Creamware is thinly potted, clear lead-glazed refined earthenware with a cream-colored body. Creamware can range in color from ivory to tan to straw-colored. Variations in decorative techniques, such as molding, underglaze and overglaze painting and transfer-printing, are used to describe and date these wares.
The development of creamware, which was fired twice, marked a major transition in the English pottery industry. Each vessel was first fired to a bisque or biscuit stage; at that point it could be decorated further before being glazed and fired again. The solidity of vessels fired to the biscuit stage, coupled with the white-firing refined earthenware, made it possible to employ a variety of decorative techniques. Twice-fired wares become the dominant means of ceramic production and many later wares (Rockingham, yellow ware, underglaze printed and painted earthenware, etc.), grow out of this development.
In 1740 Enoch Booth introduced a cream-bodied refined earthenware that was soon being manufactured by many potters in Great Britain, including Thomas Whieldon and Josiah Wedgwood (Noël Hume 2001:204, 209; Towner 1957:2). These early wares were usually painted in underglaze blue in reserve panels against a speckled manganese ground, reminiscent of motifs and styles used on tin glazed earthenwares. Archaeologists often lump cream-colored earthenwares covered with rich green glazes or with mottled metallic oxides (clouded and tortoiseshell wares) together with creamwares. These wares are discussed in a separate section of this website.
In 1762, Wedgwood introduced a clear lead-glazed cream-colored ware that became known as creamware, which he, and soon other potters, called by the trade name “Queen’s Ware (Buten 1980:17). Creamware with colorless glaze quickly became popular tea and tablewares and was found in most households throughout England and the British colonies. There are four patterns that are predominant in creamware: Queen’s shape, royal shape, feather edge and shell edge (discussed in more detail below). Various techniques (underglaze painting, overglaze printing, rim molding, etc.) were used to decorate these cream-colored wares. A great majority of creamwares from circa 1770 to the turn of the nineteenth century were in molded patterns without the addition of color decoration (Miller 2015, personal communication). From the 1780s to the end of the War of 1812, plain creamware (known as “CC” by potters and merchants) dominated the ceramic market (Miller and Hunter 1990:110).
Creamware and other Staffordshire ceramic types were being produced in the American colonies (as well as continental Europe). Potter John Bartlam was making creamware by 1771 in South Carolina, manufacturing green-glazed wares, cauliflower, pineapple and melon wares, clouded and tortoiseshell wares, as well as the more common molded rim motifs (South 2004). His enterprise continued until his death in 1781 and was a cause of concern for Josiah Wedgwood (South 2004:4). Creamware was also produced at Wachovia, in North Carolina.
Creamware has a hard, somewhat porous body, and thin walls. Calcined flint, feldspar, and occasionally kaolin or other local clays, were added to the white-firing ball clay (Kybalová 1989:13). Iron impurities in the clay and glaze were responsible for the cream color of this ceramic (Halfpenny 1986:14).
Bisque (or biscuit-fired) creamware was dipped into a liquid glaze containing lead oxide, flint and sometimes small amounts of clay to produce a light transparent glaze when fired. The glaze often pooled in crevices, such as footrings or molded design elements, in yellow or greenish yellow shades. Earlier creamware tends to be a deeper yellow than later vessels, but this is not an infallible rule and thus not a reliable marker.
Creamware was decorated with a variety of techniques, used singly or in combination.
Molded Rim Motifs-Creamware was manufactured in a variety of molded rim motifs; among the best known are shell edge, feather edge, Queen’s shape and royal shape. Wedgwood used adaptations of the molded rim patterns found on white salt glazed stoneware on his cream-colored wares and these rim styles were readily copied by other potters. One of the most common motifs, "feather-edged," was in production between the 1760s to the 1790s (Miller and Hunter 1990:124). Also common were the Queen’s shape and royal shape rims. Queen’s shape was in production by around 1767 (Noel Hume 2001:211).
