Southern antique stoneware is highly sought after and prized by collectors. There are many different features that collectors look for, such as the maker, the region, as well as certain pieces such as jugs, bowls, pitchers or face jugs.
Catawba Valley pottery, made in the Catawba River Valley of Western North Carolina, is a seminal place for Southern pottery. German immigrants and German-American descendants settled in the Catawba Valley in the late 18th century as farmers, and they brought their pottery-making tradition with them. Face jugs are some of the most unique and popular pieces of southern pottery, and their history extends back to slaves who made such pottery in the Edgefield region of South Carolina.
Burlon B. Craig of Vale, North Carolina, was one of the last of the North Carolina potters to work in alkaline glaze. The advent of refrigeration and mass production nearly ended the centuries-old pottery tradition. Craig is credited with revitalizing Catawba Valley pottery.
Early work of Craig’s is highly sought after, especially his early face jugs. Widely used to store whiskey during Prohibition, face jugs were often made with ugly or scary features to keep small children from exploring their contents.
Craig was innovative in making pottery and was a master of swirl ware (the use of two different colored clays). His ash glaze was the blend of pine ashes, crushed glass, clay and water, and it produced a distinctive brown-green glaze. "Tobacco Spit" is how some collectors refer to the ash alkaline glaze used on traditional Catawba Valley pottery. Craig also created a rich blue glaze, often fringed with milky white, using rutile, which occurs naturally in Catawba Valley clay.
In the 1980s, collectors waited in long lines at Craig's kiln openings. They were given numbers and a limit as to how many pieces they could select to buy. Craig’s legacy continues and is evident in current potters today.
When collecting North Carolina’s Catawba Valley pottery today, look for attributed pieces that are rare and appealing, the older the better. And, always buy what appeals to you!