By George C. Miller and Patricia Samford
This section of the website describes some common diagnostic, or datable, ceramics available in Maryland between the American Revolution and the late 19th century. The various webpages included here will provide you with a general description of common decoration types found on these ceramics, and then offer reference sources that can be read for more in-depth information.
The approach employed on this website to describe post-colonial ceramics differs significantly from that taken with colonial ceramics. While colonial ceramics were defined primarily by ware types based on vitrification of the paste (porcelain, stoneware, earthenware), the glazes (lead, tin-based, salt) and vessel form, these attributes became more consistent in the late 18th and 19th centuries, when refined earthenwares took over the market. The Staffordshire potters, American importers and retail merchants described these wares by their types of decoration, which became a more important criterion for tracking changes through time. Traditionally, archaeologists have used the terms “creamware,” “pearlware,” and “whiteware” to separate refined white earthenwares by time period, but these terms are problematic. For example, “pearlware” did not replace “creamware”; it was decoration that replaced “creamware.” To put it another way, the vast majority of “creamware” from archaeological sites is undecorated, while those wares being called “pearlware” are almost never undecorated (Miller and Hunter 2001 and Miller and Earls 2008). The ware types being used by archaeologists evolved over time and this is not reflected in price lists, invoices and account books. For example, by the 1790s creamware became called “CC” ware and the terms pearlware and whiteware almost never occur in the potters’ price lists, invoices or merchants’ account books. The glaze coloration used to distinguish creamware (by its yellow tint) and pearlware (which has been tinted blue) from whiteware (colorless) evolved over time. For example, early “creamware” had a deeper yellow tint due to the clays used in its body and the properties of the lead glaze. The introduction of Cornish clays and stone led to a lighter tinted creamware by the late 1770s. Improvements in the glazing process further whitened creamware, which by the 1790s was being called “CC” ware. “CC” wares after ca. 1820 continued to be produced in vessels such as chamber pots, bowls, and other undecorated utilitarian ware well into the 19th century, and become what archaeologists call whiteware. Thus the archaeological terms based on “ware types” cannot be directly compared with historical records such as invoices, account books, and probate inventories. Again, the terms pearlware and whiteware are almost nonexistent in these records. By using ware types, it is not easily possible to integrate documentary records with archaeological records.
Decorative techniques, however, can be dated by using a combination of maker’s marks, changes in styles, technology changes and changes in vessel shapes, in conjunction with price fixing lists, potters’ invoices, merchants’ account books, and newspaper advertisements. The potters of Staffordshire, England, through the enormous success of their refined white earthenwares, dominated the American market from the last quarter of the eighteenth century until after the Civil War.
The cost of their products was largely determined by the type of decoration on the vessels. Their consistent use of terms like CC, Edged, Dipt, Painted, Printed, Egyptian Black, and White Granite, allow us to develop a more accurate dating typology than one based on subtle changes in glaze tint. Ware types such as "China glaze" and "pearlware" are rarely mentioned in contemporary documents, so these terms will be used here as a secondary method for classifying ceramics from this period.
Unfortunately, many post-colonial ceramic sherds found by archaeologists have no decoration whatsoever. They may represent an undecorated portion of a decorated vessel, or a vessel that had no decoration. Archaeologists should use caution when trying to date such fragments; depending upon the sherd, it may be better to classify these wares as "decoration and date unknown" than to designate a ware type based on a characteristic as subjective as subtle tints in the glaze.
George L. Miller has graciously provided us with an essay that describes and dates commonly encountered cup and bowl shapes in post-colonial earthenware. Accompanying this essay are illustrations of these shapes, as well as several charts that provide information on decorative styles used on the various cup and bowl shapes.
A 2016 addition to the webpage is another essay by George L. Miller on Common Standard Creamware Plate Patterns, also illustrated with line drawings of each pattern or shape.
The majority of the ceramics included in the photo galleries that accompany each ceramic webpage (with the exception of relief molded stonewares and dipped wares as shown in private collections) are curated at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory (MAC Lab). These materials are from the following sites:
|Bulls Head Tavern 18BC139, c. 1750-1950
||Schifferstadt 18FR134, 1756-1900
|North Pearl Street 18BC162, 1780-1930
||Federal Reserve 18BC27, c. 1800-1930
|Artisan's House 18AP13, c. 1810-1900
||Mechanic Street 18AG206, 1813-1912
|Camden Yards 18BC79, c. 1820-1930
||Privy 3 18BC81, early 19th to early 20th century
|Privy 19A01 18BC80, late 19th to early 20th century
||Fort Garrison 18BA27, 19th century
|Mechanics Court 18BC132, c. 1900-1920
||Rousby Hall 18ST751, mid-19th century
|Reiff Site 18WA454, c. 1820-1850
||East New Market Streetscape 18DO466