What is Pottery or Ceramics?

 
 

Before we delve into the complex world of pottery and ceramics it is perhaps worthwhile just having a look at how important and pervasive they are in our everyday life (from kitchen ware to an applied art form).


Firstly we have pottery which can be almost anything - earthenware, stoneware, or porcelain. Potteries are places where pottery is made, and pottery is also both a craft and a manufacturing process. A “formal” definition would include all fired ceramic wares containing clay (excluding bricks), but some experts would include vessels in the definition and others would exclude figurines. Pottery has its origins in prehistory (as early as 29,000-25,000 BC) and fragments and sherds can be found on archaeological sites. Earthenware was the earliest, and would have been formed by hand, undecorated and fired at a low temperature in a pit-fire. The first ceramic glazes, making it impermeable, came from Japan and date from around 552-794 AD. Glazed stoneware came from China and is known to have existed as early as the 15th C BC. It must be fired at a higher temperature, and requires kilns. Porcelain came also from China in the Tang Dynasty (619-906 AD), but only arrived in Europe in the 18th C.


Ceramic is simply an inorganic, non-metallic solid made by the action of heating and then cooling. Most common ceramics are crystalline (although glass is a form of amorphous ceramic), and the word actually derives from Greek for “pottery”. Ceramic art is a kind of sub-set including figures, tiles, and tableware made from clay using the process of pottery.


Porcelain is a ceramic material made by heating clay in the form of kaolin in a kiln at high temperatures (>1,200ºC). Distinctions can be made for soft-paste porcelain which is a clay body mixed with glass frit (often used for decorative figures and domestic wares), hard-paste porcelain which is the combination of feldspathic rock petuntse and kaolin fired at high temperatures (>1,400ºC), and bone china which is a type of soft-paste porcelain made of bone ash, feldspathic rock and kaolin originally developed in England in 1748.


More specifically we can divide pottery into a number of sub-groups, namely:


Stoneware is a vitreous or semi-vitreous ceramic made from non-refractory fire clay, but it can also contain quartz and feldspar. It will be once-fired, but normally it will be glazed and fired a second time. It is dense, impermeable and hard, and usually has a gray or brownish colour. Usually inexpensive it can be used for very large items, as well as tableware and art ware. It has its origins in China during the Shang dynasty (ca. 1600-1064 BC).

Rosso Antico was a unglazed red stoneware made in England in the 18th C (1760’s) by Wedgwood, and inspired by early Chinese red stoneware tea services exported in the 1660’s.

Caneware was an English 18th C (developed ca. 1770) unglazed stoneware of light brown (or tan) colour. It was a significant advance over coarse stoneware, but was replaced by earthenware. Some examples looked like a pie pastry crust and caneware was often used for cooking or serving utensils. Antique caneware can vary in price between € 20-250.

Crouch Ware (first made in 1690) was a salt-glazed stoneware but more finely finished in part due to the use of a finer grained “pipeclay” and a turning lathe.

Jasperware is a type of stoneware first developed by Wedgwood. It has a matte finish and is best known with a pale blue colour (Jasper is the mineral giving this colour).

Basalt ware again was introduced by Wedgwood in 1768. It was a black stoneware, a reddish-brown clay that burned black in firing.


Here are some examples of stoneware.



The first (left) is salt-glazed stoneware from London, ca. 1850, valued at about €170. The second item (middle) is a Brampton brown salt-glazed stoneware toby jug, ca. 1840, and valued at around €700. The third item (right) is a salt-glazed stoneware mustard pot from London, ca. 1830 and valued at around € 30 due to a repair on the handle.



Above on the left we have a Doulton stoneware harvest jug, ca. 1860 and valued at around € 60. In the middle we have a Doulton stoneware jug made for the centenary of the death of Nelson, ca. 1905 valued at about € 50 due to the damage on the rim. On the right we have a Feldspatic stoneware milk jug, ca. 1810 and worth about € 300.



Above (left) we have a German salt-glazed stoneware Westerwald tankard, ca. 1720 and valued at around € 700. In the middle there is a German salt-glazed stoneware Westerwald GR jug, ca. 1720 valued at € 450. And on the right we have a German salt-glazed stoneware Westerwald jug, dated ca. 1870 and valued at just € 50.



