seam along the inside. The value of stoneware depends upon how rare the design is, how rare pieces from the potter are, the age and the shape. Unusual designs and those that tell a story are in high demand.
A piece made in 1860 with a portrait of a brigadier general and his wife sold for $88,000; a late 19th century jug with a snake design sold for $10,000; a stoneware piece decorated with acrobats sold for $28, 600 at a Sotheby’s auction. Even mediocre stoneware can garner $1,000 to $5,000 in 2010.
Wear and Tear
Stoneware was meant for daily use; not as artwork. Chips in the rim, hairline cracks and staining is common in antique pickle crocks and other stoneware. Although the extent of the damage can affect value: a butter churn stoneware piece cracked down its back sold for $31, 900 at a Massachusetts auction.
Some stoneware did originally come with lids but crocks were often covered with animal bladders, cloth, leather or paper stretched and tightly tied. They were then sealed with wax and resin or cement.