Hopefully you caught our last post, Are You Sure That’s Not White Salt-Glazed Stoneware?, in which we highlighted a few scratch-blue creamware sherds from Petersburg National Battlefield. Despite our many years of experience working with archeological artifacts from all over the northeastern United States (including a lot of creamware) this was our first glimpse of scratch-blue creamware. Our goal is to provide the most accurate, informative cataloging possible for our parks, so when we came across these sherds, we settled in to do some research.
Although rarely encountered by many in the field, scratch-blue creamware does exist. According to our research, there is firm evidence of its production at two potteries: the Bovey Tracey pottery in Devon, England, and the Swansea (later renamed Cambrian) pot house in Swansea, Wales.
In A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America, Ivor Noel Hume writes of “the creamwares of Williams Coles’s Swansea pot house (established 1764), which were often decorated in ‘scratch blue,’ the best-known pieces being tea jars incised with names and dates in the 1770s” (p. 128). The creamware tea canister shown here is inscribed, “Mary Evans July the 5 1775.” Made in Swansea, it is currently in the museum collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The earliest documentary piece of Swansea pottery is an earthenware flask inscribed in scratch-blue, “Morgan John Swansea, ye March 1768.”
Through our research we came into contact with Brian Adams, curator of the Bovey Tracey Pottery Museum in Devon, England, and author of two books on Bovey Tracey and its wares. (See Bovey Tracey Potteries: Guides and Marks, 2005, and A Potwork in Devonshire: The History and Products of the Bovey Tracey Potteries 1750-1836, 1996) Mr. Adams asserts that in the 1770s, Bovey Tracey potters produced scratch-brown and scratch-blue “cream-colour ware”. Of the few known existing scratch-blue creamware vessels, most are tea canisters. Mr. Adams is aware of a scratch-blue cream-colored tea canister in the museum collection at Colonial Williamsburg that was produced at Bovey Tracey and bears the inscription “Mrs Mary Chase Kimberton 1772.” Although we do not have a photograph of this particular piece, the tea canister shown below is undoubtedly similar.
Based on decorative motif, Brian Adams suggested that the sherds from Petersburg are from a cream-colored version of a scratch-blue, white salt-glazed mug produced at Bovey Tracey’s Indeo Pottery around 1771-1772. As such, he proposed that “the sherds provide the first evidence of Bovey Tracey pottery export to America in the 18th Century” (personal correspondence June 11, 2012).
The information we received from Brian Adams about scratch-blue creamware at the Bovey Tracey pottery was much more than we had ever hoped for. The words “first evidence of…” are an archeologist’s dream come true. Then, just as we were about to edit the catalog records and publish our follow-up blog post, we were stopped in our tracks by an old friend: provenience.
According to the history surrounding the site and the archeological context in which these sherds were found, there is no way that they could have been made at Swansea or Bovey Tracey. The sherds are simply too early. William Coles obtained the lease for his Swansea pottery in 1764. The earliest documentary reference to its operation occurs in 1767, and the earliest dated piece is the scratch-blue flask inscribed “1768.” Brown salt-glazed stoneware was produced at Bovey Tracey starting in about 1750. The Indeo Pottery, established there in 1766, used Staffordshire potters and techniques to produce white salt-glazed stoneware and creamware.
Appomattox Plantation at City Point sits at the convergence of the James and Appomattox Rivers in Hopewell, Virginia (it is part of Petersburg National Battlefield in Petersburg, Virginia). The land was home to the Eppes family from 1635 until 1979, when the National Park Service acquired the property. The earliest known house built on the site was constructed in the latter third of the 17th century. The house currently standing was built in 1763 by Richard Eppes. According to park historian James Blankenship, this construction date is confirmed by the home’s original chimney, which bears the initials “R.E” (for Richard Eppes) and the date “1763.” Historical and archeological evidence indicate that at the time of this house’s construction, the older dwelling was razed and its cellar filled. It was the fill from the cellar of this older dwelling that contained the scratch-blue creamware in question here.
- Earliest possible production of creamware at Swansea: 1764.
