If you are a winemaker you take a different attitude toward old stoneware crocks than do other collectors of crocks. While you retain your ability to enjoy and appreciate crocks for their designs and their history, you gain a much greater abhorrence for the flaw which seems a fairly minor one to other, non-user buyers of stoneware crocks. They find this flaw not so very objectionable, to judge from their behavior at auctions.
The flaw I speak of is known as the hairline.
Sometime last year during an outdoor auction, another auction-goer came up to me after buying what I recall was an eight or ten-gallon Red Wing crock. He asked me why I had dropped out -- puzzled by an act which had allowed him to win it so cheaply.
"It has a hairline on the lip," I said.
He went off to look at his new purchase.
I had bid on it only because I thought it was ridiculous to stand there and watch it sell for less than $25 or $35; and I bid it up that far because I could have used the crock -- up to a point. The hairline, being on the lip, was above the line to which you would fill it, in winemaking or beermaking.
So I did my little bit of bidding and then, once the price had risen beyond screaming-bargain territory, dropped out -- because of the hairline.
A couple inches long, it detracted to a zero degree from the overall attractiveness of the crock. All the same, it was a crack. Crocks are unlike most people, and most wines, in that they would rather not improve with age. Crocks with cracks, especially.
Sometimes an undamaged crock will remain unchanged into its dotage. Yet crocks, by and large, embrace the entropic tendency of the physical universe to fall apart without getting better -- as opposed to the deferred-entropic tendency of the biological universe, which is to first grow better, second to believe itself to be getting better, and, thirdly, to become an ordinary physical object in falling apart.
If you see a crock with a crack, the one certainty that is there for you to observe is that the crack will get the better of the crock, some day.