Rufus Foshee Antiques
Creamware: Plain and Decorated
by Rufus Foshee
Specialist in 17th, 18th, and 19th century pottery.

Creamware, earthenware pottery, c. l755-1800, not only the ultimate refinement of the British pottery industry, it was the product that launched Josiah Wedgwood into fame and riches.

This process did not come into being overnight.  It passed through several transitions before Wedgwood arrived at the supreme development of this ware in the 1760s.  Early Creamware had a short life, a little more than thirty years, though Creamware of various quality continued to be made for another thirty or more years.

One of the great pottery experimenters and developers in mid eighteenth century Britain was Thomas Whieldon who apprenticed both Josiah Wedgwood and John Greatbatch, two other masters at their craft.

The process of developing what we understand as Creamware was not cream colored in its day. It had many enamel glazes, including greens and yellows. Wedgwood formed a partnership with Thomas Whieldon, 1755-1759, when he chose to go on his own.

By the mid 1760s, Wedgwood had developed a very refined form of earthernware with a cream colored glaze, not always the same shade, and especially as other makers began to imitate.  This is often called Queens Ware.

Donald Towner was the 20th century authority on the subject.  His two books are necessary for anyone who wishes to be a serious collector of Creamware. They are: “Creamware,” 1978, and “The Leeds Pottery,” 1963, both out of print but copies are available.

Following are some Creamware examples with colored glazes:  

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At first experimental, this early Creamware. c. l750s, came to be called tortoise-shell, (mottled), Whieldon, among other things, and made in many forms. But this ware with beautiful colored glazes, and made over about thirty years came to be prized above all others and remains that today.

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Early Creamware, c. 1755-70

While Josiah Wedgwood throughout his life, 1735-95,  kept aesthetics and high quality as top priorities, he fast forwarded to working out a process of making Creamware that would result in an appealing product, less expensive than those experimental successful years in partnership with Thomas Whieldon, 1719-95. 

He did find a less expensive process and he died a very rich man.

Happily, Creamware has become  the term to identify this refined earthenware, basic water and clay, then glazed in a white slip that was ideal for decorators who painted wonderful designs in colored enamels.  Many Creamware pieces were printed with transfer designs, particularly in a dull red and in black.  But plain Creamware, with designs in shallow relief or with punched designs, remain near the top of demand. 

Creamware did not just happen.   Nothing in the development of pottery in the l8th century did.   The life of English Salt-Glazed Stoneware was roughly 1720-1760, but that process was slow.   It was about 1740 before the potters could make flat pieces that would not warp in the firing process.   Hollow pieces had been easier.

The bodies of Salt-Glazed Stoneware and that of Creamware are identical, only their glazes differed, one is salt the other lead. There are many exact patterns in both types of pottery.  The next two examples, the first a marked Leeds Pottery one, and both early Creamware, and both may be found in Salt-Glaze.

Many years ago someone sent me a photo of two plates with the pattern of the following design:

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This was an exciting offer, being able to buy two such rare plates, one white the other tortoiseshell, which were described as a pair of Salt-Glaze plates.  Upon receiving them, the white one was Salt-Glaze, the Tortoiseshell one Creamware.   It was a wonderful learning experience because from a photograph it is impossible to distinguish the difference.

In making distinctions, the eye is important, but one's hands and what they feel are a second pair of eyes.

Following are some examples of both plain and decorated Creamware.

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Possibly painted by J. Bakewell, Wedgwood, c. l765 and very rare.

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Creamware, c. l770-80

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Rare Creamware shaker, three rows of beading, c. l770

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Rare Leeds teapot with hearts gallery, c. l775

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Very rare platter with purple edge, c. l768

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Creamware plate, typical and one of the most common patterns, c. l775

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Creamware, polychrome decoration and typical, c. l775-80

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Creamware punch pot, c. l775

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A rare set of 12 Creamware plates, c. l790

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Close-up up of one of the above plates.

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Front: Creamware plate with embossed Tudor Rose, c. l775

Not so long ago, plain Creamware was more easily found than today, as is the case with most fine pottery.   The demand for plain Creamware is considerable.   Do you have a preference for plain Creamware or that which is enameled  in colors?

So, what is Creamware?   It is pottery, not porcelain.   The basic difference is that pottery has a body that is over-glazed.  If broken, one may easily see that not only is the interior granular, but may easily see that the body and the glaze are separate.   For this reason, it is not unusual to see examples that have crazing, meaning that the body and the glaze are separating.   The imperfections tend to collect stains but may be cleaned, but never let such examples touch Clorox  which may cause great damage, even the falling away of glaze.   There are expects that have perfected methods of removing such stains without damage.

An example of porcelain, when broken, will not show a difference in glaze and body.   These examples have been melded into one by higher firing temperatures than used for pottery.   Porcelain does not stain.

Happily, the common use of Soft Paste to describe Creamware seems no longer in use.   Soft Paste must be followed by the word porcelain to be correct.   Then it means a soft type of porcelain that has been fired at less high temperature, and in some cases a different formula, but it is the firing temperature that makes the major difference.

By going to www.rufusfosheeantiques. com  and looking at Creamware, you may see some examples not shown above.  These are changed with some frequency.

By the mid 1770s, the ladies who bought Creamware by the tons were bewildered.   They wanted it to be whiter and look like Chinese Export porcelain.    Wedgwood was ready and began adding blueing to his glaze, and soon everyone followed.  As with 20th century housekeepers who added blueing to starched  shirts to make them whiter, potters continued to please the ladies.  The transition did not begin and end at the end of the day when the shades were drawn in a factory, but evolved over time.   

By about 1790, or by the time of Wedgwood's death in 1795, the best of Creamware had been made.   But there are very fine later examples such as the following:

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A Game Dish, c. l840 with an English Coat of Arms.

The Creamware that is enthusiastically collected today is mostly that potted between c. 1767-1790.    The forms are endless, from candlesticks,  elaborate cruet sets, epherns, to simple plates.

If one has not and wishes to begin a Creamware collection, where to begin?  Make the investment in the two Towner books listed above.  Though out of print, considering the price of new illustrated books, these copies are not expensive and they are fine quality.  If one wants to advance more, invest in Peter Walton's "Creamware and other English Pottery at Temple Newsam House Leeds," copies which may be had very reasonably, if you are not looking for a collectors copy, but just a research copy.

If you are collector of Creamware, or want to be one, and if it is the chase that is important to  you, rather than the find, good luck to you.

As a longtime dealer in pottery it remains my policy to advise to find a dealer you want to work with and convey to that dealer the kinds of things you may want.  If that dealer cannot deliver, then you may wish to find another. But running form dealer to dealer, hoping one will have the same thing as the other for a little less is not the wisest approach to collecting anything.

Do you want to have a considerable collection that will illustrate different forms and different potters? If so, then let that be known.  If you want just a few choice examples, make that clear.

Where to look?  If you try the web, do be explicit about what you type in. For example, if you want plain antique English Creamware, make that plain, etc.

How convenient it would be to hit the keys and up jumps wonderful examples of early English Creamware, plain or decorated.  That is not my experience.

There are number of fine antique dealers who deal in Creamware.  I suggest you find these and see what you are able to select that will add measurably to your collection.  If you are just beginning, the same applies.

Some would say that antique English Creamware (there are others - French and other continental) is expensive.   Considering the fine quality and beauty of early English Creamware, and that most of it is 200 years or more old, you may find by comparison that it is very reasonably priced compared to many later types of pottery.

Antique English Creamware is a type of pottery on which much has been written. For this, be grateful, because these books, in consultation with a reliable dealer,  will keep you on the right track as you collect Creamware.