Stoneware is a very hard non-porous type of pottery, introduced into Britain from Germany during the 1500's. A feature of the ware is that it was glazed by putting common salt into the kiln while it was being fired; thus arises the term salt-glazed stoneware. The resulting pottery is hard, strong and watertight, and it can be made into objects much thinner in body than can ordinary clay pottery.
Nottingham was a big centre for making stoneware from the late 1600's, and pieces with a hard grey body and a brown glaze of orange-peel texture came from there. Many such pieces bear names and dates. Other factories nearby in Derbyshire made similar wares.
A factory at Fulham, a suburb of London, was founded by John Dwight in 1671. A number of pieces made by him, after two centuries in the possession of his family and now in the British and Victoria and Albert Museums, are extraordinarily well modelled, and it has been suggested that they are the work of the wood-carver and sculptor, Grinling Gibbons. Dwight claimed to have invented a method of making porcelain, but nothing resembling our modern meaning of the term can be attributed to him.
In Staffordshire, a red stoneware in imitation of some imports from China, was made by two Dutch brothers named Elers, who had worked at one time with Dwight at Fulham. By 1725 Dwight's greyish stoneware had been improved in colour until it was nearly white, and it was not long before this excellent salt-glazed material was being potted in quantity in the Staffordshire towns, in Liverpool, and elsewhere. Most of the ware, which was made not only into domestic articles but also figures, was ornamented with raised patterns, and the thin smear of glaze with which it was covered did not clog the delicate lines as a flowing lead-glaze would have done. Both over-glaze and under-glaze colours were used with great effect.
While white stoneware was finally unable to withstand the competition of Queen's Ware and porcelain, a further refinement of materials and technique enabled Wedgwood to produce with it his celebrated jasper ware. This is the pottery from which were made the thousands of relief portraits, plaques and vases that spread the name of their inventor and maker throughout the world. In addition to this ware, most familiar when coloured blue but made also in pale shades of yellow, lilac and green Wedgwood developed a black stoneware (basalts), a red stoneware (rosso antico) and a buff-coloured (cane ware), all of which contributed to the fame and expansion of Staffordshire.
It is as well to remember that the descendants of Josiah Wedgwood are still making jasper and basalts wares, and have done so continuously since the 1700's. The oldest examples reveal their age by the superior fineness of their modelling and the velvet-like smoothness of their surface.
Brown stoneware was made throughout the 1800's, but the productions are far from exciting. Flasks in the form of politicians and pistols were made, and a large number of jugs in imitation of 1600's originals often deceive collectors.