When enjoying ice cream did you ever think about who invented it? Ice cream evolved from “iced cream,” a European dessert dating to the late 17th and early 18th century. Iced cream would have been served from porcelain ice pails. During the hot summer months, in a time long before refrigerators and air conditioning, iced cream for dessert was a fabulous treat!
A History of the Dessert
While the precise origins of the dessert are unknown, the first recorded English use of the term “iced cream”was in 1671 when it appeared on a menu detailing what was served in a royal feast at Windsor Castle. In the 17th and 18th centuries, obtaining and preserving ice year-round was a huge undertaking. Ice was often obtained from icehouses, which were built deep in the ground near great estates. Because of the expense, iced food was typically enjoyed by the rich, who could afford to build icehouses and had servants or slaves who shaved the ice and prepared iced cream.
Making Iced Cream
Traditionally placed on the sideboard in the dining room, the base was filled with ice and salt, the liner filled with cream and occasionally cut fruit. Additional ice was placed on the high walled cover. The cream would freeze, and then at the end of the meal the Hostess would serve iced cream.
Porcelain and Iced Cream
Iced cream was made in porcelain iced cream pails. Porcelain was an ideal medium for such vessels, as its non-porous surface prevented the leakage of salt water into the ice(d) cream.
The design of the typical iced cream cooler allowed for ice to be stored both in the interior, below the liner that held the cream, and on the exterior, in the cavity of the steep-sided lid.
Ever since its debut in the West dating back to the fifteenth century, blue-and-white porcelain has won the hearts of Europeans through its smooth surface, vivid decoration, and more importantly, hard and impermeable white body. With the rise of international maritime trade from the seventeenth century and on, a great number of blue-and-white wares from China and later Japan entered the European markets via transnational trading firms such as the established Dutch India Company (VOC).
The Dutch had a strong preference for blue-and-white china and often displayed Oriental blue-and-white porcelain in their bourgeois interior space–on the mantelpiece or the cabinets, for instance. In the mid-seventeenth century when porcelain production in Jingdezhen was seriously disturbed by the political chaos during the Ming-Qing dynastic transition, it was very difficult for the Dutch to obtain lucrative blue-and-white products from China. Instead, they looked for recently-developed Japanese blue-and-white vessels as an alternative. As it was much more expensive and complicated to purchase blue-and-white porcelain from Japan, the Dutch endeavored to manufacture pottery similar to Asian blue-and-white examples with more accessible native materials. Delftware, a type of tin-glazed earthenware, thus flourished in the second half of the seventeenth century. Though working with a less prestigious medium, Delft artisans were proficient in imitating typical Chinese and Japanese decorative motifs found on export blue-and-white pieces. While Oriental porcelain was highly sought after by upper-class consumers, Delft was well received by middle-class patrons who were eager to show their taste with affordable but trendy blue-and-white ceramics.
The export blue-and-white porcelain from late Ming and Qing China (ca.1573-1900), unlike the domestic products for emperors and scholar-officials, is often characterized by bold and freehand decoration that exudes a sense of spontaneity. Unbounded by rigid court design patterns and Confucian symbolism, craftsmen managed to create a variety of export porcelain with vigorous and fantastic ornamentation that inspires Western viewers’ endless imagination of the distant Eastern realm.
Use this edge ware identification guide to identify and date antique ceramics. Combining edge colors and rim shapes will give an approximate date range; this guide is by no means an authentication source but provides date information based on known examples. See the References section at the end to explore two very reliable ceramics identification sources.
Edged wares simply refer to ceramics (typically refined white earthenwares like creamware and pearlware) that have a decorative motif(s) around their rim edges. Such decorations can be molded/incised, painted/glazed, or a combination of those techniques. The most common rim colors are blue and green, though rarer colors like purple, green, red, black, and brown are known to exist. Edged ware exists almost exclusively in English pottery.
