While we love our mason jars and cute butter trays, the antique crocks that came before them deserve a round of applause. Crocks were a vital kitchen tool that kept ingredients like butter and pickled veggies preserved for months on end. Not to mention, they were just dang cute. If you love that classic farmhouse aesthetic, then you should add antique crocks to your birthday wish list. And while you're at it, learn all about how to identify and evaluate authentic ones while getting the most bang for your buck.
How to Identify Antique Crocks in 4 Easy Steps
In order to know how valuable your grandmother's antique crock is, you're going to have to do a little detective work. Most antique crocks come with distinct clues you can use to assess things like age, condition, makers, and more. The more you know about your crock, the better you can judge its potential price.
Here are four points to guide your antique crock perusals.
1. Look for the Stoneware
Modern crocks are made from a variety of materials, but almost every antique crock you come across will be stoneware. According to antiques appraiser Dr. Lori Verderame, stoneware describes any clay with a less than 2% waterproof rating.
Because of this vague definition, stoneware can be made from a variety of clays and come in many colors or textures. However, antique stoneware (and by extension antique crocks) was typically colored with a brown or gray salt glaze and featured blue decorations.
2. Look for Common Antique Crock Design Features
Like most kitchenware a few hundred years ago, antique crocks were made by hand. Thus, the designs on the crock might have a rather crude or rough appearance. The designs that were painted on the crock face were usually etched into the clay and then filled in with a cobalt blue pigment.
And keeping in line with most ancient societies, antique crocks feature artwork inspired by the natural world. Think things like birds, trees, and flowers.
Shine a flashlight over the edge of a crock to look for faint etching marks/indentations. This can help you pick out an antique from a reproduction with just a look.
3. Look for Maker's Marks & Other Markings
Most potters and pottery manufacturers "signed" their work using some type of maker's mark, like the overlapping M and C you'll usually find on McCoy pottery. If you can find and read the maker's mark, you'll have a better chance of identifying how old your crock is, and, by extension, its value. Maker's marks were typically written or stamped onto the bottom of the crock (though don't forget to check the sidewalls), and could look like a name, logo, letter, symbol, or other design.
If you've found the mark but don't know what company or artist it correlates to, take a look at The Marks Project's website. It's an online dictionary full of American ceramic marks and signatures from post-1946. Now, it won't help you identify older crocks, but it can give you a place to start.
Can't read the mark, but know it's there? Take some tracing paper and charcoal and lightly rub the charcoal on the paper pressed over the mark. Hopefully, you'll get a clearer view of what the mark looks like in the transfer.
Aside from the maker's marks, you might find other unique markings, too. For example, a single number painted, stamped, or impressed into the crock typically indicates how big or small it is. So a three would mean three gallons or three quarts.
4. Look for the Right Signs of Aging
Most stoneware was imported to America from Europe (specifically Germany & England) until around the end of the 1780s. Although American potters had started making their own stoneware crocks by the early 18th century, the market hadn't grown to be self sustaining yet. So, if you've got a hankering for really old crocks, you'll want to know that it's got the right aging signs.
- Salt glaze present on crocks? It was made post-1775, since American potters didn't start using salt glazes until after then.
- Non-cylindrical crocks? Cylinder crocks weren't mainstream until about 1860, meaning it has to be at least from the mid-19th century or earlier.
- Found a marker's mark? It was probably made post-1810.
- Found a crock with "limited" or "Ltd." on the bottom? It was likely made after 1861.
- Found "made in" on the bottom? The crock probably isn't from earlier than the 20th century.
- Found a mark with "Nippon" in it? It was made in Japan before 1921.
Antique Crocks vs. Modern Reproductions: Know the Signs
Because antique crocks are so collectible (and growing even more popular with the cottage core/homesteader crowds), there's a plethora of reproductions on the market. Before you make any purchases, closely examine the crock for these characteristics.
- A shiny, glass-like surface with occasional bumps indicates that it was salt-glazed and is likely an antique. Meanwhile, reproductions are usually very smooth.
- Simple decorations, which appear to be painted freehand, are authentic, whereas printed or stamped designs are often repros.
- If the decorations were painted on top of the glaze and not before the glazing process, it's probably a reproduction.
- Precisely printed or stamped numbers and letters might be a sign that it's a reproduction.
- A thick wall, which may bow out in the center, is a sign that the crock is probably pretty old.
Popular Antique Crock Makers to Add to Your Kitchen
There are just too many antique crock makers to know every one, but knowing the biggest names in the game can help you find the most valuable crocks in the wild. Here are some antique crock makers and manufacturers you should get comfortable with before setting out on your crock-hunting adventure.
