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Antiques Considered - April 22, 2009

   This week we have an inquiry about an antique jug which has been in a family for many years.  It is marked, "John Ahern & Co. Alexandria, Va."  It has no chips or cracks, and appears to be in original condition.
   This stoneware crock dates from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.  It is of later vintage than the gray, brown and green ones, which have the elaborate blue floral and geometric decorations.  Those pieces, which largely come from the Shenandoah Valley, bring the high prices.  These tan types, with the brown upper sections, and attractive, but command far lower prices.
   The big question concerns John Ahern.  He could be either a merchant in Alexandria, who used this to bottle his product for retail sales, or he could be the potter himself.  Alexandria had a significant stoneware manufacturing era, and crocks and jugs bearing the city's name are uniformly expensive in today's market, but again, I am referring to the ones with the blue decorations.
   This tan and brown jug, with the stenciled name, is worth $85.  A knowledgeable collector might go higher if trying to complete a set. Regionalism plays a vital role here in that as with all antiques, pieces are worth more in the area where they were made.
   Stoneware is one of the most popular collectibles.  As a child my parents would take me up in the Shenandoah Valley where they would buy wonderful old pieces for merely a couple of dollars.  Those days are ancient history now with some auction houses even offering sales exclusively devoted to crocks and jugs.  Judging from the way they have appreciated over the last thirty years, I would say that good stoneware crocks and jugs are among the best investment quality antiques one can buy, but always remember that chips and cracks eviscerate the value.  The moral of the story is to buy good ones.

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