of pottery that have been made in or imported to America can be
to sort through. Below is a thumbnail sketch of the most common types
pottery found in America during the 17th and 18th centuries along with
a very brief technical description of each which, hopefully, will prove
useful to the reader.
The average New England household in the 17th century could contain an assortment of ceramics from Europe, the Mediterranean and the Orient. Trade up and down the Atlantic coast was taking place among the Dutch, English and Spanish. The inventories of early 17th century New England households in the Boston area have shown to contain Dutch and English delft, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese maiolica (or majolica), porcelain, imported redware and locally manufactured redware.
EARTHENWARE: All clays which have a porosity above 5% when fired are considered earthenwares. What this means is that the ability of a fired clay to hold liquids without seepage occurring must be within 5% of being completely water tight (vitrified). Earthenwares can range from pure white to dark brown in color. The texture of the clays can be fine grained to coarse. Generally, earthenwares fire to lower temperatures than either stoneware or porcelain. Earthenwares cannot be made absolutely water tight because of their porosity although the application of glaze to the pot does help. Some glazes work better than others in preventing seepage.
Redware is a type of earthenware. What causes the red color is the amount of iron in the clay body. Other minerals can affect the color as well but iron is the major mineral to affect color. Redwares can range from light orange to dark brown in color and the clay body can be fine grained to coarse. Redware clay deposits occur close to the surface and can be used as they are after processing. The color of the clay as it comes out of the ground can very greatly from the finished pot. Often, redware clays in New England are grey in color until after firing at which time many of them range from bright orange to deep red-brown.
During the 17th and 18th centuries,
redware was usually utilitarian and sometimes of poor quality. From the
1680s through the Revolutionary War potters were restricted by the
from making fancier wares and could only make the more basic
such as chamber pots, pans, butter pots and other common pieces found
the kitchen and pantry. These types of wares were not economical to
from Europe and so local production was tolerated. Refined redwares,
stoneware and all porcelain and tin-glazed wares were imported into the
American colonies until the end of the Revolutionary War.
Delft is also a type of earthenware. The clay is covered with an opaque tin bearing glaze and then often but not always painted and finally fired. The term delft is confusing and many references in the past have been inconsistent. A more accurate term is Tin glazed wares. Tin glazed wares include: delft from Holland and England, maiolica (or majolica) from Italy, Spain and Portugal and faience from France and Germany. They are all the same process, that is, an earthenware clay with the opaque tin glaze applied over.
Tin glazed wares were never produced in
but the plainer types were imported in large quantities from the mid
through mid 18th century. Because these wares are soft, porous and
chipped, they lost popularity as soon as pottery which was more durable
and aesthetically satisfying could be made. This happened around 1750
Staffordshire white salt glaze, an especially refined and
type of pottery started being produced in England. At the same time,
earthenwares were developed and these wares satisfied the changing
of both Europeans and Americans. Creamware and pearlware are types of
STONEWARE: Clay which can be fired within 2% of total vitrification or less are considered to be stoneware. Stoneware clays are usually made up of blended clay bodies to produce a malleable, strong clay which can be worked on the pottersÕ wheel and fired to a vitreous state. Color and texture of stoneware clays can vary quite a lot. Color can range from white to dark brown and texture can be smooth to coarse. Salt glazing is a process whereby sodium, most often in the form of coarse salt, is introduced into the kiln during the firing. A chemical reaction between the clay body and the salt forms the pebbly, clear glaze. Although technically salt-glazing can be performed on certain earthenwares and porcelains, this process is most commonly used on stoneware. From an historic viewpoint, it can be assumed that a salt-glazed pot is made of stoneware.
Stonewares were imported from Europe to the American Colonies until the end of the Revolutionary War. Germany and England were the largest producers and exporters of stoneware. Both countries were producing grey salt glaze with blue decoration. The English added manganese purple as a decoration by the 18th century. Both countries also produced brown salt glaze. The German bellarmine jug and the English stein are the most common forms of brown salt glazed stoneware produced for foreign markets. American production began in the mid 18th century and both imitated and competed with the European imports despite trade restrictions. Large scale manufacture did not occur until immediately after the Revolutionary War. The large centers in the North spread from New Jersey and New York into New England. The southern centers were concentrated in Philadelphia and eastern Pennsylvania. Over time, more potteries started and began spreading further south. The tradition of salt glaze and alkaline glaze stoneware continued there well into the mid 19th century.
PORCELAIN: A hard, white, non-porous clay which originated in China. The primary ingredient in porcelain is a fine grained clay called kao ling or kaolin. There are two types of porcelain ; hard paste and soft paste. Hard paste porcelain is fired to high temperatures where the clay becomes glasslike in its composition. Hard paste porcelains were imported from the Orient, mostly from China where sophisticated manufacturing techniques began as early as the 14th century. The popularity of porcelain created what is referred to as the China Trade.
Like stoneware, porcelain is most often composed of a mixture of different clays. Suitable European clays for the production of porcelain were difficult to fine and the Europeans could not figure out the formula for porcelain until the end of the first quarter of the 18th century. They first began making soft paste porcelain which fires to lower temperatures than hard paste and does not achieve the much sought after translucence of hard paste. Bone china is a type of soft paste porcelain developed in Europe. Production in the United States began in Philadelphia during the 3rd quarter of the 18th century but still proved difficult to produce and the attempt was short lived. It was in the 19th century that the ceramic industry reached its greatest level of growth and diversification in America before declining in the 20th century due to a variety of factors. Mass produced non-ceramic containers were less fragile, lighter in weight and cheaper to produce. This made handmade pottery too labor intensive and time consuming to continue being a viable trade.
Julia Smith has been making 17th and 18th century pottery reproductions for 16 years and provides work for museums, historic reenactors and movies.
Ketchum, William, American Redware, Henry Holt & Co., 1991.
Turnbaugh, Sarah Peabody (editor), Domestic Pottery of the Northeastern United States 1625-1850, Academic Press, 1985.
Rice, Prudence, Pottery Analysis, The University of Chicago Press, 1987.
Hamer, Frank, The Potter's Dictionary of Materials and Techniques, Watson-Guptill, 1975.
Quimby, Ian (editor), Ceramics in America, University Press of Virginia, 1972.