Antiques Column with Michael Dowse
Last week, while waiting patiently for a dental appointment, my mind began mulling over a million things, as one’s mind does in the dentist’s waiting room.
False teeth, fillings, injections, the meaning of life, nasal hair and the expression “pearly whites”. That made me think of Pearlware.
Pearlware was a type of pottery. It was an improvement to creamware as it produced a whiter ware, mainly due to the application of a cobalt glaze which resulted in a change of colour from cream to an almost perfect white, with slight blue tinge.
It is largely accepted that Josiah Wedgwood was the first potter to use the term ‘Pearl White Ware’ and he began selling it under this name in 1779. He is subsequently also credited for the invention of pearlware as it is well documented in his personal letters that he pursued the creation of a white earthenware body and colourless or opaque glaze. Although there is evidence to show that the addition of cobalt was used well before Wedgwood it had never been marketed with the success he managed.
Pearlware was used by many pottery manufacturers including Staffordshire and Swansea. It was used for tableware but also for decorative pieces like figures, jugs and wall brackets. Staffordshire potteries, in particular, used it for many of their figures. The most popular colour to use as an underglaze was blue but other colours include yellow, green, brown, purple and black. The most popular early use of pealware was the blue underglaze with oriental decoration, a pattern often referred to as ‘Chinese House’ which remained in fashion and in demand for over twenty years.
The blue designs applied as underglaze meant that they were protected from wear and damage and thus the sharpness of colour and image stands the test of time, which would explain its enduring popularity today.