Monday, March 22, 2021

Colonial Ceramics Series - Creamware

This week we continue our series on early historic ceramics recovered from archaeological sites and their significance in the historic and archaeological record. Past posts have discussed Jackfield (1745-1790), Scratch blue (1744-1775), and Slipware (1675-1770) ceramics. Colonial ceramics of the 17th & 18th century are typically divided into three categories: Earthenware, Stoneware and Porcelain. These categories are derived from the clays used in manufacture as well as the firing techniques. 

Creamware cup replicates the form of Chinese Porcelain cups

Chinese Porcelain cup from collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Creamware, sometimes referred to as cream-colored ware, is a clear lead glazed refined earthenware ceramic first produced in the Staffordshire region of England in the 1740s. The first and defining characteristic of creamware is its off-white or cream-colored body, and paste. This is attributed to iron impurities in the source clay. Another tell-tale sign of creamware can be found where the clear lead glaze collects and pools in the crevasses of a piece, often apparent around the base or foot ring. In these areas where the glaze is thickest it will appear green or yellow green in color. 

Pooling of clear lead glaze in base with slight yellow green tint

(Head House, Philadelphia) Collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania

“Importation of Chinese porcelain into Europe provided a great catalyst for the experimentation in the quest for the secret of making porcelain.” (Miller and Hunter 2001:135). Without diving into the complex chemistry involved, creamware is the result of one of those experiments. By 1760 the popularity of creamware began to overshadow earlier attempts to mimic porcelain, such as tin-glazed delft wares and salt-glazed stonewares, and well-established potters like Wedgwood and Whieldon were producing creamware in quantities to meet demand.

Creamware would continue to be produced through 1820 with a variety of decorations including clouded-creamware, or Whieldon, molded patterns like queensware, as well as hand-painted and transfer-printed designs. As with the earlier ceramic types, creamware also found itself falling out of favor by the 1790s with the introduction of pearlware, another refined earthenware, whiter in appearance than creamware and closer to the goal of a porcelain-like ceramic that consumers coveted.

Below is a small creamware mug from the Market St. excavations in Philadelphia. This specimen exhibits a hand painted dark brown annual band near the rim and base, and also has a dark brown transfer-printed star and sprig motif on the body of the mug opposite the handle.

Creamware mug from 36Ph1

We hope you will continue to follow our blog to learn more about the incredible ceramics that have been recovered by archaeologists from across the Commonwealth. The preservation of these objects provides a personal glimpse into the lives of early colonists and of the potters who produced them. German immigrants who became potters in Philadelphia, Lancaster and York developed their methods and refined the clay available locally to produce ceramics that would replace those from Europe and led the way for many artisan crafts throughout the colony.

Advancements in science have allowed archaeologists to analyze clay sources and trace them to regions and in some cases, potters.  Archaeologists have the unique ability of finding the stories of everyday life through the evidence of the past- even if it is only a broken piece of pottery.


Miller, George L. and Robert Hunter

2001      How Creamware got the Blues: The Origins of China Glaze and Pearlware. In Ceramics in America, Robert Hunter editor, Chipstone Foundation.


Noel Hume, Ivor

1969      A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America. Alfred A. Knopf Publishers


Miller, George L. Hunter, Robert (editor)

2008      Book Review of Creamware and Pearlware Re-examined. Thomas Walford and Roger Massey, editors In Ceramics in America, Robert Hunter editor, Chipstone Foundation..



Creamware - Wikipedia

Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland

HistoricCeramicTypesChart.pdf( (PDF)


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

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