Stoneware Objects stored in the collections area
Historical Collections :: The Weitsman Stoneware Collection

Stoneware was the basic utilitarian ware of the nineteenth century. Stoneware containers served many useful functions. They were primarily used in the preparation and storage of food, and in serving food at the table. Other utilitarian household items included inkwells, match-holders, flowerpots and tobacco pipes. In the twentieth century, plastic and aluminum replaced pottery as the chief material for kitchen equipment.

The shape of stoneware vessels changed in the mid-nineteenth century. Classically ovoid shapes of crocks and jugs became more cylindrical; thus stoneware containers can be dated by their shape. Ovoid vessels date from the first half of the nineteenth century, while cylindrical containers date to the second half.

The Manufacturing Process
Because of the transportation network provided by its canal system, New York State was well suited for stoneware production, and became one of the leading producers of this ware. The canal and turnpike transportation network made it possible to ship the white clay needed for stoneware production from the Bayonne, New Jersey area to potters located along the network. The finished products could then be sent out to markets along this same corridor.

Stoneware vessels were shaped by hand on the potter's wheel or in a wooden mold. After the freshly shaped vessel had air-dried, an awl or pointed stick was used to scratch a simple design into the surface. Freehand decoration was also applied with cobalt blue paint. Albany slip clay, which was dark brown in color, was used to coat the interior. The decorated pieces were then placed in a beehive-shaped kiln and fired at about 2100 degrees Fahrenheit. When the heat was at its maximum, a bucket of coarse salt was thrown into the kiln. The salt vaporized, covering all exposed surfaces with a shiny and somewhat pitted or pebbled finish referred to as "salt glaze".

Once the kiln cooled, usually after two to three days, the stoneware was loaded onto flatboats or wagons (later trains) and shipped to distributors and merchants, often several hundred miles away.
Stoneware As Art
Design as art.
Churn (detail), c1870,
The desire to make utilitarian stoneware objects more pleasing to the eye produced an assortment of artful designs. Although most potters were not trained artists, the sometimes crudely incised designs or cobalt blue decorations they created on stoneware are now appreciated as prime examples of American Folk Art, and are the qualities that attract collectors.

Flowers and birds were by far the most popular designs, but a variety of animals were also used. Lions, dogs, stags, horses, goats, and even fish are often depicted. Patriotic motifs were popular. Unusual designs featured buildings or people engaged in some activity. Punches and coggle wheels were used to apply bands of impressed decoration in the form of circles, stars, floral devices, and other motifs. Sometimes the potter's name and location and the size of the vessel would be stamped on the piece.

Adam Weitsman
Adam Weitsman is perhaps the premier collector of New York State stoneware. He began his collection in 1980 at the young age of eleven. He and his father, Harold F. Weitsman, owner of a scrap metal and steel business in Owego and Endicott, dug up two stoneware beer bottles on their property. They took the bottles to an Owego stoneware collector for identification. Upon seeing the collector's display, Adam and his father were "hooked". The first piece they bought together was a crock decorated with blue cobalt. The price was $150, and Adam raised his share of the price by doing chores.

Adam Weitsman
Adam as a young boy
Adam continued to collect decorated New York stoneware throughout his teenage years, scouring the state and the East coast to acquire pieces at antiques shows, estate sales, dealers and auctions. During these years he often made news in the antiques trade papers by acquiring important and rare examples. He focused not on everyday pieces that were used to hold pickles and salt pork, but on "presentation pieces" that were made for special occasions. These pieces were usually oversized and frequently decorated with elaborate and unusual cobalt blue designs.

In 1987, at age eighteen, Weitsman acquired the finest piece of American decorated stoneware; a pitcher of incredible size, tweny-eight inches high, with an intricate and elaborate blue design featuring an American eagle. The pitcher was made by Thompson Harrington and John Burger of Rochester between 1852 and 1854. It was displayed in their shop window as an advertisement, and oral tradition indicates that the pitcher was displayed at a World's Fair. Weitsman purchased the pitcher from a descendant of John Burger.

In 1996, Adam Weitsman agreed to donate his impressive collection of stoneware, consisting of about one hundred pieces, to the New York State Museum. By doing this, he has ensured that the collection will be preserved for appreciation and study by the public. Weitsman continues to add pieces to this collection.

For additional information on New York State stoneware see: Potters and Potteries of New York State, 1650-1900 by William Ketchum, Jr., (Syracuse University Press, 1987).

For more information, contact John Scherer, 3097 Cultural Education Center, Albany, N.Y. 12230. Telephone: (518) 474-5353. FAX: (518)473-8496. E-mail: jscherer@mail.nysed.gov

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