Gallery: Catawba Valley NC Large Jug

Catawba Valley NC Large Pottery Jug

This is a Catawba Valley, NC jug. Late 19th–early 20th century. About 5 gallons in capacity and 16 inches tall. Excellent condition. See the bits of quartz in the clay body? A similar one at auction in 2017 sold for $275.Jugs are one of my favorite styles.

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.

The Pottery Recession

The pottery recession. It was real. It happened. What MudSweatAndTears was selling Southern pottery for in 2006 is now down to about 60% of that mark. Of course that ratio varies depending on how rare or sought after certain pottery may be.

Lower end collectors were hit harder by the economic downturn, so the lower end stuff took a bigger hit. However, the higher end collectors pulled back, too.

Luther Seth Ritchie Catawba Valley, NC
Luther Seth Ritchie Catawba Valley, NC Late 19th or early 20th century attributed to Luther Seth Ritchie–Catawba Valley, North Carolina

The good news is the recession is over, and I expect the value of stoneware to noticeable increase in the near term. In fact it is has already begun. I think that the value of things like this naturally lag behind other economic indicators.

Collecting never stopped being a good investment. Just like gold or any other commodity, it goes up and done in value, but art and history like this never loses its intrinsic value.

Bottom line: If you are thinking about getting back into collecting stoneware, or collecting anything for that matter, you should snap up what you can at current prices. Five years from now you might be able to sell what low end stuff you buy now, and get that rare piece that you’ve always considered prohibitively expensive.

Note: A similar piece to the pictured example recently sold at auction for ~$200. In a few years the same piece could be worth two or three times that value.

How to Know What Pottery is Worth

collection of Southern PotterySomething is only worth what someone has paid for it. Offering a item at a price is not the same as selling an item at a price. Someone must pay $X for ‘Y’ pottery in order to know a similar piece of ‘Y’ pottery is worth $X. To know what is similar and what is not similar is not easy.

Ebay, and other online auctions are for the most part shams, not because of the platforms, but because of the sellers. Avoid online auctions at all costs. Antiques Roadshow and other similar shows are about ratings, and ratings are driven by convincing viewers of the likelihood of having similar items in their attics. Things are valuable when they are rare. Rare means rare.

Condition is key. You can’t see condition in pictures. Often the condition as described in catalogs is somewhere between wrong to completely dishonest. You also need to know how to ascertain its condition and/or repairs. Condition and how rare it is affects value. Repairs, even good ones, usually hurt value. Seeing bad repairs makes it unattractive, and seeing good repairs makes buyers suspicious of what they may not be seeing.

Marks or lack of marks and other readily verifiable attributes on pottery pieces also affect value. The more certain you are of who and where a piece is from the better. Again, not easily done.

Values vary by collector. Value depends on what they know, or don’t know, and what type pottery they want and value.

All these factors are usually in play simultaneously.

Find a dealer or collector you trust and then trust them. Don’t try to get something of value for free. Free advice is worth every bit of its cost.