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Wisconsin Stoneware Bottles

Stoneware bottles were among the first bottles produced for Wisconsin brewers and merchants. The earliest were made in the 1850’s, and more began to appear in the 1860’s. The use of stoneware bottles peaked in the 1870’s, and by the 1880’s they began to fall out of favor. It appears that some were still being used even in the 1890’s, but by the turn of the century they had become obsolete.

Most stoneware bottles were made by hand, turned on a potter’s wheel using imported clay. Some were made in molds using a process patented by Edwin Merrill and Brother in Ohio in 1847. A press was used to force clay into a two or three part mold to form the body of the bottle, then a pancake of clay was attached to the body. A spindle was inserted into the neck to flatten the bottom and press it to the body of the bottle. Bottles molded in this way were mostly 12-sided. The molded or pressed bottles were usually Albany slip glazed on the inside then salt-glazed. Most were side stamped with the proprietor’s name or the business name.

Most bottles were salt-glazed stoneware. The temperature increased to a point that was sufficient to vaporize salt thrown thru an opening in the kiln and fuse or vitrify the clay into a solid mass. Salt-glazing created a durable glass-like clear coating with a texture that sometimes resembles an orange peel. The salt glazing process was somewhat difficult to control. Factors such as temperature, location of the bottles in the kiln, the amount of salt added, the amount of time in the kiln, among others caused distinct differences in the glaze, so color varied greatly from batch to batch. It is also common to find flaws such as scorch marks, turkey eyes, thin or thick glazes. Some stoneware bottles had a glaze on the outside such as Wolf, Schinz, Lockwood and others.

Some bottles were earthenware, which is a lower temperature firing process. Earthenware bottles were less durable than stoneware and the glaze tended to flake off. The potters in Whitewater, Wisconsin made earthen wares exclusively. Their bottles were not incised however. A stamped bottle from brewer Thomas Schlachter was probably made in a Sheboygan earthenware pottery. Other marked earthenware examples include Atwell's Table Beer made in Portage and Wm Ehrman Root Beer made in Milwaukee.

The stamping process was also problematic. Clay bottles with weak, crooked, or inverted stamps are not uncommon. Stamps were sometimes obscured by the glaze. Some bottles were marked more than once. One apparently successful Wisconsin potter was either illiterate, had bad eyesight or both. Nearly every bottle he made had spelling errors in the proprietors name or used the wrong letters, such as an “8” instead of “&” (Menk, Simonds, Grisbaum & Kehrein).

Clay bottles were not decorated but case markers were commonly used. Cobalt was added to the shoulder or lip to enable a bottler to spot his bottles from among others in a case without pulling them out to read the name. Markings used include a blue band around the shoulder (Husting and Gipfel), a blue lip (Werrbach, Liebscher), an “x” (Gray), vertical stripe (Henk), or a blue lip and shoulder (Munzinger). Graf & Madlener even used a cobalt flower as a case marker. Some bottlers enhanced the readability of their stamps by adding cobalt to them in the 1860’s. This practice ended by the 1870’s.

The shapes of Wisconsin stoneware bottles are distinctly different from bottles from other parts of the US and evolved over time. The shoulders were rounded rather than square as commonly seen in eastern stoneware bottles, and the necks tended to be longer and more tapered. The style of the lip evolved over the years, from a mushroom shape on the earliest bottles to a tall square style in later years. They were closed with corks and most used a serpentine wire bail that would swing up and over the cork to hold it in place, indicating that the contents were under pressure. Most held about 12 oz. of liquid, while a small number were made in a larger 32 oz. size.

We may never be sure what products were sold in many of the stoneware bottles. Markings rarely identify the contents. However, it appears that most contained "small beer" which is a low alcohol drink such as root beer, lemon beer, ginger beer, sarsaparilla or near beer. Some were used for beer, soda, or mineral water since most of the bottlers who used stoneware bottles made those products. Many bottles from other parts of the US identify the contents as non-alcoholic products. There is a Root Beer from Wm Ehrman, a Ginger Ale from Zink & Rabidaeu, a mineral water bottle from Henk, and an ale bottle from Sanders and a Table Beer from Atwell in Madison. Clearly, stoneware bottles were used for a variety of products. 

Most of the stoneware bottles used in Wisconsin were stamped with the bottler’s name. This was done because clay bottles were expensive so they were refilled as many times as possible. Unlike most stoneware bottles from the eastern United States, Wisconsin bottlers usually included the name of the town/city and state along with the proprietor’s name. It is not known if paper labels were used on stoneware bottles. It seems likely that at least some did, but the only example I am aware of from Wisconsin is a whiskey from Watertown.

All of the Wisconsin potters that produced salt glazed wares probably also made bottles. Evidence suggests that the Charles Hermann factory in Milwaukee produced many of Wisconsin’s stoneware bottles. They were undoubtedly many other potters as well. The only known potter-signed bottles are from GUNTHER & BERNS of Sheboygan, WM. MOSIER from Wautoma and SPRAGUE & RUSSELL from Portage.