Although they rarely appear in American archaeological contexts, shell edge rims on creamware appeared as early as the mid-1770s (Miller and Hunter 1990:108). Rococo shell edge creamware appears to date between c. 1774 and c. 1790 (Miller and Hunter 1990:115), and creamware rims were often highlighted with overglaze enamels in purple, red, green, yellow, brown, or black.
Sprig Molding – The use of small molded decorative devices, usually flowers and foliage, on creamware was introduced in 1760s by Wedgwood (Mankowitz 1980:54). Sprig molding was often used in conjunction with underglaze sponged oxides (Barker and Halfpenny 1990:36).
Overglaze Enamels – Enamels used over the glaze were employed to create border motifs as well as larger decorative designs on cream-colored earthenware. Pattern books for several of the potteries (Wedgwood, Leeds) depict enameled border designs for creamware (Griffin 2005; Mankowitz 1980). These border designs include berries and leaves, grapes, ivy, flowers, Greek key, and egg and tongue style (Mankowitz 1980:38). Chinese house motifs in enameled colors were being produced in the 1770s (Miller and Hunter 2001). Enameled designs were manufactured from the late 1760s to about 1810 (Mankowitz 1980:49).
Underglaze Painting - Underglaze painting with cobalt blue on creamware became more extensively used after 1780 (Noël Hume 1970; Miller et al. 1994:220-223), but began as early as the 1770s (Barker and Halfpenny 1990:71). Many of the underglaze blue motifs on creamware were Chinese house patterns and other Chinese-influenced designs, as the transition from painted to printed decoration in the English porcelain industry led painters to seek employment in Staffordshire (Miller and Hunter 2001:147).
Overglaze Printing and Bat Printing - During the 1760s to 1780s, overglaze transfer printing in black and red (and more rarely, brown, yellow and dull green) was applied alone or with overglaze enameling. Wedgwood sent the first creamwares in 1761 to Sadler and Green for printing (Nelson 1980:94), later printing wares in his own factory. Cream-colored earthenwares decorated with printed designs were made for the American market between 1790 and 1825 (Nelson 1980). Many of these wares commemorated national heroes, sailing vessels and battles (Nelson 1980), using American prints as source material.
Dipt Wares - Annular, or "dipped", wares are characterized by bands of color and engine-turned designs on hollowware forms, mugs, bowls and pitchers. Creamwares with dipt decoration are more likely to display the brighter, earthy tones (orange, brown, green, mustard yellow) of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, rather than the blues and greys of dipt wares from the mid-19th century (Carpentier and Rickard 2001:132). These earthy tones resulted from the use of clay slips that fired to those shades.
Creamware came in all commonly found tableware and tea ware forms, including punch pots, bowls, punch bowls, coffee and teapots, mugs, jugs and tureens. More specialized vessel forms, such as salts, pickle dishes, ice pails, egg cups, asparagus pans, sweetmeat dishes, oil and vinegar stands, epergnes and ice cream bowls, were also manufactured.
Creamware also came in a wide variety of more utilitarian vessel forms, like moulds for jellies, water pots, milk pans, butter tubs, night lamps (veilleuse) and even artificial breasts for nursery use (Mankowitz 198 :46, 54-55). A variety of toiletry wares, especially chamber pots, were also made. Other toiletry wares included spitting pots, wash basins and ewers, shaving basins and candlesticks.
Barker 1991; Barker and Halfpenny 1990; Buten 1980; Carpientier and Rickard 2001; Griffin 2005; Halfpenny 1986; Hunter 2001; Kybalová 1989; Mankowitz 1980; Miller et al. 1994; Miller and Hunter 1990; 2001; Nelson 1980; Noël Hume 1970; 2001; South 2004; Towner 1957
(1970:123) refers to the gradual perfecting of cream-colored refined
earthenware as the most important development in 18thcentury ceramic technology. Wedgwood's innovations in creating
and marketing creamware, in combination with the new printing technology
and improvements in transportation services pushed Staffordshire
to a leading position in the world market. Prior to 1770, many types
of ceramics were imported into the American colonies but by the
1780s creamware and pearlware had displaced most of them (Miller
et al. 1994:223).