Chinese porcelain has
a vitrified, glassy paste with a slight blue to pale gray tint that
blends into and is nearly indistinguishable from the glaze. English
porcelain, from the 18th century, has
a somewhat softer, slightly translucent, paste and a clear, semi-gloss
glaze that frequently appears distinct from the body.
Chinese porcelain from the Ming Dynasty (1364 – 1644)
was introduced into Europe in the mid-16th century, initially by the Portuguese and then more extensively by the Dutch. Porcelain is very rare on archaeological sites in the Chesapeake
dating to the 17th century. Delicate
blue painted, white-bodied Ming sherds are found in contexts from the
first half of the 17th century. A coarser
ware, Kraak porcelain, was manufactured especially for export and is
also found on early 17th century sites
in the Chesapeake region (Curtis 1988; Sperling and Galke 2001). Chinese
porcelain became inaccessible to Europeans during the mid 17th century due to internal wars in southern China. The Dutch imported Japanese
Imari porcelain in its place after 1650, and occasional fragments of
this ware are found on colonial sites (Mudge 1986:33-34, 87). By the
end of the 17th century, Chinese porcelain
was again traded to Europe, in the ubiquitous ‘blue and white’ and also
This Chinese Export porcelain was specifically made
for the European market. Common decorative motifs included floral, foliate,
waterscapes, Chinese houses, people, birds, insects, and geometric and
crosshatched borders. In the 18th century,
these motifs were much copied by English potters, while the Chinese
were copying many European engravings and paintings, so that at times
it is difficult to determine the actual origin of a particular pattern.
Through a systematic study of decorations found on marked porcelain
vessels, Andrew Madsen (1995) was able to document and define date ranges
for certain types of decorative motifs. This information has been recently
published in George Miller's article on dateable artifacts (2002)
Blue underglaze painted porcelain was the most common
import in the colonies, and far exceeds the amount of overglaze ware
found on archaeological sites (Noël Hume 1970:261). Chinese Export porcelain
in imitation of the Japanese Imari style is found on sites dating from
1700 - 1760 (Madsen 1995:106-108). In addition to the Imari style motifs,
two additional overglaze enamel palettes were made: famille verte (1690 – 1730) and famille rose (1720 – 1800) (Madsen 1995:103-105).
Some tea wares and bowls are found with a brown exterior surface and
are referred to as Batavian ware. These vessels appear to date to ca.
1740 – 1780 (Miller and Stone 1970; Noël Hume 1970:259-260).
English soft paste porcelain was first successfully
made around 1742, and is found on sites in the Chesapeake region dating
to the second half of the 18th century
(Noël Hume 1970). Archaeological investigations at the early English
porcelain factories in Bow, Worcester, Liverpool, and Caughley provide
information on dating the various soft paste varieties and decorative
motifs (Cushion and Cushion 1992). Experimentation to produce porcelain
in America occured late in the 18th century in Philadelphia by Gouse Bonnin and George Anthony Morris (Noel
Hume 1970:100), though their production was very small.
An extremely compacted, white body with a clear shiny glaze. Porcelain
is divided into two types, hard paste and soft paste. Hard paste,
composed of white kaolin clay and finely-ground feldspathic rock
(petuntse), is fired to temperatures between 1250 – 1500o C. English soft paste porcelains are composed of clays combined with various ingredients, including small amounts of sand, gypsum
soda, soapstone, and salt, and are fired for a shorter time and
at lower temperatures. Soft paste sherds can become stained in
the ground, and often exhibit signs of deterioration. Early English
porcelains generally have a soft, dense, and ‘chalky’ paste that
is not as tightly grained as Chinese wares. According to Miller
and Stone (1970:90), English soft paste shows a granular
fracture under magnification, while hard paste has conchoidal
Chinese porcelains have a clear, glossy feldspathic glaze that is usually
fused to the paste. Vessels are bisque fired, then painted and glazed
before being fired a second time. When overglaze enamels are used, additional
firing at a lower temperature is needed, making these wares more complex
and expensive to produce. Kraak porcelain often has pinholes or small
bare spots, ‘moth-eaten’, along rim edges where the glaze has shrunk
during firing (Rinaldi 1989:69).
