Steele: Learning lessons from stoneware, cream and sugar sets

Judy Steele found this piece of Bennington stoneware with a “turkey eye” while she was in the Silver City, New Mexico, area.

One of my favorites from all of my collecting years just happens to be this 8-inch tall Bennington blue and gray crock or stoneware jar with beautiful handpainted wavy marks and patterns with a large “turkey dropping” or “turkey eye” on the very front. Sometimes these turkey eyes were done on purpose and sometimes they were done by accident. But believe it or not, the ones with these so-called errors are usually worth a bit more to most collectors. I have had this for many years and it is probably one of my most favorites! Next to my Desert Rose Franciscan pottery/dinnerware collection, I think this piece may be right at the top of the list as well. Very unusual and maybe even classified as rare, I feel this Bennington crock could be worth a bit of money. In the collecting world, I feel excited about this certain piece due to its age — 1850s possibly — its perfect condition and its distinctiveness with regard to size and design.

You may be able to tell from the photo this week that I decided to dress it up for the Christmas holidays and added a bit of greenery and artificial red berries along with a tall whispering grass native to our area. All is holding up well so far: The feathery grasses are still in great shape and were picked along the North Platte River shores a few weeks ago. This particular stoneware jar is a great specimen of blue/gray stoneware and I hope to keep it for many a year in my collection of antiques and collectibles. Maybe someday I will even be able to find out more about this particular piece. Many say it is from the Bennington, Pennsylvania, area and/or the Bennington, Vermont, area. I tend to think of it as originating from the Vermont.

Blue/gray stoneware is quite collectible, but, just as so many other things, it is being copied today and is making it quite difficult for most of us stoneware collectors. However, because of the quality clay and colorings of this piece, I am fairly sure it is a better piece than most we see today. Some of the Bennington potteries are still in business and are making all kinds of beautiful items. The quality is still magnificent in many ways, but something about the older pieces usually catch my eye quicker than the newer pieces!

Quality and condition of an item are the two most important deciding factors in determining the value in any piece. The more history we have of any item, naturally, would help to determine true values, but sometimes at auctions or online we do not always have a choice of holding that item in our own hands and really looking at it thoroughly. However, this piece was purchased at a very nice antique shop in New Mexico — Silver City, in fact — and I discovered it sitting in a showcase. The owner or dealer was able to tell me a little bit about it and he was pretty sure it was a vintage piece.

We take chances when buying our antique and/or vintage items. We don’t have a little tag dangling from a string that tells us all the information about a particular item. Sometimes, we just have to take a chance. We have to consider the feel, the texture, the condition, the weight, the decoration or pattern, the coloring and the thickness, as well as the extreme “feel” of the stoneware. We take chances on a piece like this and, until someone else can change my mind, I feel it is correct to say it is a vintage piece and a fairly nice addition to the Bennington style of stoneware or pottery.

I have been learning about, buying and collecting antiques and collectibles for almost 50 years now. Naturally, I have made many a “booboo” when buying. Once, I discovered I had a very rare item after I had sold it and the new owner told me more about it. I was not upset, but I certainly remember that conversation even today. The gentleman who bought a cream and sugar set told me more about it, and I was so appreciative for him to let me learn and be more aware next time. I made a little on it — he will make a whole bunch on it if and/or when he decides to sell. However, he said it would be in his collection for a very long time as he had pieces to match it. And those moments mean a lot to me, as it is definitely is worth more as a set than as a lone creamer/sugar pair.

This business is a crazy one. We find things and even buy things without knowing for sure what they are, but you go with your gut feeling and hope for the best. If you don’t take a chance once in awhile, you will definitely be sorry. While once we bought books and paged through them to identify certain patterns, now we have the internet and can just take a photo of an item to match it online and access so much more information.

An antique dealer or a collector are two different people entirely! Either you buy for resale or you collect to keep it for yourself. Sometimes it is rather difficult to do both, but in reality, I think we all do a bit of that wherever and whenever we go “antique shopping,” whether it be to yard sales or auctions or antique shops. No one person can know everything about antiques and collectibles. It takes all of us to throw in our advice or knowledge or just plain speculation a little bit at a time and hopefully, with the help from everyone, we will finally be able to determine what a certain thing actually is — after several tries, of course! The fun of the game is in the search. I love to go hunting for antiques: I just take my little old black pickup and small utility trailer and head out, like I did one time in New Mexico when I purchased a small antique shop that was going out of business. It took us four days to pack and then unpack to repack for travel, but we did it — with several peoples’ help, of course. Making memories is what my antiquing means to me.

Please do not forget that my What’s it Worth antique classes are now being held on Tuesday evenings at Wild Bill’s Fun Center, 1000 S. Jeffers St., here in North Platte. We start at 5 p.m. with supper and the class begins at 5:45 p.m. Please bring one item for a charge of $5 and be prepared to see a lot of fun things come through our class that evening. You may reach me at 308-530-4572 for further questions! Also, please remember to stop by the Bushel & a Peck Antiques Boutique at 510 E. Sixth St. here in North Platte. They are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. You can call them at 308-392-3443 or at my phone, 308-530-4572.

Come take a look and browse this fun store, as well as other antique shops in our town and neighborhood. You never know what you may find when “just browsing.” I have found so many matching pieces to dinnerware sets or perfume bottles. You may find a great piece of furniture that you were needing for that certain spot in your living room or maybe even something that catches your eye and you just have to have it.

Those fun moments are what life is all about.

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