Luster Decorated Wares
Luster decorated wares are ceramics to which a very thin metallic film has been applied to the glazed surface for decoration. Firing in a muffle kiln fused the metallic glaze to the ceramic body, leaving a hard, lustrous finish. Luster decoration has been used on earthenwares, stonewares and porcelain. (Note: The English use the spelling “lustre”, whereas the American spelling is “luster”.)
Although luster had been used to decorate Spanish ceramics for centuries, its use by the Staffordshire potteries did not begin until the end of the eighteenth century. These wares were also produced in Northern England, Scotland and Wales (Hildyard 2005:177) and were exported in large numbers to North America and Continental Europe (Gibson 1999:15). According to Gibson (1999:174), the “peak of achievement” for lusterwares occurred around 1860, with production waning towards the end of the nineteenth century.
The luster effect was produced as an overglaze finish in a low-temperature reductive atmosphere kiln, using metallic oxides to create different luster colors (Bedford 1965:8). Gold luster was produced using gold oxide and silver luster came from platinum oxide. A copper or bronze finish was created with gold oxide over red-pasted earthenware or copper oxide on white-bodied wares. Pink and purple luster, derived from purple of cassis, a precipitate of gold and tin oxides, were used primarily for painted scenic motifs and ornamental banding (Hughes 1968:81).
The color of the luster glaze was also affected by the color of the body of the vessel. A single layer of copper luster on bone china or whiteware would be purple, whereas application of a second layer of copper luster created a copper color. Thus, on bone china cups and saucers, it was common to have a band of purple luster with copper colored painted leaves because the leaves have been painted over the purple band, thus creating two layers of the luster. Copper and silver colored luster were commonly used on red earthenware, but purple was not.
Although lusterwares were rarely marked by their manufacturers, it is possible to assign broad manufacture ranges based on the type of luster decoration. Primary types of luster decoration included:
|Variegated Luster (also called Moonlight Luster) (ca.1800-1815)
One of the earliest types of luster decoration was created in imitation of mother-of-pearl. Sporting a pink lustrous background mottled with white splotches, this decoration was used on molded shell-shaped bowls and other vessels. Random patches of grey, yellow and orange help provide a marbled effect in the variegated wares. The decoration was achieved using a feather or a brush (Gibson 1999:32). Sources indicate that moonlight luster was first produced in either 1800 (Cushion 1971:1568; Fisher 1961:25) or 1805 (Hildyard 2005:226; Lewis 1999: 154), ceasing by around 1815 (Cushion 1971:1568; Fisher 1961:25). This type of decoration occurs mostly on creamware and pearlware, but also appears on Spode porcelain (Godden and Gibson 1991:25).
|Overall Luster (ca. 1810-1840)
An all-over application of metallic luster was used to imitate more costly metals, like silver, gold or copper. Overall luster was used on popular silver tea service shapes, as well as other vessels like pepper pots, salts and candlesticks. Silver luster was sometimes referred to as “the poor man’s silver”. Since the intent was to imitate precious metals, no other forms of decoration (painting, sprigging, printing) were used in combination with silver overall lusterware (Bedford 1965). Copper lusterware, by far the most commonly produced overall luster, was often paired with bands of color to which painted, printed or sprigged decoration was added (Gibson 1999b:10). It appears that the first overall luster was produced in England around 1805 and was in widespread production by 1810 (Godden and Gibson 1991:40). After the invention of silver electroplating in 1840, the production of overall luster virtually ceased. Pieces produced later tend to be heavier and less finely executed than the earlier examples of overall luster (Gibson 1999b:10).
|Splashed or mottled Luster (ca. 1820-1840s)
This technique was almost always produced using pink luster. Spraying pink luster with fine drops of oil formed small pools on surface, which expanded and burst in the kiln to create a mottled surface very similar to the earlier moonlight luster (Gibson 1999:32). This splashed or mottled technique was often used as an accent band around the rims and bases of hollow vessels like jugs or mugs that were additionally decorated with printed or painted scenes and as the “frame” around decorative plaques. None of the sources used in preparing this essay stated a production date range for splashed luster, but pictured examples that were dated were generally placed in the circa 1820 to 1840s range.
|Painted or Stenciled (ca. 1815-1860s)
Luster decoration could also take the form of painted or stenciled designs. Painting could occur either in the conventional manner or as a resist. In the conventional manner, a brush was used to either freehand paint or stencil designs in the chosen metallic oxide. Painted and stenciled designs included floral and geometric motifs, vines, birds and scenes depicting cottages, landscapes, churches and hunting (Gibson 1999:29; Hughes 1968:79). Pink and purple luster painted freehand over a glazed white surface was produced as early as circa 1815 and remained popular until around the 1860s (Hughes 1968:80).
Stenciling was developed around 1806 (Hughes 1968:79) and involved affixing a paper pattern to the glazed vessel. Wax or a sizing of glue was then used to coat the entire surface of the vessel, after which the paper pattern was removed to reveal the design as unwaxed areas. After metallic oxides were used to coat the designs, the remaining wax or sizing was removed and the vessel fired. Thus, the design appears in luster against the glazed surface color of the vessel.
The resist technique appeared around 1810 (Hughes 1968:79). In this technique, the design was painted in a resistant substance, such as glue or finely ground clay mixed with glycerin and honey. The resist-painted vessel was then painted with the metallic oxide, which was prevented from adhering to the areas of design by the resist materials. After the metallic oxide dried, the resist was washed away, leaving the design evident in the original surface color of the vessel against a metallic background. Prior to the late 1820s, this color was most often white or cream, but rose, canary yellow and blue were also used beginning in 1826 (Hughes 1968:79).
Luster decoration was used on a number of ceramic fabrics, from refined white earthenwares (creamware, pearlware, whiteware) and porcelains to fine-pasted dark red earthenwares.
Luster decoration has been used on creamware, pearlware, white ironstone, bone china, porcelain and red-bodied wares. Luster glazes can re-oxidize underground or can be worn off, so that excavated sherds will look like a refined redware with a brown glazed surface. There is a good chance that teapots, sugars, or small pitchers in a brown glazed redware from archaeological contexts after ca. 1820 once had a luster glaze, particularly if the vessel has a molded silver shape.
Luster decoration was always applied over the glaze since the metallic oxides required a lower firing temperature than that of the glost kiln.
Luster could also be used in bands around the rims and bases of vessels to help offset printed, painted or sprigged decoration (Lewis 1999:152). Sprig molded decorations on a slipped ground used in combination with luster date beginning around 1820 (Bedford 1965; Hughes 1968:82) and were produced well into the 1840s (Hildyard 2005:177). The use of chrome colors (bright apple greens, chrome yellows, roses, reds) would date production after 1830. Jugs and mugs painted with commemorative motifs, such as ships, landmarks, historical events and well-known people were produced into the 1850s (Hildyard 2005:177-178).
A wide variety of hollow table (rare on plates) and teaware forms were produced with luster decoration, including teapots, sugars, creamers, shell dishes, cups and saucers, jugs, teapots, mugs, communion cups, and bowls. Decorative vessel forms included wall pockets, vases, figurines, and plaques bearing religious sentiments, portraits or scenes.