What is Earthenware?
Types of Earthenware found in Colonial America.
At the outset, it is essential for scholars of early American pottery to understand
that due to the vibrant trade taking place on the Atlantic between America,
Holland, England and Spain, the typical colonial household was likely to
contain both imported and local pottery. The earliest examples of American
Earthenware tended to be of poor quality and most objects of this era are
of a functional nature. Importation was extremely expensive, and for neccessity
items such as jugs, pots and pans, colonists had to tolerate less-than-excellent
It has been posited that one of the reasons for the poor quality early American
Earthenware is that, at least in rural districts, potters were working two jobs
and many were self-taught. Rural areas desperately needed functional pottery for
all the varieties of housekeeping, and many farmers took to supplying the needs
of their neighbors in their few leisure hours. The rigors of farm life certainly
could not have been conducive to regularity or uniformity of pottery production.
And, certainly, these rural potters were unlikely to have trained in one of the
great pottery centers of Europe.
From a technical standpoint, earthenware is the blanket term applied to all clays
which have a porosity above 5% when fired. Simply put, the fired clay must be
within 5% of being wholly watertight, or vitrified. Earthenware colors range from
white to dark brown, and tend to be fired at lower temperatures than stoneware
or porcelain. They cannot be made completely watertight because of their porosity,
and it is because of this that glazes are applied to increase their usefulness.
One of the most common types of earthenware found in New England is redware - so
called because of the tone created by high iron content. In 17th and 18th century
America, most utilitarian pottery was local redware. Refined redwares were imported
until the end of the Revolutionary War, as were most stonewares, and all porcelains.
A most famous variety of earthenware is the beloved blue and white Delft from
Holland. The delft process includes covering the clay with an opaque tin glaze
before it is fired. Other tin glazed wares include majolica and faience. Tin
glazed wares were not created in America, but research shows that they were
imported in large quantities from Europe up until the mid-1700's. Unfortunately,
they were not terribly sturdy and tended to chip with use. It was the discovery
of a white salt glaze in Britain which produced a stronger earthenware, which
changed America's shopping habits. Other popular refined earthenwares included
creamware and pearlware.
At Emerson Creek Pottery, expert skill and years of experience combine to produce
ceramics which are both beautiful and functional. Handpainted ceramic bakeware
stands up to the microwave and the dishwasher, and is absolutely lead-free. Modern
Americans wisely continue to turn to ceramics for their housekeeping, which is
a hopeful thing in a world brimming over with plastics. By using ceramics, you
are connecting with the past and creating a better future.