The early inhabitants of Texas produced traditional American Indian and Spanish forms of earthenware from the abundant clays in the region and continued to do so in some areas until after 1860. As Anglo-Americans began to move into the state during the second quarter of the nineteenth century, traditional craftsmen from northern Europe came with them. Stoneware vessels were the traditional form of ceramic ware used for the storage and preparation of foods by the predominantly agrarian culture of the United States at that time. Stoneware potters entered Texas along with other settlers and began to produce their wares. An item in the Clarksville Northern Standard (see CLARKSVILLE STANDARD) of September 24, 1842, mentions the establishment of a stoneware pottery by a man named Tanner near the city of Marshall. An advertisement for Tanner's wares appears in the same newspaper. Taylor Brown may have established a stoneware pottery near Henderson in Rusk County at about this same time. Another newspaper advertisement, in the Telegraph and Texas Register of May 3, 1847, states that a man named Shaben and his brother were manufacturing earthenware in Houston. The following year stoneware and earthenware were advertised. The 1850 United States Census of Industry and Manufacture lists three potteries working in Texas, two in Rusk County and one in Montgomery. From this nucleus grew the stoneware industry, which thrived for the next fifty years. In 1860 eleven establishments were operating, in Bastrop, Denton, Guadalupe, Henderson, Lee, Limestone, Montgomery, Rusk, Titus, and Waller counties. Some of the earliest potteries were located away from the major formations that even today supply stoneware clays for brick manufacturing and studio potteries. But by 1870 the practice of locating pottery shops on the major clay exposures of the Eagle Form formation in Denton County and the Wilcox formation, whose exposures cross the state diagonally from Bexar County to Harrison, Cass, and Bowie counties, became established. Most of the potteries were in these areas and operated for a period of fifteen or twenty years. The early potteries usually consisted of small shops employing only one or two men and producing stoneware on a more or less seasonal basis. The shops were established near the source of the clay and also near the supplies of water and wood necessary for their operation. The owners of the shops generally also farmed. The vessels produced by these stoneware potters were almost entirely utilitarian forms such as jugs, jars, churns, bowls, and pitchers. Flowerpots and chamber pots were also produced in smaller numbers. Few decorative or purposefully artistic pieces were produced during the nineteenth century. Small amounts of fire brick were sometimes produced for sale. Both the streaky, variegated Southern alkaline glazes containing wood ash and the more common salt glazes were used by the early potters. At times local clays were also employed as slip glazes. Few potters marked their wares.
After about 1875 larger shops became established, and many potters used slip glaze brought from Albany, New York. By about 1900 some semi-industrialized shops were operating in Texas, and their production was fairly large. Representative shops were at Elmendorf in Bexar County, Athens in Henderson County, Marshall in Harrison County, McDade in Bastrop County, and Winfield in Titus County. The early years of the twentieth century saw Texas potters shifting to the white Bristol form of glaze prepared from ceramic chemicals available from supply houses. Much of the individuality of the earlier wares was lost, and straight-sided white pots became the monotonous product of the stoneware potteries. After 1920 transportation was improved so that clay could be brought to the pottery by rail, and large potteries were established in the Dallas and Fort Worth area. Clay was brought from both Athens and Texarkana to these shops. The Great Depression of the 1930s played a partial role in the decline of stoneware production; but this period was also associated with a vast cultural change in the United States. The change from a primarily agrarian culture to a sophisticated industrial culture led to less and less need for the crocks, jars, jugs, and churns so important in the earlier years. The inexpensive industrial production of glass and metal containers was also well established by the early twentieth century. By 1950 most of the stoneware potteries of Texas had closed. The few that were still operating enlarged their flowerpot and artware production. The Marshall Pottery today remains the only pottery producing wheel-thrown utilitarian stoneware, which it produces in limited amounts; its larger output is mass-produced earthenware flower pots. See also POTTERY.
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Georgeanna H. Greer and Harding Black, The Meyer Family, Master Potters in Texas (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1971). James M. Malone, Kirbee Kiln, a Mid-19th Century Texas Stoneware Pottery (Austin: Texas Historical Commission, 1979).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Georgeanna H. Greer,
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed July 06, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
November 1, 1995