How to Identify Stoneware Jugs

by Valerie Taylor
Stoneware jugs are sometimes appraised and auctioned over the Internet.

Stoneware jugs are sometimes appraised and auctioned over the Internet.

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Almost every 17th and 18th century household used stoneware jugs to store molasses, rum, cider or vinegar. The iconic American pottery was fashioned from indigenous clay, fired at very high temperatures and glazed with salt. Now, modern collectors are drawn to stoneware as Americana that can often be purchased at reasonably low market prices. However, some unique pieces are older and difficult to find, which means they are significantly more valuable to serious collectors. Stoneware jugs have several qualities that may help to classify them for value or resale.

Step 1

Turn the jug over and look for a number on the side or bottom of the jug. This number indicates the jug's capacity and in some cases is followed by the date and the potter's name and location. Early artisans marked this information on stoneware with a sharp tool. Pottery made after the 1800s was stamped and later pottery was marked with a die stamp. Any inscription may authenticate the piece's date and maker and lend it historical and emotional value.

Step 2

Categorize the color. Shades range from light gray to deep brown and most glazes are dull and sometimes lacking in color or iridescence. This varies depending on the potter or the location of the factory where the stoneware was made. The jug's bottom will reveal the true color of the clay without the glaze and help you determine the origin of the piece. For example, yellow clay indicates the jug was probably made in Ohio, while pink clay indicates California.

Step 3

Examine the shape of the jug. Because earlier stoneware jugs were handmade, they are original pieces fashioned in a variety of shapes and sizes. However, many share similar qualities including a clumsy-looking shape compared to fine art of the period. Jug construction varies from broad bottoms to more graceful vase shapes with narrow necks. They were built to hold from one to 30 quarts of liquid.

Step 4

Match unique decorations on finer pieces with individual potters or families. For example, pottery crafted by Warne and Letts of New Jersey was adorned with the oak or holly leaf, while jugs decorated with an angel's head and folded wings are characteristic of William Macquoid & Co. in New York.

Step 5

Compare the method of decoration found on the jug with known timelines. For example, 17th-century jug embellishments were cut into the stoneware before it was fired, but this practice was discontinued after 1820. Jugs with brushwork and stenciled designs date to later periods, between 1840 and the turn of the century. Many historians associated with the American Historical Society have compiled lists of known manufacturers to help identify stoneware.

Step 6

Lift the stoneware and judge its weight. American pottery's thick, bulky walls should feel heavier than foreign pottery, including Japanese imports form the mid-20th century.

About the Author

Valerie Taylor holds a master's degree in ancient history and a bachelor's degree in education and literature. She coauthored an article on Spartan religion for the "Journal of Sparta" in 2010 and has written numerous, history-related articles for Internet publication. Taylor enjoys hiking, gardening and running half-marathons.

Photo Credits

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