On the left we have a English salt-glazed stoneware soup plate with Chinese style enamels, ca. 1770 and valued at € 1,100 despite a chip and hairline crack. In the middle we have a large English white salt-glazed stoneware tankard, ca. 1760 and valued at € 1,300. The item on the right is a Staffordshire white salt-glazed stoneware teapot, ca. 1760 and valued in excess of € 2,500 despite a chip and a restoration on the spout.



On the left we have 3 small bough pots in caneware, ca. 1800 and valued at about €1,700 despite crack, chips and a major repair. In the middle we have a Wedgwood Rosso Antico teapot, ca. 1805-1815. Chinese and Egyptian motifs were popular and a full antique tea service could easily cost in excess of € 10,000 retail. On the right we have a Wedgwood Rosso Antico fruit bowl, ca. 1800 valued at around € 600.



Here on the left we have a Wedgwood jasper plaque, ca. 1820 with a value of around € 70. In the middle we have a Wedgwood jasper ware chess piece, ca. 1880 and valued at in excess of € 700. On the right we have a large (40 cm) Wedgwood basalt vase with encaustic decoration, ca. 1765, and despite being cracked and missing its lid this example is still worth around € 3,000.


Earthenware is a mix of clay, kaolin, quartz and feldspar and is one of the oldest materials used for pottery. After firing it remain opaque, porous and has a white, buff or red colour.

Terra Cotta is a type of earthenware, and is a clay-based unglazed or glazed ceramic that when fired remains porous. Think flower pots and the TerraCotta Army.

Ironstone ware is a type of vitreous pottery first made in the UK in the late 18th C. Often considered earthenware, but its appearance and properties are similar to stoneware. It was a cheaper, mass-produced alternative to porcelain.

Yellow ware is a type of earthenware named after the yellow clay used, and it has its origins in the UK in the late 18th C. It was often used for kitchen ware, with bowls for cooling milk, mixing, batter & bread making, jars for preserves, crocks for beer, and molds.

Tin-glazed is pottery covered in a glaze containing tin oxide which is white, shiny and opaque and dates from the 9th C Iraq. The body would normally be made of a red or buff coloured earthenware, and the use of the glaze in Europe was designed to imitate Chinese porcelain. It would usually be decorated. The decorated tin-glaze from Renaissance Italy was sometimes called maiolica, whereas in the Netherlands it was known as Delftware, and in France is was known as faïence. It was also the basis of the Portuguese Azulejo.

Maiolica (or Majolica) is a highly coloured tin-glazed earthenware dating from the Renaissance.

Faïence describes a white tin-glazed pottery on a delicate pale buff earthenware body.

Delftware is a blue and white tin-glazed pottery (plates, ornaments and tiles) made in Delft from 1512. There exists also an English Delftware starting in about 1550.

Creamware is a cream coloured earthenware created about 1750 and used for domestic ware. Wedgwood lightened the cream colour to a bluish white using cobalt in a lead over-glaze and called it pearl ware. It was an inexpensive substitute for Chinese export porcelain. Pratt ware was another version of creamware.

Mocca ware is a kind of dripped ware (slip-decorated, lathe-turned, utilitarian earthenware) from the UK in the late 18th C. It was the cheapest decorated domestic pottery available.

Dipped ware was a term used in Britain in the late 18th C and 19th C for utilitarian earthenware vessels turned on horizontal lathes and decorated with coloured slip.

Lustreware (or Lusterware) is a type of pottery or porcelain with a metallic glaze giving it an iridescence effect. It is a finish that is placed over the glaze, and after a second firing at a lower temperature in a reduction kiln that excluded oxygen.


Here are some examples of earthenware.



On the left we have a 18th C terra cotta wine or water jar, approximate value € 200. In the middle we have a Chinese terra cotta Tang Dynasty (618-927) dog (probably a burial figure) that could retail for in excess of € 700. On the left we have a yellow ware blue and white banded country bowl, 20th C and retailing at about € 100 (often classed as a kitchen collectable). These types of simple wares are easily faked (e.g. reproductions) and you really have to be expert to tell the different between an original and fake.



