Bennington pottery; Household earthenware prized for its simple beauty
When Robert Condon first began collecting Bennington ware nearly 20 years ago. his wife's aunt was scandalized. She remembered when, on a moving day long ago, her family had tossed out their Bennington pottery rather than bother to take it along.Skip to next paragraph
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But Mr. Condon, who, in addition to being a collector, is president of the board of trustees of the Bennington Museum, likes the fact that Bennington ware was often made for the humblest of household tasks. "Just like the plastic items of today, it was made to be used,"m he says. "But it was made with such care that it rose above its utilitarian purpose and became beautiful and artistic."
few gazing at the remarkably glazed pitchers, bowls, foot warmers, pie plates , picture frames, soap dishes, candlesticks, lamp bases, and decorative objects that make up the Bennington Museum's definitive collection would hesitate to agree. So highly prized has the pottery and porcelain become that prices can range anywhere from $40 for a plain stoneware jug up to many thousands of dollars for a rare piece of Rockingham or flint enamel.
Anyone contemplating joining Condon in his hobby should begin either by visiting the Bennington Museum or by reading Richard Carter Barret's "Bennington Pottery and Porcelain" (New York: Crown Publishers), a splendid history and identification guide liberally illustrated with items from the museum collection.
What both reveal is that the, term "Bennington" can be applied to a vast array of pottery and porcelain made in the town, including salt-glazed stoneware , redware, granite ware, flint enamel, scroddled ware, Rockingham, Parian, and others. What they all have in common is that they were made by only two pottery companies, one of which was in business for a scant 10 years.
The most enduring of the two companies was the one started by Capt. John Norton in 1793, just two years after Vermont became a state.The Norton Company, which primarily turned out stoneware jugs and crocks bearing a simple cobalt blue flower or animal design on the front, was in business for over a century.
Although made for the mundane uses of storing liquids and preserves, the Norton stoneware has recently started to command not-so-mundane prices. Those with the more unusual designs such as a lion or deer can easily bring between $ 500 and $1,000 or more.
Norton stoneware is usually the easiest of Bennington pottery to identify, as it often bears the Norton name in cobalt lettering near the spout or rim. The stoneware's appeal is in its classic shapes and the stunning contrast of cobalt blue on the smooth gray surface. Despite its rising value, a late 19th-century Norton jug with a flower design can still be had for between $50 and $100, a handsome and worthwhile investment.
But the most varied and unsually most valuable Bennington pottery is that produced in the short span by Charles Webber Fenton, who married into the Norton family and then started his own US pottery company in 1847. While his in-laws concentrated on stoneware, Fenton began intense experimentation in new types of pottery and porcelain, none of which have been exactly duplicated since.
One popular line that Fenton produced, Rockingham, was not his invention, glaze-finished pottery produced in England and elsewhere in the United STates. Fenton added his own designs and unusual mottling techniques to Rockingham, producing pieces with a streaked and spattered brown glaze that combined with the yellow body clay to make a tortoise-shell effect.