Several years ago, while browsing in a quaint little antique shop in southern Indiana, I discovered a blue and white stoneware water pitcher with beautiful little flowers decorating the sides. It dated to the late 19th century and was in wonderful condition. I knew I would be sorry if I didn’t snatch it up, but did I really need to spend another $125 on something to look at? I walked to my car and prepared to leave, but something stopped me. It was a lot of money, but it was still a great buy, and it would look great placed on my step-back cupboard. I drew out my checkbook, walked back in, and said, “I’ll take it.” I’ve never been sorry.
Whatever their style, whether they be glass, pottery, or even wood, pitchers are an attractive collectible welcome in any antique lovers home. Old pitchers have a certain nostalgic aura, a connection with times past. As I run my hands over my great-grandmother’s little Ironstone pitcher, I can see her setting it out, laden with cream, on an antique oak kitchen table. When I pour lemonade from a depression glass pitcher, I feel a connection to all those who have done the same in the last 70 years, and more. Old pitchers are a nostalgic link to the past. They bring back memories of a time that is long gone. It is these memories that are the real collection. The pitchers themselves are beautiful to behold, but it is the feelings they create that can be the most precious.
Collectors will find an amazing array of old pitchers in antique shops and malls, at auctions, flea markets, and yard sales. They will discover pitchers of all types; from depression glass to stoneware, from Blue Ridge to Watt, from wood to tin. The variety of styles, shapes, colors, and designs is virtually endless. A collector of pitchers has a hobby for life.
I never meant to collect pitchers, but they sneaked in when I wasn’t looking. One day I began to notice how many I’d accumulated. There was a set of four blue grape patterned pitchers made by Uhl on top of my step-back cupboard. Four sponge ware pitchers and another stoneware pitcher with light blue bands rested in the old kitchen cabinet. Two mid-nineteenth century stoneware pitchers sat atop the same cabinet and yet more pitchers were boxed away. I try to resist pitchers as I’m browsing antique shops and malls, but they always somehow find their way into my hands.
Are collectible pitchers expensive? As with most antiques and collectibles, there are certainly expensive examples, but most are quite affordable. My most expensive pitcher is the blue and white stoneware water pitcher described above. In most shops and malls it would have been tagged at nearly twice that price. My least expensive pitcher is a cracked and chipped circa 1880 sponge ware pitcher, purchased for $8 at an Ohio flea market. In good condition it would cost about $225. In between the least and most costly pitchers in my collection are many others: a circa 1850 hand-turned water pitcher found when I was a boy for $18 at a flea market; a small blue and white sponge ware batter pitcher I purchased at an auction for $95; a slightly damaged seaweed blue and white sponge ware pitcher I purchased at a flea market for $40; and the list could go on.
There are old pitchers for every pocket-book. I spot pitchers, new and old, in just about every antique shop, show, and mall. I find them at flea markets, at auctions, and on eBay. There are a wide range of good old pitchers available in the $50 to $100 range. If one doesn’t mind a little damage, prices are even lower. While I try to avoid damaged pieces they are sometimes too hard to resist. My cracked and chipped $8 blue and white sponge ware pitcher looks just as impressive on display as an undamaged $225 example. There are, of course, high end pitchers. For years, I’ve longed for a mid-19th century stoneware pitcher decorated with cobalt blue, but with prices well in excess of $500 I’ve never been able to afford one. Collecting, like life, isn’t about getting what you want, however. It’s about wanting what you’ve got—and I’m very pleased with my little pitcher collection.
Whether one can afford to spend $15, $150, or $1,500 on a pitcher, there are plenty from which to choose. The only difficulty is deciding what to collect. The array of collecting themes is practically endless. Some collectors concentrate solely on Ironstone, Watt, Jewel-Tea, Fiesta, or Blue Ridge pitchers. Others search out pitchers in different patterns and colors of depression glass. Some collect pitchers in the shape of animals, while others collect only pitchers made of wood or tin. And then there are those of us who have an eclectic taste and purchase whatever catches our fancy.
Pitchers are such a general collecting area that they do present a problem; one can become quickly overrun by them if one is not very careful. I had them all over my house without even realizing that I was collecting them. Just think what a serious pitcher collector could do!
To avoid pitcher overpopulation, be choosy. Don’t allow yourself to snatch up just any old pitcher that catches the eye. Choose only those that create that “must have it” feeling deep down inside. This will make for a smaller, and much more enjoyable, collection. Remember that bigger is not always better, in fact, it seldom is. I’ve collected many things in my lifetime and I’ve learn that I appreciate a few choice items much more than a roomful of more common pieces. This is as true of pitchers as it is of anything else.
Remember also that choice doesn’t have to mean expensive. A choice piece is one that has a special attraction or significance to you. The choice piece of my collection is an old brown pitcher with a grape decoration on the side. It’s cracked and even chipped, hardly my most valuable piece in terms of money. It was the pitcher my mother always used for iced tea. I saw that pitcher every day when I was boy. It is my favorite pitcher of them all. Choice is weighed in terms of enjoyment, not monetary value.
Even those who are choosy will find themselves with quite a collection as time passes, but pitchers are easy to display. They fit in well in many locations throughout the house. If one is lucky enough to have bookshelves one is not using, this location can store dozens. Whatever pitchers one decides to collect, and however many one gathers, they will bring beauty, grace, and a touch of the past wherever they are placed. When it comes to collecting pitchers, one cannot go wrong.
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