Antique Spongeware and Spatterware - An American Stoneware Tradition

Over 100 years old, you can see the wear on this piece which adds to its charm.
Over 100 years old, you can see the wear on this piece which adds to its charm. | Source

What is Stoneware

Blue and white vintage American stoneware is attractive and versatile. Blue and white spongeware and spatterware have been made in the United States for nearly 300 years and is still being produced today.

Stoneware is a dense, durable type of pottery created by firing the piece at a very high temperature - 1200 - 1350 degrees Celsius or 2185 degrees Fahrenheit. Earthenware, by contrast, is fired at 1915 degrees F. Stoneware is made of a stronger clay than earthenware.

Tough, chip resistant Stoneware was and still is made for utilitarian use. Those lovely old blue and white spatterware or spongeware pitchers and bowls you see in antique shops can easily be over 100 years old - their resiliency stood up to a long life in the kitchens of yesteryear.

How Can You Tell If It's Stoneware?

  • Stoneware, in general,will feel heavier than it looks for its size.
  • The bottom of a stoneware piece may be uncoated or unglazed.
  • If you can see the ware on the bottom or on a chipped edge, it will look buff colored or gray (unlike earthenware which is white).
  • If there is a chip on the piece and the ware is white and easy to flake off with a fingernail, it is earthenware.
  • Stoneware can stand up to temperature extremes, both high and low, while earthenware can not.

Antique Blue and White Spongeware

(photo by Dolores Monet)
(photo by Dolores Monet)

American Stoneware

American Stoneware was the most popular dishware of the 19th century in the US. Much of it is still available today, due to its durability. The popular blue and white spatterware and spongeware never really went out of style and still pops up in contemporary settings.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between old and reproduction spatterware and spongeware. One clue to to take a close look at the design. Minor flaws, uneven lines, and slight smears indicate hand painted, antique stoneware. Newer, manufactured stoneware will have a more uniform design and the lines will be clearer.

The bowl shown above is well over 100 years old. If you look closely, you can see that the horizontal blue band is less than perfect. Also, the spattered blue design along the bottom is uneven. The imperfections of the antique hand made stoneware highlights its unique character and charm.

If you want to use spongeware or spatterware on a day to day basis, it is best to use newer products. Old stoneware, as well as many other forms of antique dishware, may be tainted with lead as lead based paints and glazes were often used in the production of old pottery. And why risk damaging an antique for ordinary day to day use? A damaged antique is not as valuable as an intact, undamaged piece.

History of Stoneware

While earthenware pottery is a very old production technique, Stoneware is only about 2,000 years old, originating in China.

In the 1400's, German potters in the Rhineland learned the technique of making stoneware in extremely hot kilns.

American potters began to make stoneware spatterware and spongeware in 1720. Importation of household goods was an expensive proposition, especially for the lower classes and for utilitarian use. Production grew in Manhattan, New York 1740's, Philadelphia in 1769, and spread to New Jersey and Baltimore Maryland.

American Stoneware is covered with a salt glaze. The salt added to the kiln bonds with silica in the clay to create a glass like affect. Cobalt oxide was used to create the beautiful blue coloring and patterns.

Is it Spongeware or Spatterware?

The terms spongeware and spatterware are often used interchangeably though they are separate techniques. Spatterware uses hand painted or spattered colors.The cobalt oxide was mixed with a liquefied clay and blown onto the pot using a pipe.

Spongeware was made by applying the cobalt oxide to the pottery piece with a sponge or rag. Sometimes designs were cut into sponges and dabbed or stamped onto the piece. Often, spongeware has a sponged border with a hand painted central design.

In general, spatterware will be more expensive than spongeware.

New American Blue and White Stoneware

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