On the left we have a blue and white ironstone jar with lid, ca. 1850. In the middle we have a 19th C Mason’s ironstone plate with a stylised Willow Pattern, valued at around € 50. On the right we have a Mason’s ironstone vegetable tureen with the “Japan Basket” pattern, ca. 1813-1820, and valued at about € 300-450.



On the left we have a Mason’s ironstone tapered octagonal vase, ca. 1860 and valued at around € 900. In the middle we have a hand-painted Mason’s ironstone Compote with handles, ca. 1840 valued at around € 140. On the right we have a grape octagon sugar bowl, ca. 1860 and valued at around € 40.



On the left we have an Italian maiolica wet drug jar, ca. 1750 and valued at only € 100 due to the extensive repairs to the handle, rim and foot. I have seen other examples similar to this, but in a better condition, on offer for in excess of € 1,000. In the middle we have an Italian maiolica plate, ca. 1710 with a hand painted biblical scene valued at about € 4,000. On the right we have a pair of Italian maiolica albarelli, ca, 1566 and valued at around € 10,000.    





On the left we have a French faïence “fond blanc” Renaissance pitcher with handle, in very good condition but valued only at around € 250. In the middle we have a small French faïenceVeuve Perrin” box with pewter mounts, 18th C and valued at around € 300. On the right we have a French faïence Jardiniere, ca. 1750 valued at around € 1,000.



On the left we have a Liverpool Delftware plate, ca. 1750 valued at around € 50 due to the breaks and repairs. In the middle we have a pair of Delftware vases, ca. 1800 valued at around € 60 due to cracks and breaks on the rims. On the right we have a small Delftware beaker, ca. 1680 that would certainly cost in excess of € 700 retail.



On the left we have a London Delftware drug jar, ca. 1740 with an inscription S:PAPAV:ERR meaning a syrup of red poppies (or in other words opium). Because of some damage to its spout it has been valued at around € 1,400. In the middle we have a Bristol Delftware plate, ca. 1740 valued at around € 450. On the right we have a pair of London Delftware shoes, ca. 1720 and valued at around € 9,000 despite some restoration.



On the left we have Portuguese Azulejo tile panel of Albarrada (e.g. a vase or urn with flowers), ca. 1700-1749 valued at about € 3,500. In the middle we have a 19th C Spanish Azulejo Mudéjar polychrome tile valued at in excess of € 1,000. On the right we have some 17th C Portuguese Azulejo tiles, ca. 1850 valued at around € 500.



On the left we have a Wedgwood creamware teapot, ca. 1780 and valued at around € 700 despite a chip on the lid and a restored hairline crack. In the middle we have a Pratt ware jug moulded with the profiles of Admiral Nelson and Captain Berry (Battle of the Nile), ca, 1798 and valued at € 400 despite some restoration. On the right we have a large slip decorated mocha ware tankard, ca. 1820 and valued at around € 1,000 even after restoration. 



On the left we have a pearlware slip decorated child’s mug, ca. 1820, valued at around € 500 with a crack and some restoration. In the middle we have creamware slip decorated mug, ca. 1800 valued at around € 500 and with a small restoration. On the right we have another piece of pearlware in the form of a “charity group with three children”, ca. 1800 and valued at around € 350. You can see the difference in colour between creamware and pearlware.



Porcelain is a ceramic made by heating a mixture of clay and kaolin in a kiln. In some countries it is referred to as “china” or “fine china” given that China was the birthplace of porcelain. We will follow the main Wikipedia article and mention here Chinese porcelain (and pottery),  Meissen, soft-paste porcelain, hard-paste porcelain, and bone china.


Here are some examples of porcelain.



