Feb 25, 2010

Collectible American Salt Glaze Pottery

Approximately seven hundred years ago a German potter threw some salt into his kiln while it was in the middle of firing a piece of earthenware pottery. It likely wasn't "delusions of alchemy" that caused him to do it, but a bold test. All craft techniques begin somewhere. When the potter carefully removed the cooled piece from the kiln, the translucent glass-like finish on the pot may have left his apprentices stunned – the potter, himself, carefully holding it against his leather apron, mumbling "My precious," in early Rhineland dialect. He had just invented potter's gold. Salt glaze pottery.

The salt glaze on pottery was and is formed when sodium chloride (salt) is added to the potter's kiln while the pots are being fired at full heat. A chemical reaction between the silica in the clay and the salt results in the finished pot having a nubby texture and a clear glassy finish. Some collectors of salt glaze pottery liken the nubby texture to that of orange peel.

When the New World was being colonized, immigrants from Germany brought the technique with them and those early American stoneware pieces that survived time are very collectible today.

Collectible Salt Glaze Pottery

In the United States, most collectible salt glaze pottery pieces are simple in design and heavy. They are most often collected as crocks, jugs, butter churns and pitchers. The most sought after are those with well-known maker's marks, names and dates. Collectors who are purists may only collect cobalt blue stoneware salt glaze crocks or salt glaze pottery with depictions of animals or flowers or those from a particular area. Collectors of American folk art and early Americana of all kinds are drawn the primitive nature of the these early stoneware pieces.

Some important American potters in collectible salt glaze pottery include Cowden and Wilcox, E. W. Farrington and Co., J.P. Plummer, Richard C. Remney, Wade and Henry, William Henry Crisco, Redwing, A. Lambrite and Frederick Carpenter.

Where to Find American Salt Glaze Pottery

The best places to find American salt glaze pottery are online and at estate or country auctions. On-site auctions held at old farms usually offer up several pieces of old salt glaze pottery. Most stoneware salt glaze pottery was utilitarian in nature rather than decorative. And until tin, plastic and other materials came along, pottery held flour, sugar, butter, milk and all the staples the farm family needed. So farm auctions are always a good source for salt glaze pottery.

There are also numerous antique shows across the United States and held throughout the year that are specifically designed for showcasing American folk art, including American stoneware pottery.

Ebay usually has several pages of salt glaze pottery, but beware of reproductions. When a collector can't touch and inspect the piece, she can never be sure if the "good deal" is a good deal until after she's paid for it.

Price Guide for Salt Glaze Pottery

Authentic and rare early American salt-glaze pottery pieces can fetch thousands of dollars – even if chipped or cracked. In 2001 a cracked cobalt blue butter churn from the 19th century sold at a Sothebys auction for over $25 thousand. It was in poor condition and missing the lid. In 2007 a salt glaze butter churn sold at a Sothebys auction for $18 thousand. These values are rare.

Recent eBay sales include a salt glaze cobalt blue jug for $330, a cobalt blue crock for $149 and a Redwing 4 gallon crock for $145. There are always numerous smaller pieces that sell for as little as $10, so eBay is usually a good place to search.

Expect to pay over $1000 for very rare pieces as there is a lot of competition for these.

Living with a Salt Glaze Pottery Collection

All collectibles should be displayed together for the wow factor rather than have the pieces scattered around the home. A collection of cobalt blue stoneware salt glaze pottery is stunning in an old open pine cupboard or lined up on simple shelves. Large crocks hold umbrellas, jugs hold flowers, and crocks can hold fruit. Living with a salt glaze pottery collection means using the pieces as well as displaying them proudly. Readers interested in learning how to use, handle and clean antique stoneware pottery

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