UNDERSTANDING ENGLISH REFINED EARTHENWARE
Common Types and Terms, 1760-1840
Robert Mazrim 2008

(Excerpted materials from Mazrim’s “Seminar in Historical Archaeology: Samples, Artifacts, and Consumer Goods” 
Illinois State University, Graduate Program in Historical Archaeology, Spring 2008)

    The introduction of good quality, refined earthenware that could be mass produced and sold at reasonable prices profoundly effected the uses and roles of food service-based pottery across the Western world. With the development of creamware by English potters during the 1750s, families of even moderate means could afford to set their tables with modern and stylish wares. Within a generation, for better and for worse, tables in southern England were set much the same as those in Ireland, Russia, the Caribbean, or North America.

    Essentially designed as imitation porcelain, English refined earthenwares (generically known as “Queenswares” by the late 1700s) were fundamentally important consumer products across the globe. At the time, “China” referred only to true porcelain, although today, we generally use that term for all forms of refined pottery. Queenswares were reasonably inexpensive, they changed frequently following various fashions, they were easy to get in even the most remote locations, and they were fragile - millions of vessels wound up in the archaeological record. No other artifact class is as frequently occurring and articulate within the archaeological record of the 18th and 19th centuries. Every practicing historical archaeologist, then, needs a basic understanding of this consumer product.

    Refined earthenwares can be organized by VESSEL FORM, DECORATIVE TYPE, AND WARE TYPE. Only the first two classifications were of interest to the consumer at the time. Ware types are generally archaeological constructs designed to track technological changes in pottery over time. 



VESSEL FORM: 
 
   Generally, consumers purchased refined earthenwares sold in three basic categories:

TABLEWARES = plates, platters, pitchers, common bowls, 
                          mugs, pepper pots, sauce boats, etc 

TEAWARES = Teacups, saucers, teapots, sugar pots, cream pots,
                       waste bowls, cup plates, etc

TOILETWARES = Chamber pots, ewers, basins, etc

These three categories will encompass the majority of refined vessels found on archeological sites dating 1750-1850. Each category had a few additional vessel forms, occurring much less frequently. 



DECORATIVE TYPE:

    Generally, refined earthenwares were decorated with colored enamels and simple molding in 4 basic methods. Certain wares were also sold undecorated, in plain white.

EDGED WARES:  This refers to molding on the rims of plates and platters (and much less frequently around the bodies of certain hollow vessels) in a feathered, scalloped, or other simple repetitive pattern. The edges ere then usually painted in blue, green, or less commonly, red. The exception to this is on creamwares (see below), which were usually left uncolored.


PAINTED WARES:  Simple decorative motifs, often floral or geometric patterns, were painted by hand in a variety of colored enamels. These were copied out of pattern books at the factory, and were usually influenced by older Chinese porcelain designs. Although painted by hand, these products were still quite inexpensive.


DIPPED WARES:  This is a technique developed in the last quarter of the 18th century, which involved the use of colored clay slips that were applied in horizontal bands and fields across hollow vessels as they were turned on a wheel. This resulted in multicolored bowls, pitchers, mugs, and (much less frequently)teawares and other vessel forms. Between the bands, potters sometimes introduced acids into the glazes, resulting in a tree-like dendridic pattern known as “mocha”. 


PRINTED WARES:  A slightly more expensive process that involved the inking of a finely engraved copper plate, the printing of a tissue-like paper with the plate, and the "transfer” of that image to the bisque fired vessel with the tissue. The result was the ability to mass produce identical, highly detailed images similar to the engravings seen in books. Blue and black prints were the most common in the 1700s, and blue reigned most popular during the first quarter of the 19th century. Reds, greens, purples, and browns were introduced on printed wares around 1830.


WARE TYPE:

    Understanding ware types is a bIt more difficult, as some divisions are based on subtle changes in glaze and clay technologies. These changes went largely unnoticed by consumers of the period, but they did usually effect enamel coloring, which was an issue to the consumer. Between 1760 and 1840, there are three basic earthenware types that the archaeology must learn to recognize.

CREAMWARE: Developed in the 1750s (but most common after 1760) creamware was a revolutionary answer to the heavier bodied, less refined tin glazed wares (delft, faience, and majolica) popular in Europe during the 15th-18th centuries. This fine paste, cream-colored ware was light, reasonably durable, even-colored, and could be molded into a wide variety of shapes. It could also be mass produced and sold inexpensively. After the mid-1760s, most creamware was undecorated - that was part of its attraction. But some wares (particularly teas) were  painted, and others decorated in festive dipped/mocha patterns.  Some creamwares were also printed, usually in black. All forms of table, tea, and toiletwares were manufactured in creamware, which has a slightly greenish cast to the glaze when examined closely. Its popularity began to wane in the 1790s, and it was no longer manufactured after 1820. 

PEARLWARE: Introduced by English potters around 1780, pearlware employed different pastes and glazes that gave the vessels a distinctive bluish cast, very similar to Chinese porcelain. Unlike creamware, nearly all pearlware products were decorated.  Before 1790, most of those decorations were blue, and directly inspired by Chinese imagery. In the 1790s, new “mineral pigments”  introduced a distinctive new color palette. While pearlware is traditionally identified by archaeologists and collectors by the blue “puddling” of glaze on the base of the vessel, this often leads to misidentifications. In fact, blue tinting was used on many different products (including the later “whiteware” and “ironstone” products) to whiten the appearance of the pots. Instead, identification of pearlware should be made by the nature of the colors used beneath the blue-tinted glaze. Pearlware was abruptly replaced by whiteware around 1830.

WHITEWARE: This is one of the more problematic ware type designations, in part due to the fact that it is used primarily by archaeologists, and is not often found in antique or collector’s literature. The term is an important one, however, as it refers to a sudden and widespread change which occurred in English pottery around 1830. This change involved the switch to a clearer glaze type, with much less blue tinting, which allowed for new colors to be applied beneath the glaze. Before this, many colors such as bright red or green became muddied beneath the blue glaze, and thus only mineral pigments could be used. With the new whiteware glazes and pastes came new, crisp, primary colors that were immediately popular. Essentially, whiteware is still made today, in the form of any low fired earthenware with a clear glaze.
Pottery factories at Leeds England
circa 1850
 
Chinese porcelain teabowl, ca 1650.
Most early refined earthenwares imitated fashionable chinese exports
table pitcher ca. 1835
teapot ca. 1825
chamber pot  ca. 1830
shell edged plate  ca. 1830
painted saucer  ca. 1825
dipped pitcher  ca. 1820
printed cup ca. 1825
undecorated creamware  ca. 1800
overglaze painted creamware ca. 1790
“china glaze” pearlware ca. 1785
mineral pigment pearlware ca. 1810
printed whiteware ca. 1835