Growing up, I remember reading about Anna pottery in antiques books and was always fascinated by the stuff. A large snake jug I saw in an art magazine particularly made an impression on me. The jug was made of blue-decorated stoneware, something my family had been selling at antique shows for years, and yet the object seemed like something altogether different. The level of sophistication of the jug was unlike most of the stoneware we had sold, or seen for that matter. It was imbued with a sense of motion and seemed alive as several hand-modeled snakes slithered across its surface and formed its handle. A horrified man ‘s head and limbs protruded through the walls of the jug, his body trapped inside. If one of these objects was discovered from a different pottery, it would be hailed as a potter’s single greatest masterpiece. What is amazing is that two brothers, Wallace and Cornwall Kirkpatrick, who owned and operated Anna Pottery in Anna, IL, from 1859 to 1896, produced a large number of these extraordinary items. The intricate detail evident in their snake jugs and other highly decorated stoneware pieces makes one wonder, “When did they find the time to make standard utilitarian pots?”
The cover story of the April 24th issue of Antique Week, entitled “Anna Pottery Full of Imagination,” focuses on the Kirkpatricks and their various products. Since setting a record for an Anna pig bottle back in 2004, we have been fortunate enough to handle several fine examples of the brothers’ pottery, and were contacted by Antique Week for their article. My father, Anthony Zipp, was interviewed and some of the pieces we have sold through our auction, Crocker Farm, are pictured. This article discusses the personal lives and interests of the Kirkpatricks and offers insight into how these influenced their work. Numerous Anna pottery forms are discussed and opinions on the current market are presented. The article is both a visually-appealing and informative read. You can read an online version of the article here.
Anna Pottery has been steadily on the rise in value over the past several years. It remains highly desirable today for a few important reasons. To begin with, it is rare enough to keep serious collectors seeking it and the value high. Secondly, and most importantly, it is pleasing to the eye. In the antiques world in general, collectors love figural forms. In Anna pottery, human and animal shapes abound. There are pig bottles, frog inkwells, applied dung beetles and salamanders, male and female figures, and snakes of all sizes. Many such objects and vessles are incised with whimsical and humorous phrases, related to the Temperance Movement or local politics. The all-too-well-known pig bottle, which features a drinking spout at the pig’s rear, is often painstakingly incised with a map of the Midwest. The highly decorative nature of these objects have made them quite popular in folk art circles, of which stoneware may make up only a small percentage. Examples can be found in notable collections across the country, including the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in Williamsburg, VA, and the American Folk Art Museum in Manhattan. Similar to Shenandoah pottery, Moravian redware, and Pennsylvania-German sgraffitoware, Anna pottery has managed to cross the boundary of limited, regional interest.
Finally, Anna pottery makes a statement and a lasting impression on us. It will turn heads and draw attention even from people who have little interest in antiques or ceramics. When I’ve told my late 20′s friends (who know nothing about antiques) about selling an Anna pig bottle with a hole in its rear, it initiates some sort of response, a chuckle or look of disgust, and suddenly they’re interested. (I can also remember a New England folk art dealer’s look of surprise when he saw the underside of an Anna shoo fly jug a few years back during our auction preview.) It is a testament to the ingenuity of the Kirkpatrick brothers that their cleverly-crafted pieces still elicit a response in us over a hundred years later. And it is the pieces that make the biggest impression on us that we remember the best, love the best, and are truly worth collecting.