Red Wing Stoneware
Red Wing Stoneware began making crocks in the late 1870s. Before 1896, all designs were drawn by hand, but after 1896, they were stamped. Yet, their signature design wasn't added until about 1906. If you've got a Red Wing crock, look for ones with side wall stamps and hand-drawn designs. These are going to be the most valuable.
Want to learn more about the manufacturer? The Red Wing Collector's Society, Inc. has a free online list of images of decorations, side wall stamps, and bottom markings.
Monmouth Pottery Company
From 1894 to 1906, Monmouth Pottery Company made stoneware in Monmouth, Illinois. They used salt glazes, Albany slip glazes, and later a Bristol glaze on their pieces, including their crocks. The most collectible of their designs featured two men standing inside a giant crock. And when you're looking at Monmouth crockery, if you find a maple leaf logo, it's going to be from 1902 or later.
Western Stoneware Company
In 1906, seven companies joined to form the Western Stoneware Company. Be on the lookout for a maple leaf logo with the name in the center. And if you find a number printed alongside, it'll tell you which factory actually made your piece.
Western Stoneware wasn't a standalone brand, though. Think of it like LVMH, where there's a ton of recognizable brands within the larger company. Some of these added ceramic makers include Weir Pottery Co., Macomb Stoneware Co., Macomb Potter Co., Culbertson Stoneware Co., Clinton Stoneware Co., Fort Dodge Stoneware, and Monmouth Pottery Co.
Started in 1901 as Ransbottom Brothers Pottery, this ceramics company merged with Robinson Clay Products in 1920 to create Robinson-Ransbottom Pottery. You can find "RRP" in their logo on their crockery and other products. Yet, this company wasn't just known for good crocks, but also for their cobalt blue crown mark. There were different versions of the crown mark used, so you may see various numbers or words inside the crown.
How Do Antique Crock Values Shape Up?
Unlike some old cookware, antique crocks can have wildly high and low price tags. It's a given that antique crock values depend on several factors, including how much collectors like the manufacturer and the designs printed on them. Your average antique crock will sell for less than $100, though you can get incredibly special and rare pieces to sell in the thousands or hundreds of thousands. For example, this rather large antique crock from 1858 sold for a record-breaking $1.56 million at auction. If you want to see more of these insanely rare and expensive crocks, check out the Crocker Farm for auction highlights.
If you're trying to play appraiser at home, keep the following things in mind.
Check the Crock's Condition
Chips, cracks, and extreme wear will send your crock values plummeting. In most cases, crazing, or a crackled appearance, doesn't affect value and may actually contribute to authenticating its age. Also, check if your crock comes with a lid. The ones with their original lids are worth a fair amount more than the ones missing theirs. Similarly, intact handles can be an awesome boost for the final hammer price.
Look at the Crock's Size
Although crocks are useful and collectible in any size, some shapes and sizes are just more collectible than others. Large crocks (we're talking big ole crocks here) are rarer than smaller crocks and will fetch more at auction than their smaller counterparts.
Check Out the Crock's Design
With crock designs, there's one overarching theme: if it's pretty, it'll probably sell for a lot. Really detailed cobalt designs took extra skill, and that skill reflects in higher prices.
Find the Crock's Provenance
An antique crock is often more valuable in the area where it was originally made. Local potteries will generally command a bigger price tag in their own area, because there's a higher concentration of collectors for those pieces, as well as an appreciation for their style and form. Also, crocks can be heavy and expensive to ship. And if you've ever lusted after a beautiful piece of antique furniture and turned away because of the $1,000+ shipping price, you know that buying local is the way to go.
Where Can You Buy Antique Crocks?
Whether you prefer to shop online or browse your local antique store's aisles, there are a lot of options for finding the antique crocks you're after. Because these vessels definitely made our ancestors' Top 10 Kitchen Essentials lists, there's a plethora of crocks to find and collect.
For die-hard online shoppers, check in with eBay and Etsy's rotating inventory to see if they've got what you're looking for. Or you can stop by auction sites like RubyLane and LiveAuctioneers to see what they've got listed.
But if you don't want to pay double in shipping costs or are worried about your BFFs in the mailing business accidentally breaking your crock, shop local instead. Pop by estate sales, antique and thrift stores, or even Facebook Marketplace.
Take a Crack at Antique Crock Collecting
Antique crocks are as useful today as they were hundreds of years ago. Whether you want to store your homegrown pickled onions or you just want to add a historic decorative vase to your countertops, antique crocks are the way to go.