The clear semi-gloss glaze on English soft paste porcelains
is made from various recipes, some even including a bit of tin, and
does not fuse with the paste. The glaze can be seen in cross-section
as a thin white line along each surface, and often exhibits surface
deterioration. Chinese and Japanese porcelains can sometimes
be distinguished from each other by the tint of the glaze. Japanese
glazes tend to be a flat white or grayish white, while there is often
a faint bluish tint to the Chinese porcelain glaze (Deagan 1987:103).
Common decorative techniques include underglaze painting with cobalt
blue, overglaze polychrome enameling, and gilding. Underglaze blue painted
vessels are by far the most numerous on colonial sites. Overglaze enamel
colors include red, green, pink, purple, brown, yellow, and white. Red
and gold enameling over blue underglaze painting was a signature of
Japanese Imari and the imitative Chinese Imari style. Two additional
palettes on the Chinese overglaze trade porcelains are identified by
collectors: famille verte, characterized by the use of several
shades of green enamels, and famille rose, with its large pink
flowers outlined in opaque white.
The overglaze colors and gilding tend to become unstable
when buried in the ground, and will cling more to the dirt than to the
porcelain. Often the overglaze colors are totally gone, and the fugitive
designs can only be seen when a sherd is held in the light at an angle.
English wares were decorated in underglaze blue, overglaze
enamels, and overglaze transfer printed patterns. Overglaze enamels
were often added to a transfer printed design. Decorated Chinese porcelain
from colonial archaeological sites is always hand painted.
The vast majority of exported Chinese porcelain is
unmarked, though occasionally dynasty marks are found. Studies of decorated
vessels with marks provide some dating information for various motifs,
especially for 18th century wares (Curtis
1988; Cushion and Cushion 1992; Madsen 1999). A common characteristic
of 17th century Kraak porcelain is
the lingzhi, or sacred fungus, mark found on the back of vessels.
A Kraak sherd found at 18ST233, a ca. 1637 – 1650s site in St. Inigoes
Maryland, has one of these marks (Sperling and Galke 2001).
Porcelain was made in many types of tableware, especially tea wares,
and as decorative figurines. Chinese porcelain was first available in
typically Chinese forms, but increasingly was manufactured in European
forms. As early as the end of the 17th century, the Dutch were supplying wooden block forms for the Chinese
to copy. This became even more prevalent with the English trade in the
18th century (Noël Hume 1970; Rinaldi
Kraak porcelain was made in four general form categories:
dishes, klaptmutsen, bowls, and closed forms such as bottles, wine pots,
and covered boxes. Klaptmutsen are deep dishes or bowls with flattened
rims, possibly influenced by Dutch forms (Rinaldi 1989:70-191). Footings
are often rough from sand scars due to the practice of firing Kraak
porcelain on a bed of sand (Rinaldi 1989:66).
1988; Cushion and
Cushion 1992; Deagan
1987; Madsen 1995; Miller 2002; Mudge
Hume 1970, 1994, 2001; Rinaldi
1989; Sperling and
Kraak porcelain was the first Chinese porcelain mass produced for the export market that developed through the Portuguese and Dutch trade networks. The name Kraak is believed to come from carrack,
the type of ship used by the Europeans for transport, or from the Dutch
word "kraken", which means to break easily (Rinaldi 1989:60).
Although most 18th English porcelain was soft paste, some hard paste porcelain was being made by the late 1760s and could be found on late 18th century sites. Hard paste porcelain was manufactured on the Continent, for example at the Meissen factory in France, from the early 1700s, but little was imported into the colonies until the end of the 18th century or early 19th century. A few sherds, attributed to Tournay, have been recovered at Colonial Williamsburg (Noël Hume 1994:304) but it is unlikely for very much European porcelain to be found on colonial archaeological sites in this area.