Pearlware: Origins and Types (Part 2)

Terence A. Lockett

In a previous article (April 1996) the origins of pearlware were examined and a number of the obvious types such as underglaze blue painted (china glazed) and shell edged were described. In this article I want to examine the other manifestations which collectors, dealers and ceramic historians have usually termed 'pearlware'. We should bear in mind that all these varieties normally exhibit the defining characteristic of a glaze which is made bluish in appearance as a result of the addition of a small amount of cobalt oxide. It is also worth stressing that several of these types already bear well-established names to which we should adhere. Their inclusion in the overall category of pearlware is primarily because of the nature of their glaze.

An extremely prolific class of wares in the period 1780-1840 was that in which the decoration was painted under the glaze in more than one colour. Only certain colours could withstand the heat of around 1000-1100oC necessary for firing the lead glaze. Thus the repertoire of colours for underglaze painting (which was the contemporary potters term) was restricted to tin, lead and antimony for yellow; cobalt for blue; lead and copper for greens. Iron and manganese oxide mixed produced brown tones; manganese alone gave a purplish brown; black was produced by a mixture of iron oxide and cobalt and orange by any of the yellow oxides with the addition of iron oxide.

These underglaze polychrome painted pearlwares cover a vast range of items, and it is helpful to sub-divide them into easily recognisable groups.

Pratt Ware

We are fortunate in having an excellent reference book on this particular class of wares. John and Griselda Lewis1, Pratt Ware: English and Scottish relief decorated and underglazed coloured earthenware 1780-1840. This very carefully chosen title is most helpful in defining just what we mean by Pratt ware. The two most important distinguishing features are that the ware is relief moulded  and this is taken to include plaques and figures  and that the wares are 'underglaze coloured'; that is painted. So, strictly, Pratt ware does not normally include tablewares, unless they are mugs, jugs and teapots which are relief moulded. 

For the derivation of the term Pratt ware the Lewis' book should be consulted. Any factory-marked specimens are extremely rare though literally hundreds of potters made such pieces both for the home and export markets. Mugs and jugs predominate with a smaller number of teapots and sugar boxes. Moulded plaques are uncommon, but the range of figures is very large, extending from Toby jugs, to busts of famous politicians, money boxes, pipes, vases, flower pots, stirrup cups and many more. Alas, reproductions of some of the most popular models such as the Nelson & Berry jug, the Macaroni tea canister and Peace and Plenty were produced by George and James Senior in the 1890-1920 period. Frequently these were marked Leeds Pottery. Some, but proportionately fewer, Pratt ware pieces occur in creamware rather than pearlware.

Underglaze polychrome painted pearlware tablewares This large mouthful is perhaps best described as the potters would have done as simply painted. In this equally extensive group we are thinking basically of tablewares such as plates, tea bowls and saucers, teapots, mugs and jugs which have no relief moulding whatsoever. The decoration, however, is by painting; and occasionally some sponging, in high temperature colours under the glaze. Understandably, but somewhat confusingly, these are often referred to as Pratt colours.

This class of ware is from the lower end of the price scale. Two firings only were required, and there was no relief moulding to raise the cost of production. Despite this, and the very unsophisticated nature of some of the decoration, these pots are highly esteemed by collectors, especially in the USA to which vast quantities were exported in the period 1790-1840. These cheap and cheerful pots, include the many variations of the 'peafowl' design  and other charmingly na´ve patterns depict butterflies, brightly coloured groups of flowers and the splendid pineapple. Later designs of the 1830s show flower patterns in a remarkably modern and somewhat over-simplified manner. This type of ware is rarely met with in English collections, but is encountered in almost every archaeological assemblage recorded in the USA from the first half of the 19th century, and in many museum and private collections. Marked wares are rare, but they were in the repertoire of almost every manufacturer.

Spatterware and Spongeware

These are even less well-known in English collections than the painted tablewares. 

They are really a sub-group of the type. These wares are painted, and/or sponged, under the glaze, and appear to have been almost exclusively destined for the American market in the period 1820-1860. Most of the later examples were not of pearlware, but of clear-glazed earthenware or stone china, dating from circa 1840-60. Spatterware is much collected in the USA and a range of patterns is recorded including Schoolhouse; Peafowl; Stripe; Tulip; Star; Eagle and Shield; Cherries; Ruins or Castles or Forts. 

