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Blue-and-White Porcelain: Fancy and Fashion

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).

Chinese Blue and White Porcelain

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.

Dutch Delft

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.

Chinese Export Porcelain
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Living on the Edge: How to Identify Dates of Ceramics Using Their Edge Decoration

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.

History

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

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).

  • Blue: 1775-1890s
  • Green: 1770s-1830s
  • Red: 1775-1810
  • Purple: 1775-1810
  • Black: 1775-1810
  • Brown: 1775-1810

Decorative Motifs

Rim Shape

  • asymmetrical, undulating scalloped rim: Rococo, 1775-1810
  • symmetrical scalloped rim: Neoclassical, 1800-1830s
  • unscalloped or straight-edged rim: Neoclassical, 1840s-1860s

Incised/Impressed Edges

  • impressed curved lines: Neoclassical or Rococo (see rim shape above)
  • impressed straight lines: Neoclassical or Rococo (see rim shape above)
  • embossed rims with elaborate molded designs: 1820s-1830s
  • no molding or impressions at all: 1860s-1890s
    • NB-usually rim lines are painted

Decorator's Tip

Today, edged wares make a wonderful table setting. Combine these with a patterned top plate for a “wow” effect!

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Creamware: A Brief History

What is creamware?

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.

Whieldon ware: a tortoiseshell-like glaze technique on a creamware body.

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.

Plain creamware.

Common Motifs and Decorations

Though plain creamware was quite popular, creamware was also decorated with a variety of techniques, used singularly or in combination.

Edging

Popular edge designs included Queen's shape (named after the Queen of England's commissioned creamware), royal shape, feather edge, and shell edge.

 

Surface Decoration

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.

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A Guide to Ceramics

Here at Bardith, Ltd. we specialize in antique ceramics. If you browse our inventory, you’ll find terms like soft-paste porcelain, earthenware, and terracotta. What does it all mean? Ceramic nomenclature can present a challenge to new collectors and old alike, so we’ve put together a guide of ceramics dictionary terms for your convenience. Now, you’ll never have to wonder about the difference between stoneware and earthenware!


All of our vessels are ceramics/pottery. The terms are synonymous and refer to objects made of fired clay, though the nature of each’s purpose varies slightly.

Ceramics: objects made of fired clay; usually more decorative in nature

Pottery: objects made of fired clay; usually more utilitarian in nature

Ceramics/pottery can be divided into three groups: stoneware, earthenware, and porcelain. Each has their own variations, described below.

Stoneware: ceramic material made of fire clay, ball clay, feldspar, and silica and fired at high temperatures of 1148-1316ºC; nonporous; white, gray, or brown in color; can be glazed or unglazed

English Stoneware Obelisks
  • Caneware: tan, unglazed stoneware
    • Qualities: tan or light brown; often has a pie crust-like edge
    • Associated with: Wedgwood
Caneware Game Pie Dish
  • Black Basalt: stoneware made from basalt rock, an igneous rock formed from lava
    • Qualities: smooth to touch, black or dark grey in color
    • Associated with: Wedgwood
Pair of Wedgwood Black Basalt Urns

Earthenware: porous ceramic material made from either red or white clay fired at low temperatures of 1000-1080°C; most fragile type of pottery

  • Creamware: made with buff-colored clay with flint to whiten it and covered with a lead glaze
    • Qualities: cream-colored, lightweight, durable
    • Other names: Queensware
    • Associated with: Wedgwood; Leeds
English Creamware Banded Mug
  • Terracotta: red earthenware with iron in the clay; low fired at around 1000°C
    • Qualities: usually unglazed, brownish-red in color
Pair of Neoclassical Terracotta Ewers

Porcelain: ceramic material made by firing clay at high temperatures that result in vitrification; white in color; highly durable

  • Hard-paste porcelain: ceramic made from Kaolin white clay and Petunse rock; high fired at around 1450°C
    • Qualities: translucent, brilliant white, glassy smooth
    • Other names: “true” porcelain, pâte dure, porcelaine royale, grand feu
    • Associated with:  Meissen; Chinese porcelain
Sevres Hard-Paste Porcelain Dishes
  • Soft-paste porcelain: ceramic made from Kaolin white clay and Petunse rock; fired at a lower temperature of around 1200°C
    • Qualities: granular and porous, a little less white, has silky or marble-like feel to the touch
    • Other names: artificial porcelain, frit porcelain, porcelaine de France, pâte tendre
    • Associated with: Medici Porcelain; the Chelsea Factory in England
Worcester Soft-Paste Porcelain Cup & Saucer
  • Bone china: ceramic made from Kaolin white clay and Petunse rock with added bone ash; can be fired at a lower temperature than soft-paste porcelain
    • Qualities: brilliant and translucent white (though less so than hard-paste porcelain)
    • Other names: English China
  • Soaprock porcelain: uses a soft Steatite mineral
    • Qualities: feels soft like soap
    • Other names: soapstone, French chalk
  • Biscuit porcelain: unglazed porcelain or earthenware that has only been fired once
    • Qualities: marble-like appearance
    • Other names: bisque, Parian ware
  • Blanc de Chine: white Chinese porcelain made in Southeast China; typically used for figures or sculptures
    • Qualities: highly transparent, white
    • Other names: “white from China” (Fr.), Dehua porcelain
Blanc de Chine Porcelain Cockerels

As you can see, there is a plethora of types of ceramics. We hope this guide of  ceramics dictionary terms will be helpful for you when browsing our inventory. Feel free to contact us with any questions or requests for information.


References

Bertolissi, Nicoletta. “What is the difference between porcelain and ceramic? All you need to know about 9 confusing ceramic terms,” Nicoletta Bertolissi. 3 December 2014.

Mussi, Susan. Ceramic Dictionary.

“Types of Porcelain: Hard Paste, Soft Paste, and Bone China,” Marks 4 Antiques.