about 1855–59
J. and E. Norton Pottery (active 1850–1859), Decorated by John Hilfinger (1826–1888)

Object Place: Bennington, Vermont, United States


Overall: 29.8 x 36.8 x 34.3 cm (11 3/4 x 14 1/2 x 13 1/2 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Stoneware with cobalt-blue decoration

Not On View





For more than a hundred years, beginning in the late eighteenth century, the potteries of Bennington, Vermont, produced substantial quantities of utilitarian ceramics in various forms. The Norton Pottery, founded by cousins Julius and Edward Norton, made this stoneware pot for the storage of foodstuffs in the late 1850s. It is stamped with their factory mark and the number 4, indicating its capacity in gallons. Edward Norton was a persuasive salesman, and Norton wares were retailed through stores in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New York, and even as far afield as Galveston, Texas.

Improvements in pottery making enabled the Norton Pottery to make cylindrical (in addition to ovoid) forms by 1850. This advancement, involving the use of revolving molds called “jiggers” and “jollies” that allowed for the turning of circular vessels, may have stimulated a concomitant change in decoration, as the flatter surfaces of the resulting objects were easier to embellish. Alternatively, the desire for more richly ornamented objects-perhaps needed to catch the eye in an increasingly competitive marketplace-may have led to the technological developments. Whatever the relationship, the result was an efflorescence of painted Bennington pottery in the 1850s.

The itinerant artist John Hilfinger may have painted the cobalt blue images on this pot, rendering a spotted standing stag and resting doe amid fences and foliage. Born in Württemberg, Germany, Hilfinger came to America in the mid-nineteenth century, and during his career he decorated ceramics from Massachusetts, Vermont, and New York potteries in his characteristic exuberant manner. As a blend of Yankee technology and immigrant artistry, the Norton pot is an outstanding expression of a common melding of influences in American decorative arts.

This text was adapted from Ward, et al., MFA Highlights: American Decorative Arts & Sculpture (Boston, 2006) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.


In the collection of the donor; given to the Museum in 1993.

Credit Line

Gift of Mrs. Lloyd E. Hawes in memory of Nina Fletcher Little