The forms are nearly all tablewares and a surprising number of makers' marks have been recorded including Adams & Co and William Adams; Davenport; Harvey; Mayer; William Ridgway & Co; Phillips; Podmore & Walker; E. T. Troutbeck; Thomas Walker and Enoch Wood. 

An amazing display of some 1200 pieces can be seen in the eponymous 'Spatterware Hall' at Winterthur Museum in Delaware.

Underglaze printed pearlwares

The familiar underglaze blue transfer printed wares ranging from early Willow-type patterns to the later scenic 'Beauties of Britain' were usually accompanied by a pearlware glaze. This feature was almost universal until clear glazes seem to have gained the ascendency in the 1820s. However, this class of ware is so well known that it is unnecessary to comment further, simply remind readers of the standard reference works on this form of pearlware2.

One most attractive form of pearlware is underglaze printed . These small cup plates printed underglaze in black are rarely marked, but are known particularly from the Don and Rockingham potteries in the 1815-25 period. They are charming evocations of the rural landscape.

'Salopian' or underglaze printed and polychrome painted pearlware This is a most attractive variant which again is more often encountered in American than English collections. Here the pearlware is printed in outline, usually in brown or black, under the glaze, and is then painted in polychrome colours under the glaze in the high temperature palette. The pieces seem to date from circa 1810 to the mid 1830s, and marked examples are known from Adams; Brameld; Davenport; Don; Ferrybridge; Keeling; Shorthose; Stubbs and Whitehaven amongst many unmarked wares 3.

Whilst still dealing with underglaze decorated pearlwares, mention should be made of the so-called 'industrial slipwares''. This group includes Mocha wares, that is pieces decorated with tree-like  dendritic decoration and coloured slips under the glaze, and the 'Dip' , turned and 'banded' slipwares which form a very large group of mainly tablewares from the period circa 1780 right through to the end of the 19th century. These wares merit special discussion, but it should be noted here that the early examples are predominantly creamware; that pearlware is to the fore in the period 1790-1840 and that thereafter clear glazed wares are the general rule 4.

Turning now to on-glaze decorated pearlwares there are fewer complications of terminology. All the wares noted below will have been to the kiln at least three times: a first biscuit firing; a glaze or glost firing and one or more enamel firings to burn the colours. This does not include any further firings for additional decoration such as lustre or gilding. Clearly wares in this category will normally be more expensive than those which require only two visits to the oven. The potters' term for these wares was enameled.

Most enamel decorated pearlwares are in a sense the poor cousins of their porcelain counterparts. Any earthenware body was less expensive than a porcelain one, but almost identical effects could be obtained by enamelling either in monochrome, usually black or purple, or polychrome, as would be the case with porcelain. Thus we find many splendid depictions on pearlware of named botanical specimens from such factories as Brameld (Rockingham); Don; Davenport; Wilson and Swansea. Equally attractive are wares ranging from dessert services to bulb pots decorated with the typical 'picturesque' landscapes of the period5. This form of on-glaze enamel decoration was especially fine in the Regency period circa 1795-18206.

Famille Rose decoration

This forms a quite distinct sub-group of enamelled wares. Once more the wares are emulating porcelain, but in this case it is imported Chinese wares decorated with small floral sprigs and simple border arrangements. These pearlware pieces could be said to be copying New Hall porcelain, but then this Staffordshire factory derived many of its cottagey patterns from Oriental prototypes. Many manufacturers produced pearlware of this type in the years 1785-1815. Marked wares are rare. 

