Cataloging 101: A quick way to identify earthenware ceramics

(NPS Photo)

Can you spot the creamware in this picture? And no, it’s not a trick question. If you guessed the cream-colored sherd in the middle, you are correct.

When you know what you are looking for, differentiating between creamware, pearlware, and whiteware is one of the easiest parts of cataloging – or any other museum related job that requires you to recognize creamware, pearlware, or whiteware.

It’s all in the Color

While there are more technical ways to identify these earthenwares, like paste, body, etc. (see Party Like it’s 1776), the easiest way to identify them is through color.

Identification Cheat Sheet

Creamware: Looks creamy, like a light butter

Pearlware: Has a bluish tint, almost like someone put watered down blue Gatorade on it

Whiteware: White – think about white ceramic plates you see in stores today

From left: creamware, pearlware, whiteware

If you only have one sherd, hold it up to a white piece of paper under a bright light. This will allow you to get a better idea of the actual color of the object. If you have multiple sherds, comparing them is always helpful.

CAUTION: heat altered ceramics will not play by these rules. Also, be careful not to confuse whiteware with porcelain or white salt-glazed stoneware. Although white, porcelain and white salt-glazed stoneware are not earthenwares.

And remember, practice makes perfect. The more practice you have differentiating between the various types of ceramics, the more it will become like second nature.

Do you have any other questions you would like us to answer? Please comment on this post or message us with any topics you would like to see covered on our blog.


About Megan L.

Megan graduated from Boston University in 2008 with an M.A. in Historical Archaeology. While in graduate school, she wrote her master's thesis on 18th-century glass drinkingware excavated during the Big Dig and interned with NMSC for 2 years. Megan has been a full-time employee since February 2010.
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2 Responses to Cataloging 101: A quick way to identify earthenware ceramics

  1. nerd says:

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  2. Thank you, Thank you for your expertise. I have been wondering about a set of dishes I found in the basement. This article might possible help me determine what the dishes are made of.

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