The main advantage that stoneware bottles offered over glass was that they were readily available locally. A small operator could deal directly with a local potter, could order in small quantities, and could get them made quickly and inexpensively. The alternative was to order glass bottles from an out-of-state glass manufacturer, where minimum order quantities were higher, lead times longer, and freight was expensive. It appears that none of the large Milwaukee brewers like Best, Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz, or Jung used stoneware bottles, although there is a Blatz branch bottle from St. Paul, Minnesota.

Why did Wisconsin bottlers switch to glass bottles? There are several apparent reasons. Glass bottles were becoming more readily available and less expensive, especially after 1880 when the Chase Valley Glass Company opened in Milwaukee. Consumers could see what they were about to drink from glass bottles and it was easier for bottlers to make sure they were clean before refilling. Glass also offered the advantages of less weight and more consistent capacity.

Stoneware bottles reflect of the primitive existence lived by early settlers. They were simple utilitarian vessels, yet they were extremely tough and durable. They could be used over and over, and often would not break even if dropped on a hard floor. Each bottle has unique characteristics of glaze, color, and form. They are not widely collected, are relatively available, and new varieties are constantly turning up. There are over 100 different varieties known from Wisconsin alone, far more if you include variants such as double stamps, color differences, sizes, etc. Stoneware bottles have always been one of my favorite types of antique bottle.

Following is a list of all of the Wisconsin companies that I am aware of that used stoneware bottles.

J.B. Ferstl - Ashland
Bartl - Beaver Dam
Fred Beck - Boscobel
G. Banse Co. - Cedarburg
Dr. Fricke - Cedarburg
E.R. Hantzsch - Eau Claire
B. Niehoff - Eau Claire
J.H. Lockwood - Fond Du Lac (possibly made by the Kummerow pottery in Fond Du Lac)
P. Stamm - Fond Du Lac
Phillip Eckhart - Fort Atkinson
Wm. Weber - Grafton
C. Gray - Janesville
S. B. Kupfer - Kenosha
Chatfield - LaCrosse
G. Karl – LaCrosse (Gustav Carl)
B. Atwell's Table Beer - Madison (attributed to Portage City Pottery)
H. Grove - Madison
Huchting Brothers - Madison
H & J. Schulkamp - Madison
Phillip Altpeter - Milwaukee
John Berg - Milwaukee
Calgeer - Milwaukee
Dickenson's Ale - Milwaukee
John Enes - Milwaukee
Charles Gipfel - Milwaukee
Graf & Madlener - Milwaukee
John Graf - Milwaukee
W.H. Gray - Milwaukee
Grisbaum & Kehrein - Milwaukee
Henk & Co. - Milwaukee
S. Hickey - Milwaukee
Hopkins & Co - Milwaukee
E.L. Husting - Milwaukee
L. Liebscher - Milwaukee
Liebscher & Berg - Milwaukee
Meeske & Hoch - Milwaukee
I.S. Meister - Milwaukee
F. Meixner - Milwaukee
Ch. Munzinger - Milwaukee
Jos. Pantz - Milwaukee
R.P.S. (R.P. Sanders Lill's Ale) - Milwaukee
Henry Schinz - Milwaukee
F. Schwartz - Milwaukee
Taylor & Bro. - Milwaukee
John Weissenberger - Milwaukee
L. Werrbach - Milwaukee
Wolf & Seward - Milwaukee
Jos. Wolf - Milwaukee
O. Zwietusch - Milwaukee
Meesow Detroit Ale - Milwaukee
Butterfield - Monroe
R. Schwalbach - Newberg
North Lake Brewry- North Lake
JAH 1874 (J.A. Hanson root beer Oconto)
A. Schiffmann - Oshkosh
L. Schiffmann – Oshkosh (son of Anton)
Sprague & Russell - Portage (they were the maker)
A.J.H. - Racine
H.C. Olson - Racine
AT (Racine area)
Wm. Weber - Racine
T. Schlachter - Sheboygan
Blatz - Milwaukee (St. Paul Minn.)
John Wellms - Wausau
Th Menk - Waterloo
Th. Menk – Watertown
A.C. Henk – Waukesha
Simons - West Bend
N. Eberl - Wisconsin Rapids
Whitewater - various potters in Whitewater made bottles (unsigned)
Gunther & Berns - Sheboygan (stoneware manufacturers)
Mosier - Wautoma (Mosier was the pottery maker)
F. Hens - unknown city
Lobb & Bond - unknown city
A.Z. (possibly made by the Kummerow pottery in Fond Du Lac)

If you have or know of one that is not listed please contact me at pmaas@att.net with a description and photo if possible. We will credit you for the contribution.
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Author: Peter Maas
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