Gaudy Dutch

Once more we have a class of ware whose decoration is primarily derived from the Oriental  in this case Japanese Imari porcelain  and which seems to have been manufactured principally for the American export market. There is considerable debate about its exact derivation and nature, especially in American collecting circles. Suffice to say that in the period circa 1800-1840 much of this ware was produced in pearlware by 

British potters in a range of sixteen or so patterns named by collectors as Butterfly; Carnation; Dahlia; Double Rose; Dove; Grape; Leaf; Oyster; Primrose; Urn; Single Rose; Strawflower; Sunflower; War Bonnet and Zinnia. All these patterns display the characteristic of having underglaze blue as part of the design, augmented on-glaze by the typical Imari palette of green, red, orange, pink and yellow. Wares are rarely marked but Davenport, Enoch Wood & Sons and Riley marks have been noted7. 

It is worth stressing that Gaudy Welsh, a similar decoration with some 300 noted patterns which appear most usually on bone china, is not the same thing as Gaudy Dutch.

Further forms of decoration which seem market-specific to America are the on-glaze enamel patterns on pearlware known as King's Rose  and Queen's Rose. These are common in American collections, but are rarely found in this country. The period of manufacture would seem to be circa 1815-40.

Two further categories need noting. Many pearlwares have lustre decoration, but as with underglaze transfer printing this is in effect a special area and need not detain us here. The same may be said of the huge quantities of figures which exhibit the pearlware glaze. Full information on these types of pearlwares is indicated below8,9.

The pearlware body and glaze was also used as a basis upon which to print over the glaze. Prints are well-known on large numbers of commemorative jugs and mugs, such as those for the American market depicting scenes from the Naval War of 1812. British political, social, military and historical scenes are frequently found, sometimes with additional on-glaze enamel embellishment. Again this is a rather specific variant of pearlware which is fully illustrated in the specialist books10.

As has been indicated throughout this article, a huge range of types of wares was manufactured in pearlware, but from the 1820s or even earlier potters began to make wares with a particularly white body and a clear colourless glaze. It is not always easy to separate these pieces from recognisably pearlware items. Often it is more appropriate to refer to them by their class or generic title such as Mocha or spatterware rather than try to use the glaze as a determining characteristic. The term whiteware is sometimes used, but this is not a contemporary potters' term, although it is an archaeologists1 definition with a somewhat disputed meaning. It is perhaps better to leave that discussion for another day! If in doubt, call it earthenware! Meanwhile we can enjoy the wide-ranging attractions of what we, but not the original potters, are pleased to term pearlware.


I am especially indebted to Winterthur Museum, Delaware for research facilities and the ever helpful assistance of the Librarian Eleanor Mc. D. Thompson. Also to the Registration Division for photographs of wares in the Museum's outstanding collection. For many years Pat Halfpenny and I have discussed problems of creamware and pearlware. Formerly at Stoke and now at Winterthur, her enthusiastic support has been invaluable. Amongst many others, four American friends and researchers have been unfailingly helpful. Especial thanks are due to Paul Fox, Ann Smart Martin, George Miller and Jonathan Rickard.



1. Further details of patterns and makers are in Earl F. & Ada Roback, Spatterware and Sponge; Hardy Perennials of Ceramics (Barnes, N. J. 1978).
2. See A. W. Coysh and R. K. Henrywood, The Dictionary of Blue &
White Printed Pottery 1780-1880
, 2 Vols, (ACC).
3. For illustrations of the wares, and the origin of the term 'Salopian', see Ray Parkin, Northern Ceramic Society Newsletter, No. 83, Sept. 1991.
4. For a full discussion see Jonathan Rickard in The Magazine ANTIQUES, Aug. 1993.
5. See Terence A. Lockett, Picturesque Decoration on English Ceramics in Antique Collecting (ACC Oct. 1989).
6. See Terence A. Lockett The Regency Style in English Ceramics in Antique Collecting (ACC May 1990).
7. For a good selection of illustrations, see John A. Shuman III, The Collector1s Encyclopaedia of Gaudy Dutch & Welsh (Collector Books, KY, 1991).
8. See G. A. Godden & M. Gibson, Collecting Lustreware (Barrie & Jenkins, 1991).
9. See Pat Halfpenny, English Earthenware Figures: 1740-1840 (ACC 1991).
10. See David Drakard, Printed English Pottery: History and Humour in the Reign of George II, 1760-1820 (J. Horne, 1992) and J. & J. May Commemorative Pottery 1780-1900 (Heinemann, 1972).




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