- Earliest possible production of creamware at Bovey Tracey: 1766.
- Latest possible date for City Point scratch-blue: 1763.
When presented with an artifact that seems out of place, archeologists must always consider the possibility of a disturbed context. The context in which this scratch-blue was found, however, appears to have been intact. A preliminary investigation of City Point undertaken before the excavation found that “the project area [did] not appear to be significantly disturbed by natural or manmade activities.” According to the 1983 field log, archeologists excavating the pre-1763 cellar commented on several instances about the precise dating of the cellar fill, stating that “all artifacts in this unit have been mid 18th century.” Artifacts found in the same provenience as the scratch-blue include Rhenish stoneware, white salt-glazed stoneware, delftware, combed slipware, Whieldon ware, Westerwald, and freeblown wine bottles. There is a rim sherd of English slipware with the number -“12” decorated in slip (presumably for 1712), as well as a bottle seal with the date “1742” and a lead bale seal with a date of 1726. The provenience does not contain any artifacts that suggest a date later than the 1750s.
The quandary of these dates reminds us of the importance of archeology as a complement to the study of decorative arts. Archeology has the potential to reveal information about an artifact unavailable from any other source. As surprising as this early date may be for creamware in Virginia, undisturbed archeological context is a reliable source.
The invention of creamware is usually attributed to Josiah Wedgwood in 1762. The cream-colored earthenware body was used before this date in the production of colorful, clouded wares (Whieldon ware) and Cauliflower ware. In 1759, Wedgwood and Thomas Whieldon produced a cream-bodied earthenware with a green glaze. But “creamware” – with its thin, hard, cream-colored paste and glassy, clear glaze, is typically assigned an early date of 1762. What may be as equally surprising as the scratch-blue decoration on these City Point sherds is their early date: definitely pre-1763, and according to the rest of the artifacts in the cellar, likely 1750s.
Josiah Wedgwood perfected creamware, refining the body and glaze and using shapes traditionally associated with silver or porcelain. But before Wedgwood’s successes, various earlier potters – including Thomas Astbury, Thomas Whieldon, Aaron Wood, and Enoch Booth – contributed to the development of the ware by adding flint into the clay and pioneering the fluid glaze. Enoch Booth is credited with the development of biscuit firing used to produce creamware, in which a vessel is shaped and fired without a glaze to yield a biscuit pot, which is then glazed and refired.
Creamware expert Pat Halfpenny credits Enoch Booth with the production of three of the earliest known pieces of creamware, all of which date to 1743: a bowl inscribed “EB 1743,” currently in the museum collection at the British Museum, a blue and brown painted bowl at the City Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke on Trent, inscribed “WG 1743,” and a large tea or punch pot now in the Henry H. Weldon collection, inscribed “F. Morgan Tunstall Oct 20th 1743.” There is only one factory known to have been in operation in 1743 in Tunstall: that of Enoch Booth. (See Halfpenny’s article, Enoch Booth – Pioneer Potter?)
In his article on the Cambrian Pottery’s early years, Jonathan Gray explains that white salt-glazed stoneware and creamware “share basically the same body manufacturing process to the glazing and firing stage of production,” (p. 21) making it easy to produce both in the same factory. Coarse earthenware production, he explains, is a very different process, and would not be as easily accomodated. It makes sense that potteries turning out white salt-glazed stoneware may have also been producing creamware. Astbury, Whieldon, Booth, and Wedgwood all made both. With a likely date of 1750s, the scratch-blue creamware from the pre-1763 dwelling at City Point represents creamware in its early, developmental phase, when potters adept at white salt-glaze stoneware manufacture were experimenting with the cream-bodied earthenware at the same time. And why wouldn’t they attempt on creamware the decorative techniques so popular on white salt-glaze, including scratch-blue?
Wedgwood introduced feather-edged creamware in 1765, a pattern that he also used on white salt-glazed stoneware until 1772. Littler’s blue was found on both white salt-glazed and creamware vessels. And identical enameled patterns can be found on white salt-glazed stoneware and creamware. (See the “King’s Rose” white salt-glazed teawares and “Blowsy Rose” creamware teawares pictured below.)
