Bookmark and Share

Pottery Barn

When Stone Age people first used their hands to mold clay into containers large enough to pour water, they had taken a big step toward forming communities. Whether you’re talking about pottery from Asia Minor dating back to the 6th century, or stoneware from Colonial Massachusetts, these practical vessels played their part in growing cultures.

Most of the pottery available in Colonial America was imported from Liverpool, Bristol and Sunderland. Much of this stoneware was made specifically for the American market.

Grace Parker, of Charlestown, Mass., was an enterprising character in our country’s stoneware history. In 1742, she found herself a widow at 45 with 11 children and decided to take up where her husband left off. He had recently received a loan to create the first stoneware pottery in Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Parker started the business with an experienced potter, built a kiln, and began making wares. Unfortunately her first kiln collapsed.

She tried again and this time the pottery buckled. In a third attempt Parker used different wood for fuel, but this too failed. Almost near bankruptcy, she made one more try. Again failure. She decided to retire. History would later reveal just how right she was about the importance of locally produced stoneware

Hand-fashioned jugs, jars and churns were subsequently made in abundance until about 1890 in the United States. Machine-made containers dominated the marketplace thereafter. The earliest containers were often egg-shaped and later types came straight-sided.

Origin and age are important considerations in valuing stoneware, but shape, decoration and glaze take precedence. Simple abstract designs applied in cobalt oxide are the decorations seen on most jugs, but higher in value are those picturing flags, eagles, birds, people or anything unusual.

Bruce and Vicki Waasdorp of Clarence, N.Y., concluded their 4th Decorated Stoneware auction on Oct. 2, 1994. Competitive bids were handled from more than 20 different states and bidding was active on 300 lots. The highlight of the sale was a four-gallon churn with an incredible dotted bird on a large flower. Made by Stetzenmeyer & Co. of Rochester, N.Y., and dating from around 1855, the churn brought $9,350.

Two nice examples from the Norton Bennington Stoneware Factory did well, with a winning bid of $6,050 for a double peacock design, and $1,760 for a two-gallon jug with a bird on a stump.

Q. Years ago I received an oil painting from my aunt. It is signed A. Snyder and measures 16 by 31 inches high. Any information you can give me on this piece would be appreciated. Howard Herrington, Pittsburgh.

A. Having a complete signature on a painting is a critical factor in valuing it. Unfortunately, your signature is incomplete so it opens up the possibilities even more as to who might have painted the oil.

When I check through Who Was Who in American Art, I come up with an Annie F. Snyder who painted in Rochester, New York. However, this information by itself doesn’t mean much. In your case, I would recommend that you have someone look at the painting firsthand.

Even without a complete signature, an appraiser can look at your painting and give you an estimate of value based on quality and condition. These two factors are important indicators in judging a work of art. Also, how the work of art is framed is important. Some 19th century ornate gilt frames are worth more than the paintings in them.

A few things you may want to do on your own include, taking the painting outside in the daylight to look closer for a complete signature. A signature may show-up on the back or along the stretcher. Check everywhere. The more information you have, the easier it will be to estimate value.