Chinese pottery and porcelain can be defined by the period it was made in, by the type or use, and by the colour. They are also masters of reproductions and fakes. On the left we have a large Chinese earthenware open storage jar with a pin needle impression from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) valued at around € 1,200 (can these things really survive a 1,000 years?). In the middle we have a Chinese earthenware hexagonal ginger jar with a turquoise glaze, ca. 1800’s and valued at around € 50 (a fake - who knows). On the left we have a reproduction Chinese terra cotta warrior, this is a copy of an original typically made ca. 589-616 AD and valued at around € 200-400. 




On the left we have hand-painted Chinese porcelain reticulated vase from the Ching Dynasty (1736-1795) with four hand-painted round plaques each signed with calligraphy. Value estimated at about € 500-700. In the middle we have a 18th C blue and white Chinese porcelain bowl with hand-painted scene, valued at around € 300-500. On the right we have a Chinese porcelain Ch’ien Lung (1711-1799) hand-painted enameled ginger jar, but this is a 20th C copy valued at around € 150-250.


The Chinese started to produce “export-ware” exclusively for the European market in the 16th C. This included Kraak porcelain, Yixing stoneware, Blanc-de-Chine, blue and white porcelain, Famille verte, noire, jaune and rose, Chinese Imari, Armorial wares and Canton porcelain. In the 18th C exports increased and included tea-wares and dinner services decorated with flowers, bamboo or a pagoda, e.g. Willow Pattern.





On the left we have a good example of a late Ming (1368-1644) Kraak Klapmuts (Dutch meaning a cap or hat) bowl with a bird on a rock, ca. 1610 and valued at around € 250. In the middle we have a Chinese earthenware Yixing teapot and cover, ca. 1800’s and valued at around € 3,000. On the right we have an 18th C blanc-de-Chine Dehua Budai, prices at around € 4,000 because of the finely sculptured features (Dehua was a place where they made “China White” and Budai lived in the 8-9th C and was noted for his round stomach and his affinity for children).




On the left we have a large 19th C Chinese blue and white porcelain plate, valued at around € 300 due to chips and a crack. In the middle we have a large Famille Noir Chinese bowl, 19th C and valued at around € 700-1,000. On the right we have a small Chinese Famille Jaune rectangular reticulated brush pot, 18-19th C and valued around € 9,000.    



On the left we have a good example of a Chinese Imari plate decorated in the traditional blue, iron red and gold, ca. 1662-1722 and valued at around € 150. In the middle we have a large Chinese export armorial soup tureen with cover, mid-18th C and valued at around € 3,000-5,000. On the right we have a Chinese Rose Canton porcelain serving dish, ca. 1850 and valued at around € 300 because of a chip on one edge. 



Meissen porcelain was the first European hard-paste porcelain producer, starting in 1710 (see also Johann Friedrich Böttger). On the left we have a 19th C Meissen porcelain sweet-meats figural bowl, valued at about € 1,400. In the middle we have a 19th C hand-painted oval-covered Meissen porcelain dresser box valued at about € 12,000. On the right we have a 19th C Meissen porcelain “Pagoda” nodder with the head and hands moving and even the tongue moves in and out, valued at about € 800-1,200.



Soft-paste porcelain is a generic description describing bone china (e.g. Spode), Seger Porcelain, vitreous porcelain, new Sévres porcelain, Parian porcelain and soft feldspathic porcelain (e.g. a clay body mixed with glass frit). On the left we have a Dr. Wall Worcester soft-paste porcelain platter, ca. 1770 in excellent condition and worth around € 150. In the middle we have a Derby soft-paste porcelain Harlequin, ca. 1775 and valued at around € 5,000. On the right we have a Rathbone (London) soft-paste porcelain tea cup and saucer in perfect condition, ca. 1812-1835 with a value of about € 150.



Hard-paste porcelain is a ceramic made of a mix of feldspathic rock and kaolin fired at a high temperature. Originally from China the secret of its manufacture was discovered by Meissen. On the left we have a French Niderviller hard-paste porcelain vase in the empire style, ca. 1800 with a value of around € 1,300. In the middle we have a Dresden hard-paste porcelain Demitasse cup and saucer, late 19th C and a set of 8 is valued at about € 1,000. On the right we have a single French Sèvres hard-paste porcelain cup and saucer, ca. 1876 and valued at around € 300.