The scratch-blue creamware sherds from City Point are most likely fragments of an early creamware version of a white salt-glazed mug like the one pictured here. The rouletting around the rim is similar, as is the floral motif on the body. The 1753 date fits with our ca. 1750s date of the cellar fill. Perhaps the pottery that produced this mug in 1753 (identified as “probably Staffordshire” in Edwards and Hampson’s wonderful book) was experimenting with the creamware body at the same time. We know that Enoch Booth produced scratch-blue white salt-glazed stoneware, as well as creamware as early as 1743. We cannot link him specifically to the sherds from City Point, but it is a possibility.
In A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America, Ivor Noel Hume wrote that he expects to find creamware on American sites by 1765; “however, I have yet to encounter them on Virginia inventories before 1769.” (p. 126) In her 1989 article, The Role of Pewter as Missing Artifact: Consumer Attitudes Toward Tableware in Late 18th Century Virginia, Ann Smart Martin writes of Edward Dixon’s late 18th-century store along the Rappahanock River. According to Martin, “… in his store is the earliest creamware documented in Virginia: enameled cream colored teas in 1768.” (p. 16) We have provided significant evidence to suggest that the scratch-blue creamware excavated at Appomattox Manor in City Point, Virginia dates to before 1763. Forgive us this extremely bold but equally sincere question: is it possible that this is the earliest example of creamware ever found on a Virginian – or, for that matter, American – archeological site? This is a question we hope to answer with further research.
Writing this blog post provided us with a wonderful opportunity to delve into the origins of a ceramic type we thought we knew well. Scratch-blue decoration and a date of ca. 1750s are not traits that I would have associated with creamware before I began this research. If there is one thing these sherds have taught me, it is to keep my mind open and the questions coming. It is easy to rely on our familiar rules for dating artifacts and sites. We are reminded every so often, however, that there is an exception to every rule.
Adams, Brian. Personal correspondence, Brian Adams to Jessica Costello, June 11, 2012.
Blankenship, James. Personal communication June 14, 2012.
Buten, David. 18th-Century Wedgwood : A Guide for Collectors & Connoisseurs. New York: Methuen, Inc., 1980.
Chaffers, William. Marks and Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain. 14th revised edition. Los Angeles: Borden Publishing Company, 1991.
Copeland, Robert. Wedgwood Ware. Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire: Shire Publications, 1999.
Edward, Diana and Rodney Hampson. White Salt-Glazed Stoneware of the British Isles. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2005.
Field Log, 1983 excavation at City Point Unit, Petersburg National Battlefield.
Gray, Jonathan. The Cambrian Pottery Before 1802. In Welsh Ceramics in Context. Swansea: Royal Institute of South Wales, 2003.
Gray, Jonathan. War & Peace: Swansea Ceramics 1775-1815. Haughton International Fairs, 2010.
Gray, Jonathan, editor. Welsh Ceramics in Context. Swansea: Royal Institute of Sotuth Wales, 2003.
Halfpenny, Pat. Enoch Booth – Pioneer Potter? In Antique Dealers and Collectors Guide, 20 July 2000.
Hume, Ivor Noel. A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1969.
Hume, Ivor Noel. If These Pots Could Talk. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Chipstone Foundation, 2001.
Lange, Amanda. Electronic communication to Jessica Costello, May 22 2012.
Martin, Ann Smart. The Role of Pewter as Missing Artifact: Consumer Attitudes Toward Tablewares in Late 18th Century Virginia. In Historical Archeology, Volume 23: 1-27.
Orr, David, Douglas Campana, and Brooke Blades. The City Point Archaeological Survey, Completion Report, 1983.
Reilly, Robin. Wedgwood: The New Illustrated Dictionary. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club, 1995.
Skerry, Janine E. and Suzanne Findlen Hood. Salt-Glazed Stoneware in Early America. Williamsburg: the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2009.
Swartz, Deborah. PRA Research, Inc. Preliminary Archeological Investigation of the City Point Unit, Petersburg National Battlefield, 1981.