It wasn’t too long ago that my sister and I were visiting a vintage and antique shop and I was admiring the beautiful old pieces of potter they had on display. The prices on some of these pieces were astronomical. To be honest, I was a little astounded, especially when I think of pottery and being made from clay. However, there are various types and grades of clay and some of it is more suited to making pottery products than others. Of course a lot of the price, the value of those pieces is also related to how and who created them and the age of the piece.
Some of the most famous is Wedgewood Pottery, a type of agateware, pottery made from agate-clay. They had some really nice Wedgewood pottery in that shop but desire it or not, I wasn’t about to buy it, not at those prices. You have probably heard the saying, “Champagne taste and a Kool-aid* pocketbook, well, that is me and I wouldn’t be owning any antique Wedgewood, at least not that day.
When I was in college I took an extra-curricular course in the craft of pottery making. I learned about the various clays including agate based clay and learned to throw pots, fire them, glaze the pots and re-fire them for hardness and durability. It was an interesting and fun course. I tried making a few pieces of agateware by thin slicing the clay and layering it together and then rolling it up tight to make my multi-colored clay to work with. I used the earthy colors and made a vase, trinket box and a cookie tray. They came out rather nicely and I got a good grade. Of course they couldn’t touch Wedgewood but they were nice and I valued them because I had made them myself. I had created agateware. Pottery is a fascinating craft and it all begins with clay, some of the best being agate based clay, the fine, granular clay from those same pretty and fascinating stones I have in my rocks and minerals collection.
I remember my grandmother’s dishes, beautiful bowls and serving pieces of dinnerware all made from agate. It was called agateware and was made from agate based clay that has striations of different colors in it depending on the mineral content of the clay and the layering of various colored clays to form patterns of stripes and swirls called marbling. It was pottery at its best and it still is if you can find it. There are still a few companies who do make agateware. If you happen to have some of those old dishes today they are worth a lot of money and especially if they are in good condition, no chips or cracks.
Agateware first originates in first century China and is an ancient craft. It is made from the agate stone clay or other clay that is the reproduction of natural agate made by marbling the clay with the various metal oxides. To find natural agate potter today is rare but there are a few potters who still use this special clay. Some of the most beautiful and unique today come from the creations of Tony Bouchet and Bouchet Pottery. The pots thrown from this clay are simply amazing and no two pots will ever be exactly identical. They are indeed a natural wonder, each with its own fingerprint, so to speak. No to agate pebbles or stones you may find will ever be exactly alike either.
I appreciate the beauty and versatility of “Agateware," a type of stoneware or pottery and the beautiful pots, dishes, vases, jewelry and other items made from agate based clay. The story of agate is as ancient as time itself and is steeped with mystery and legend.
Agateware was first introduced to the western hemisphere in the mid 1700’s by Dr. Thomas Wedgewood of Rowley Pottery in Staffordshire England. It is fine pottery and much to be as much admired as for its usefulness. My grandmother’s dinnerware was Wedgewood china and had been passed down from generation to generation. It wasn’t a complete set anymore, by the time I became acquainted with it but it was my favorite aside from her emerald green, cut glass (also made from rock: glass is made from rock, actually the mineral, quartz) fancy dessert dishes.
My grandmother’s dinnerware included a tea service and every now and then she and I would have a tea party and drink our tea from those lovely cups. It was cobalt blue with shades of green, and white and looked marbled; and it was so beautiful. Rowley Pottery also made more utilitarian items like mixing bowls, soup tureens, coffee mugs, crocks, vases and heavier dinnerware aside from the finer Wedgewood china.
My mother had a Dutch-oven made of agateware. I now have that old Dutch oven and I treasure it, not just because it was my mother’s but because of the quality and versatility of the piece. I have some really nice and fairly expensive stainless steel cookware but even that can’t top my mother’s old agateware Dutch-oven.
My mother also agateware mixing bowls when I was very young. I remember scrapping cookie batter from those marvelous bowls; and I remember breaking one, knocking it off the counter and watching it shatter on the floor. My mother wasn’t happy and neither was I. Agateware is a type of pottery; it will chip and break when not handled properly. It was a lesson learned even if it was accidentally.
Eventually I would like to get a few more pieces of this wonderful pottery or maybe once again try to make my own. I do have some nice stoneware. It is vintage but it isn’t antique or Wedgewood and neither does it have the Bouchet signature on it but it is still very nice, my favorite being a tea set that was a gift from a dear friend. I also have some nice Bennington Pottery that is made not far from where I live. I treasure that too but when it comes to beauty and style and versatility there is nothing much better than agateware.
Being a potter is both challenging and fun and it is a nice side-line to go along with my other hobby, rock hounding; or maybe visa-versa. I like working with clay and watching a potter at work is fascinating. If there is a potter near you take time to get acquainted and ask them about pottery and take the time to watch all the work that goes into throwing a good pot. You will appreciate your dishes more and if you happen to have some old pieces that were your grandmother’s you may just have a real treasure you didn’t know you had.