Are You Sure That’s Not White Salt-Glazed Stoneware?

About a month ago, I started to write a blog post titled “Puzzling Over Puzzle Pieces” which would discuss the research we were doing on a few sherds of creamware with an unusual “scratch-blue” decoration (to learn more about eighteenth-century ceramics, check out our previous post Party Like It’s 1776).  This post would detail the limited knowledge we had about these presumably rare sherds, and serve as a form of outreach for us to learn more.  Since that time, we have found out a great deal about this scratch-blue, cream-colored earthenware, and are eager to share our finds.

The scratch-blue decoration is almost always found on English white salt-glazed stoneware, and was a popular style during the mid-eighteenth century.  Knowing this, we were all shocked to see the decoration applied to creamware in the archeological collection from City Point in Petersburg National Battlefield.  After cataloging hundreds of thousands of artifacts here at NMSC, we had never seen this decorative style applied to creamware.  There was little doubt that the sherds were creamware as they looked so different from the salt-glazed stoneware examples also in the collection.

Scratch Blue decroation on Creamware and Salt-Glazed Stoneware

On the left are the sherds of scratch-blue creamware (no salt-glaze present) and on the right are sherds of scratch-blue white salt-glazed stoneware. Note the difference in the colors and the textures of the glazes. Photo by NMSC Staff

We contacted other people in the museum and archeology fields to see if they had come across scratch-blue creamware before.  We got a number of replies ranging from brief and/or skeptical to very helpful.  More than one of the replies claimed they had never seen or heard of scratch-blue creamware and that it did not exist.  Though we disagreed about its existence, we understood how strange and elusive these sherds really were.  None of the museums that responded to our query claimed to have any in their collections.  Do you?

One of the replies to our query gave us the name of the Bovey Tracey pottery in Devon, England that they thought may be tied to scratch-blue creamware production.  Ivor Noel Hume writes briefly about the Swansea (later renamed Cambrian) pot house and its creamwares during the mid- to late-eighteenth century which were “often decorated in a scratch-blue” (Hume 1969; 128).  From here, we began researching these two potteries in more depth to find out more about our mysterious ware.

Have you seen a cream-colored, scratch-blue sherd or vessel in your own museum collection?  Are there more examples out there disguised as white salt-glazed stoneware?    

We now know for sure that the scratch-blue decoration was applied not only to white salt-glazed stoneware, but also creamware! 

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post about our findings and conclusions!


Gray, Jonathan.  War and Peace: Swansea Ceramics 1775-1815. Haughton International Fairs, 2010.

Hume, Ivor Noel.  A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America.  Philadelphia:  University of Pennsylvania Press, 1969.

Skerry, Janine E., and Suzanne Findlen Hood, Salt-Glazed Stoneware in Early America.  Williamsburg: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2009.


About Nikki W.

Nikki is a museum technician and has a M.A. in historical archaeology from Boston University and a B.S. in geological sciences and history from Salem State University. Her areas of interest include historic ceramics, 17th and 18th century New England history, geoarchaeology, and American decorative arts.
This entry was posted in Spotlight On... and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Are You Sure That’s Not White Salt-Glazed Stoneware?

  1. Dawn McMahon says:

    My computer screen is not the greatest and I know there is color distortion from screen to screen, but the “scratch-blue” creamware almost looks like “scratch-green” when compared to the salt glaze stoneware example. Do you think the yellowing used in the creamware may have impacted the cobalt blue to give it a greenish blue effect? It would make sense that this decorative technique would have been used on creamware as well as salt-glaze since they overlapped time wise in popularity.

  2. Jamey Deetz says:

    Hi ,
    I have spent most of my life collecting and excavating ceramics mostly on the east coast . I worked on many sites in Virginia and Massachusetts and have never seen scratch blue creamware. Its easy to distinguish between stoneware and creamware by the hardness of the body when scratched with a sharp object stoneware is hard as a rock and the creamware will show the a mark .

    Jamey Deetz

  3. Anne Yentsch says:

    I am quite sure I’ve seen scratch-blue creamware sherds and I think they were recovered from the Calvert site in Annapolis, Md. But I can’t lay my hands on anything that would corroborate this.

  4. As the curator, I feel obligated to remind our readers that scratching or altering artifacts in any way is not something we encourage.

    The good news is that there are other diagnostic traits that can be identified by the naked eye. These pieces lack the tell tale “orange peel” surface typical to salt-glazed stoneware. Although it is a decorative style we also have never seen on creamware, we are quite certain that our pieces are in fact creamware.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s