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.
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.