North American Gray Stoneware

by Emma SaatyCART Archaeological Field and Lab Intern

History: North American Stoneware was first produced in the English colonies of North America in the early 1700s, and was heavily influenced by British and German traditions. North American Gray stoneware was first produced in New York, and was made to look like a less delicate version of Rhenish stoneware. Two of the most prominent potters of the time were Johannes Remmey and William Crolius, who both set the standard for how high quality stoneware should be produced. Stoneware production began in different parts of the United States at different times depending on when large deposits of clay were discovered. By the turn of the 19th century, North American stoneware was being produced in many centers around North America, becoming the predominant houseware of the era. Before the time of the Civil War, most North American stoneware production was done by small companies and sold locally. After the war, however, production grew exponentially with small businesses expanding and new ones constantly opening. In order to keep up with growing demand, potters changed their methods from wheel throwing to molding, and by the beginning of the 20th century small potteries were being forced out of business by larger producers. Most potteries did not make it through the great depression, as the need for utilitarian North American stoneware began to be replaced by other materials such as glass and metal.

Identification: North American Gray stoneware is similar to Rhenish stoneware, in that it is typically a gray, salt-glazed vessel often with a bright blue cobalt oxide painted or incised decoration. The salt glazing gives the stoneware a distinct dimpled “orange peel” surface texture. Although North American gray and Rhenish blue and gray stoneware are similar, they can be easily differentiated. North American stoneware will have a coarser clay body, or paste, and will have decoration that is less refined and delicate.  North American stoneware tended to be a utilitarian stoneware, most commonly made for food preparation and serving. These vessels were typically hand thrown or pressed into specially carved molds for rim decoration.

See Rhenish Stoneware for more information.


Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland. Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab, 2002. Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, Accessed 7 Nov. 2018.

Hunter, Robert, editor. Ceramics in America. Vol. 2013, Milwaukee, Chipstone Foundation, 2013.

Russ, Kurt, and Sterling Schermerhorn. “Rocketts Red Glare.” Chipstone,’-Red-Glare:-John-P.-Schermerhorn-and-the-Early-Richmond-Area-Stoneware-Industry.

Ketchum, William C., Jr. American Stoneware. Henry Holt and Company, 1991.

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Straight Pins

The Fairfax County Park Authority’s artiFACTS blog is highlighting straight pins discovered during archaeological excavations. Check it out here!

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Getting Artifacts Clean in the CART lab


Having sparkling clean artifacts allows us to do such things as properly identify this hand painted underglaze pearlware, label, and mend it while keeping track of each piece.

by Daphne AhaltCART Assistant Lab Director

This week’s blog post is a review of the procedures used in the CART lab to wash artifacts recently excavated in the field. The word “wash” is a bit misleading because not all artifacts are washed in water, so we will also discuss materials that require dry brushing. Please note that different labs may have different artifact cleaning methods and materials which they use to wash.

In the CART lab, each brown bag of artifacts is a single Field Specimen (FS) with its own FS number. Each FS is related to a specific provenience – the horizontal and vertical location of an artifact or feature. The provenience describes where we found an object in relation to other objects on a site, and is an important tool when interpreting the site’s history.  Only one Field Specimen bag is cleaned at a time so that artifacts do not get mixed in with those from another FS.

The proper tools for cleaning are gathered before starting. For the CART lab this includes: a sheet of white paper, two washing tubs filled halfway with plain water (no chemicals or cleaning solutions!), a mesh strainer, 2 soft bristle toothbrushes (1 stays dry), a sponge, and an unused drying rack with some wooden dividers. The person washing will also use a pencil, a pair of scissors, and the project wash log located near the washing station.

Thanks to our great volunteer team, CART usually has volunteers available to wash our artifacts. The volunteer washing the artifacts begins by placing the sheet of paper on their work surface. They will then enter the FS number, their initials and the date into a log. This log helps track what was washed, when it was washed and who washed it. The washer then places the artifacts on the white sheet of paper, cuts out the information contained on the front of the artifact bag, and places it on the drying screen. The artifacts will be placed on the drying screen with that paper bag cut out insuring that the FS information travels through the process with the associated artifacts. The volunteer washer then separates the artifacts into piles of artifacts that cannot be cleaned, those that can be washed in water, and those that are to be dry brushed.

“Do not clean” artifacts include those that are extremely delicate, such as bone that is falling apart, carbon and soil samples, brass buttons, and items set aside for special analysis. If the washer has any questions, they are encouraged to ask a staff member for help. The person washing will then place the “do not clean” artifacts directly on the drying rack.

Dry brushed artifacts include metal objects. Depending on the artifact’s durability, bone and shell artifacts should also be dry brushed. Once the artifact has been brushed clean, the person washing will place it on the drying rack with the other artifacts from the same FS number. Again, it is extremely important for the person washing to keep artifacts from one FS separate from artifacts of a different FS so that no mixing of provenience occurs.

Prehistoric ceramics are often cleaned with a wet sponge. Most all other artifacts, such as glass and historic ceramics, can be submerged in water and scrubbed with a wet toothbrush. It is important for the washer to clean the edges of glass and historic ceramics so that the color and paste can be clearly identified by staff. It is also important for the washer to make sure all artifacts are completely clean because many of the items will need to be labeled with identification numbers. Labels will not affix to dirty surfaces. Once cleaned, the washer will once again place the artifact on the drying rack with the artifacts from the same FS and the associated brown bag cutout containing the provenience information.

The person washing will repeat the process for each Field Specimen bag and make sure the FS bags are clearly separated with dividers. Enough space is placed between different FS numbers to keep them apart in case a drying screen gets bumped. The washer cleans up their area when finished; this includes rinsing all tubs, toothbrushes, mesh strainers, etc. and placing them on the drying rack next to the sink. Washers will then wipe down the work surface, and if needed, sweep the floor around their work area.

We appreciate our volunteers and all the work they do! Join us by signing up for our next Volunteer Orientation at .

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Virginia Archaeology Month

How’s this to soothe a teething baby, eeesh!

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Virginia Archaeology Month – Corduroy Roads

Two amazing finds that occurred so close together. It was an honor to work on these projects.

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Virginia Archaeology Month

Some recent work at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park. An amazing place!

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Virginia Archaeology Month Day 28.

One of my favorites. It’s amazing when you find something so intact!

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