Exploring Bennington Pottery Myths and Facts | Antiques-and-history

Authentic Bennington pottery items, from figurines to cookware, continue to be popular with Americana collectors. However, there are issues for serious collectors. Rare early 19th century figurines, such as the brown-glazed coachman’s bottle, have been reproduced over the years, as have other brown-glazed objects.

HINTS: Take note at the next antiques fair, auction, or online listing of typically brown or glazed pottery labeled “Bennington.” This type of pottery is only authentic Bennington when made in Bennington, Vermont, from 1847. Otherwise, the proper name for this ware is “American Rockingham”.

Basically, it is a yellow ware streaked or spotted with a shiny manganese brown glaze. Some are tortoiseshell or speckled with yellow. Early Rockingham had what was called a “flint” glaze. Later, a colored glaze was used by Christopher Webber Fenton, who had inherited Bennington’s original pottery works from its founder, Captain John Norton.

Rockingham pottery has English roots, named after the Marquess of Rockingham, who produced it at his Swinton pottery in England, with a brownish color.

When Fenton took over Bennington Works, his aim was to make it the “Staffordshire of America”. At the time, Staffordshire was the most popular pottery imported from England. He succeeded. Wares made at his United States Pottery Co. in Bennington became so in demand in mid-century America that about 100 factories across the country began copying his shapes and glazes. One of the first places to produce it was in East Liverpool, Ohio. However, Bennington parts set the standard for quality.

When the United States Pottery Co. exhibited pitchers, urns and figurines with their flint glaze variations, at the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London and later at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in New York in 1853, they became an instant hit. Sixty other American Potteries also exhibited Rockingham pieces at the show.

Pieces made at Bennington between 1845 and 1847 were often marked “Norton and Fenton”. Other marks included “Lyman Fenton & Co., Bennington, Vt.”, from 1849 to the 1850s, and the USP ribbon mark was used from 1852 to 1858. Some parts were unmarked.

Many potteries copied Bennington’s most popular pieces, such as animal figurines, coachman bottles, and Toby jugs. The “dog-handled” pitcher, originally made by the United States Pottery Co. in 1843, was one of them.

Collectors seek out the various figures with the most interesting enamels. The rarest and most expensive are large cast animals. It is probably a rare Bennington lion figure if the lion’s front paw is up and resting on a ball.

Hundreds of different pitcher designs, colors and shapes have been manufactured at Bennington. Yet one of the best-known pitchers, “the Apostle”, was actually made by Henderson Pottery in Jersey City. Another famous piece, a teapot called “Rebekah at the Well”, was modeled by Charles Coxon for Bennett Brothers of Baltimore.

Since Bennington-type pottery was made in many parts of the country, you may well discover the often overlooked utilitarian pieces. Not everyone appreciates spittoons or brown enamel door handles. Keep an eye out for baking dishes, curtain tiebacks, and even picture frames. A genuine Rockingham glaze makes a big difference in price. The dull brown glaze came from dipping rather than firing.

About Oscar L. Smith

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