Josiah Wedgwood was one of the first documented potters to introduce edge designs, doing so on creamware in the mid 1770s. Soon, other factories and potters noted his success and began producing edged wares of their own. Edged wares became popular as a cheaper alternative for extremely ornamented tableware. Their popularity peaked during the rather lengthy period of 1790-1860 in England and America.
Edge Ware Identification
To identify edge ware, one must examine both the color and molded decorations.
Color on edged wares can be painted under- or overglaze. Blue and green are the most prevalent colors. Overglaze enamels in other colors also exist, though these are usually earlier and more rare. Ceramics can be in the Rococo, Neoclassical, or Victorian styles (see molded rim techniques below for further identification assistance).
Creamware, named after its ivory color, is a type of earthenware that was made popular by the workshop of Wedgwood. 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, then fired at a rather low temperature of 800 degrees Celsius. After this initial firing, the vessels would be glazed with liquid lead oxide. Iron impurities in the clay and glaze were responsible for the cream color of this ceramic. After glazing, the vessels would be fired for a second, and final, time.
Big Names in Creamware
Creamware production began in England in the 1740s. Thomas Whieldon was a pioneer in this method. Whieldon is perhaps best known for his ceramics featuring a tortoiseshell glaze on creamware.
Thomas Whieldon employed a young Josiah Wedgwood, upon whom he impressed his creamware knowledge.
Wedgwood expanded on Whieldon's methods and created a book of glaze recipes to create different effects. One was a colorless lead glaze that created a plain, well, cream-colored, creamware. Creamware with colorless glaze quickly became popular for tea and tablewares and could be found in many households throughout England and America. Plain creamware was most popular from the 1780s-1812.
Common Motifs and Decorations
Though plain creamware was quite popular, creamware was also decorated with a variety of techniques, used singularly or in combination.
Popular edge designs included Queen's shape (named after the Queen of England's commissioned creamware), royal shape, feather edge, and shell edge.
Creamware vessels could also be further ornamented with surface decoration including transfer printing, underglaze painting, and special glazing techniques.
n.b. Pearlware soon surpassed creamware in popularity. Many of the decorative techniques outlined above were implemented in pearlware design.
Creamware at Bardith
Bardith, Ltd. has a wonderful selection of creamware in our collection. Can you identify any of the decorative motifs found on our vessels? Click on the image to browse a selection of our creamware.
Wedgwood is perhaps one of the best known names in antique English ceramics. The Wedgwood company, founded in 1759, revolutionized the pottery industry by perfecting the manufacturing, sale, and distribution of ceramics. The man behind the famous English workshop was Josiah Wedgwood. He came by the profession quite naturally, as he was born into a family of potters. However, a childhood bout of small pox left him unable to work the potter’s wheel, so he turned to designing pottery instead.
Wedgwood worked with several partners before making a name for himself. One of his most notable collaborations was with Thomas Whieldon, whose unique stoneware with a tortoiseshell-like pattern can be immediately recognized as Whieldon ware by collectors.
Under his partnership with Whieldon, Wedgwood experimented with various glaze recipes and firing techniques to improve the ceramics. He recorded his techniques in a private book. Wedgwood took that spirit of creativity, as well as his secret ‘Experiment Book,’ with him to form his own workshop in 1759 at the age of twenty-nine.
A cream/white-colored glazed earthenware, creamware is also called Queensware after Queen Charlotte commissioned Wedgwood to create a set.
Black basalt wares were made from clay that had coal in it, but the richer black that we see in finished products comes from the addition of manganese.
High-fired stoneware with an unglazed, matte finish, jasperware is perhaps one of Wedgwood’s most recognizable wares. It came in a variety of colors, notably light blue or “Wedgwood Blue,” but other colors such as dark blue, lilac, sage green, black, and yellow were produced. Often, white sculptural decorations covered the surface in relief.
This type of unglazed stoneware is buff, or yellowish-cream, in color. Many of Wedgwood’s caneware featured bamboo motifs.
Olive-grey unglazed stoneware.
Dawson, Aileen. Masterpieces of Wedgwood. London: British Museum Press, 1984.