The Value of a Small Jar

This is a jar. Fill it with whatever and tie off a cloth over its top with a string around the neck. Some time later the ‘canning jar’ came into fashion. It looked similar to this jar, but with a ledge inside its mouth.

IMG_6693Filled to the ledge with boiled fruits and vegetables, the canning jar could then be sealed off with wax. Canning jars did not appear until mid to late 19th century. This jar is a bit earlier guessing by the rolled lip and lime-like coloring.  Sometimes there is no way to know for sure where a piece is from, as with this example. It is a simple form that is very common. There are no attached handles or spouts to help determine its origin. Just straight sides and a rolled lip. But, I do know where it is not from, and that list is fairly long, so it’s not a total mystery.

Well, what is it worth? Based on the process I go through, I’d say about $125 or a bit more. Though an attractive early example, it is unmarked, unattributable, and has a bit of damage.

What is Glaze?

What is glaze? Glaze is what keeps the dirt waterproof. It melts at a slightly lower temperature than the clay and seals the vessel so it doesn’t leak. There are all kinds of glazes, but Southern pottery is primarily and almost exclusively the only alkaline-glazed pottery from the 19th and 20th centuries. This made Southern pottery very distinctive from the rest of the country and much of the world. Not only did the South give us jazz, blues, slow accents, and great literature. It gave us green pots. You may or may not have thought about Southern pottery as being an art form, but it is. Quite so.

So why alkaline glaze?

In the early 19th century there was a chronic need for pottery for utilitarian use in the plantations. The plantations in the South were centers of local commerce. They were usually based around agriculture, but they also delved into non-agrarian activities like light manufacturing. Many people lived and worked in the plantations, and of course they all needed to be fed and housed. Before the days of refrigeration, stoneware jugs and jars were used for food storage.  Salted meats. Grains. Molasses. (No, white-lightening was not the reason for Southern jugs.)

Cheever Meaders
Alkaline glaze, North Georgia Churn, late 19th early 20th century

Buying pottery and shipping it in from the North or from Europe was prohibitively expensive. Since salt was also rare and expensive in the South, making their own salt-glazed pottery was out of the question, too. (I’ll do a later post on the topic of the different types of glazes.)

Enter a well-educated man and plantation owner in the Edgefield district of South Carolina.  His name was Dr. Abner Landrum. He knew about the Chinese making alkaline-glazed pottery a few centuries before and had thought why not here?

The South had all the ingredients. Lots or porcelain-quality clay and kaolin from the nearby fall-line that ran through the middle of the state, and there was plenty of wood to burn for ash, which was the basic ingredient for the ash or alkaline glaze.

Landum began experimenting in the production of alkaline-glazed pottery in the early 1800’s. Because of his success, by the mid 19th century it had spread throughout much of the rest of the South. The settlers who migrated from South Carolina took the distinctively glazed pottery making art with them to North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and as far West as Texas.

Each new region developed their own distinctive styles for alkaline-glazed pottery. This is why people collect Southern pottery. Because, it is holding local history in your hands.