That might sound a little familiar, if only to the fans of “Little House on the Prairie” because that’s the area where the original author of the book series, Laura Engels Wilder, was from in real life. You would have heard them say “we’re going to Sleepy Eye’ while watching the television show.
Anyhow, the flour company contracted with the Weir Pottery Company to come up with a line of stoneware pieces that could be put in their sacks of flour. The larger amount of flour in the sack, the larger the piece of stoneware.
Old Sleepy Eye was a Sioux chief born in Minnesota in 1780. The folks in the area named a town for him and countless businesses as well as the milling company.
In 1903, the millers contacted the Weir company in Monmouth, Ill. to make steins, vases, salt crocks and butter tubs to be put in each bag of flour. A bust of Old Sleepy Eye and his name (same as the flour company) were to decorate each piece of the blue and gray stoneware.
Later on, other companies produced advertising pieces which included trade cards, pillow tops, thermometers, paper weights, letter openers, postcards, cookbooks and thimbles.
Production of some or all of these articles were in place through the early 1950’s.
Depending on which manufacturer made which individual piece of stoneware, there will be a variation in the background color. The earlier pieces from one company were gray; depending on ingredients used by another company, the background would have been white. Age has made all of the older white-background pieces more of a yellowish-tan color by now. The original pottery ware was made until 1937. Other stock was made until 1952.
The general public should be aware that there was a surge of interest in the late 1970’s and the market was flooded with reproductions.
It has been my experience that the whiter the object, the more likely that it is a reproduction. Then again, to even start to be considered an antique collectible, an item should be at least 50 years old or older. That makes the reproductions getting on in years, so in 20 years, they too will be of age.
The pitcher is the most popular and better known of the pieces. It came in five graduated sizes. The originals were made in a one-piece mold. Reproductions were made in two pieces: pitcher in one mold and handle in another.
It stands to reason that the closer you lived to Sleepy Eye, Minn., the easier it was to come across these collectibles. Those that trickled this far south were more likely to be family heirlooms and thanks to the internet, are more accessible today. But, again, beware of the fakes.
December 4, 2011