Friday, December 16, 2016

Made in America: Philadelphia Queensware Pottery in the Early 19th Century

During the early nineteenth century, conflict between England and France led to an American trade embargo that restricted the importation of goods from these countries. Soon after, English hostilities on the high seas that led to the War of 1812 also stopped the flow of foreign goods to America, including fine British ceramics. The lack of certain imported goods led to the establishment of a number of new American industrial enterprises to fill the void.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, a form of thin, cream-colored ceramic called creamware was being manufactured in England. One style of creamware was made popular by British Queen Charlotte and became known as Queensware. Queensware enjoyed immense commercial popularity and was one of the items banned during the embargo and subsequent war.

Creamware Cup (left) Shown with a Copy in American Queensware (right)

Utilizing local clays, some possibly dug from within the city, Philadelphia potters attempted to make their own versions of Queensware and other fine British earthenware ceramics. However, the use of local clays produced a more yellow vessel body rather than white or cream colored. Some potteries, such as the newly-formed Columbian Pottery, offered a British-trained potter to make the enterprise seem more authentic. By 1808, Scottish-born Master Potter Alexander Trotter was producing earthen tablewares for the Columbian, including yellow tea and coffee pots, sugar boxes, jugs, baking dishes, chamber pots, and other items. The Columbian’s goods were advertised “at prices much lower than they can be imported” and at rates that “are less than half the price of the cheapest imported Liverpool Queensware” (Myers 1980).


Manufactured Queensware, at the following reasonable
Chamber Pots                                        4s a $2 25 per doz
Ditto ditto                                               6s     1  80   ditto
Wash Hand Basons                                4s     2         ditto
Ditto ditto                                               6s     1  60   ditto
Pitchers                                                  4s     2  70   ditto
Coffee Pots                                            4s     5          ditto
Ditto ditto                                               6s     4          ditto
Tea Pots                                               12s     2  25   ditto
Ditto                                                      18s     1 80    ditto
Pitchers                                                  6s     1 80     ditto
Dinner Plates 75 cents per dozen-all other sizes, with every other article of Queensware, in proportion
 Copied from a Price List for Columbian Pottery Wares in Relfs Philadelphia Gazette and Daily Advertiser 1813

Philadelphia Queensware Pitcher and Teapot from PHMC Collections

Trotter’s wares became popular and were soon advertised for sale as far away as Alexandria, Virginia and other cities along the east coast. Trotter continued his work in Philadelphia until around 1815, when the Columbian Pottery closed up and he moved to Pittsburgh. For a short time period Trotter continued manufacturing Queensware in the Pittsburgh area, where he produced vessel forms that were “similar to those of the Potteries in Philadelphia” (Myers 1980).

By 1810, another Scotsman, Captain John Mullowny, was advertising similar ceramic articles for sale at his Washington Pottery on Market Street. Mullowny also appears to have been successful in his ventures and by 1812 he had added specialized production techniques and included engine-turned and press-molded Queensware vessels in his inventory (Myers 1980). An advertisement from that same year lists the many vessel forms produced by the Washington Pottery (Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser 1812).

  The public are informed that Soup and Shallow
PLATES are now ready for delivery in addition to the
following articles, of which a constant supply is always
kept up.
Gallon, Quart, Pint & Half Pint Grelled & Plain PITCHERS
Gallon, Quart, Pint and Half Pint BOWLS,
STEWING DISHES that will stand the fire,
Quart, Pint and Half Pint MUGS,
MILK PANS, &c, &c, &c.
  The Plates manufactured at the Washington Pottery,
will be found by experience superior to imported plates,
when necessary to stew on a chafing dish or embers, as
they will stand the heat without cracking.
 1812 Ad Copied from a Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser for the Washington Pottery

Following the end of the war in 1815, many of the potteries continued to manufacture Queensware vessels; however, the resumption of trade with Britain meant that the finer quality Staffordshire wares were available once again and at rates similar to the American-made knock-offs. Ceramics, as well as other British goods, flooded the market in 1815 and 1816 in an attempt to stifle the new American industries. Soon it became apparent that the Philadelphia potters could not compete with England’s finer pieces and most of the Queensware producers were out of business by 1820.

The State Museum collections house a number of examples of Queensware recovered from archaeological sites located mainly in the city of Philadelphia. Evaluation of these pieces indicates that the quality of the Philadelphia wares is somewhat lacking. Many issues related to the Queensware pieces appear to be associated with the production and firing of the vessels including: overfired, burned, or bubbled glaze; kiln furniture marks; uneven or missing glaze; crazing; smeared clay; and pitting. Every piece identified as Queensware exhibited at least one, if not several, of these flaws.

Closeup of Queensware Cup Showing Cracking and Missing Glaze (Center Top) and Speckling

 Due to its yellow color, Queensware is often mistaken for yellowware (1828-1930). However, the Queensware pieces have thinner walls and very little decoration, as opposed to yellowware. Queensware colors fall generally into the yellow spectrum but there is a greater variation in shades. Yellowware often exhibits linear bands of varying colors (blue, white, cream) or has a white interior whereas Queensware does not.  And Queensware vessels more often take the form of tea pots, cups and saucers, pitchers, and chamberpots, while common yellowware forms are often mixing bowls, basins, milk pans, molds, and baking dishes.

If you found this blog of interest and would like more detailed information, articles regarding Queensware will be published in an upcoming issue of The Journal for Northeast Historical Archaeology. Additional information on Philadelphia ceramics and citations for this blog can be found in the following sources:

Miller, George L. and Amy C. Earls
2008   War and Pots: The Impact of Economics and Politics on Ceramic Consumption Patterns. In Ceramics in America 2008.

Myers, Susan H.
1980   Handcraft to Industry: Philadelphia Ceramics in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century. Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology, No. 43. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser
1812   October 27.

Relfs Philadelphia Gazette and Daily Advertiser
1813   April.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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