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Home > What is Earthenware?
 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 

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 homemade wares.

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.