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Glossary of Ceramics Terms

Ceramics from around the world

This Page's Index

Ceramics - Body - Paste - Biscuit - Glaze - Slip
Pottery - Earthenware - Stoneware - Creamware - Pearlware - Porcelain - Hard Paste - Soft Paste - Kaolin - Petuntse
Enamel - Lead Glaze - Dusted - Liquid - Tin Glaze - Felspathic Glaze
Agate, Marbled Wares - Basalt - Blue and White - Caneware - Celadon - Chinese Export Porcelain - Clobbering - Combed Ware - Crackle - Crazing - Delftware - Dipped Wares - Engine Turning - Faience - Famille - Famille Jaune - Famille Noire - Famille Rose - Famille Verte - Hispano-Moresque - Ironstone - Jasper Ware - Lustre - Maiolica - Mocha Ware - Parian Body - Pate-sur-Pate - Pratt Ware - Mid 19th C. - Proto-porcelain - Queensware - Redware - Scratch Blue - Sgraffiato - Soaprock (Soapstone) - Spatterware - Sponged Ware - Staffordshire - Staffordshire figures - Stone Paste Body - Stone China - Terra Cotta - Tortoiseshell and Whieldon Ware - Transfer Print

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Ceramics Terminology
These are the major terms used to describe ceramics.
The index for this page is to the left.


Ceramics - A term which covers all objects of clay that have been hardened by fire. The word comes from the Greek keramos meaning potter's clay. All are shaped by one of three methods - coil, wheel or mold. 

Body - The name given to the composite materials of which potter's clay is made. The term "body" is generally used when referring to earthenware or stoneware. 

Paste - The name given to the composite materials of which potter's clay is made. The term "paste" is used almost exclusively when referring to porcelain or bone china. 

Biscuit - Earthenware, stoneware or porcelain materials after being shaped and dried by firing. The term is widely used to include all once-fired unglazed ware. 

Glaze - An impervious, usually glassy material which may be colorless or colored, applied to all types of ceramics to make them impervious to liquids; to give them a brilliant surface; and to act as a foundation or protection for painted ornament. 

Slip - potter's clay reduced to a liquid batter, used for coating, or decorating pottery. Slip decoration was done in a manner similar to decorating an iced cake.


Pottery - A generic term for all ceramic wares, but in normal usage, it refers to all wares that are not porcelain. 

Earthenware - A term that covers all objects made of clay which, after firing, are porous and require glazing before they can be used domestically. It is a soft bodied ware meaning that it is fired at a relatively low temperature, i.e. 750-1000C, porous, doesn't ring, is opaque and has poor heat resistance qualities. It includes all slip-decorated wares; common white and yellow wares and enameled wares. It may be divided into four types: unglazed, lustrous glazed (coated with a slight vitreous glaze), lead glazed, or glazed and enameled. It is manufactured in three stages: the clay is fired once to produce the biscuit state, then glazed and fired a second time. Under glaze colors and transfer printing are applied to the biscuit before the second firing. If enamel decoration is applied over the glaze, the ware is fired a third time at a comparatively low heat. This category covers all the wares which started in the Near East, Spain, Italy, etc. (see below) (The Collector's Encyclopaedia of English Ceramics) 

Stoneware - A hard bodied (meaning it is fired at a relatively high temperature) ceramic ware between earthenware and porcelain. Stoneware added crushed calcined flint to the earthenware formula and the mixture vitrifies when fired at 1300 degrees C. Thus, it is impervious to liquids and does not have to be glazed. Stoneware first appears in England in the late 17th c. where it was brought from Cologne, Germany. There were two types of stoneware: the original drab brownish color and, by 1740, under the guidance of Staffordshire potter John Astbury, a white salt glazed ware.

Creamware or Cream-coloured Earthenware - A faintly yellow earthenware with a transparent lead glaze, which evolved from the salt-glazed stoneware of Staffordshire. Light-colored clays imported from Devonshire were used with calcined flints. In about 1740, the introduction of a liquid lead glaze established creamware as the standard earthenware body for the next 100 years. The addition of the flint made it possible to fire at higher kiln temperatures resulting in wares which were harder. The creamware was marketed throughout Europe, where its commercial success resulted in the decline of local faience industries. In France it was called Faience Fine. 

Pearlware - A white earthenware containing more flint and white clay than creamware. First made by Wedgwood in 1779, and, in the early 19th c. by many imitators. Used chiefly for table services with painted or transfer-printed decoration. Often, it can be recognized by the bluish glaze which accumulates near the base. 

Porcelain - A ware made of kaolin and petuntse and fired at high temperatures (1200-1450C.) It is distinguished from earthenware by its impermeability and from this and stoneware by its translucency. (It comes from the Italian word "porcellana" meaning white cowrie shell.) Supplies of the two essential ingredients, kaolin and petuntse, were found in Fukien Province in China, about 900 A.D. (see below) Marco Polo was probably the first Westerner to see the potters at work when he was in China, in the service of Khublai Khan from 1275-1292. 

Hard Paste v. Soft Paste Porcelain - Hard paste is based on stone, whereas soft paste is based on glass. However, there are variations which keep the distinction from being quite this simple!

Hard Paste Porcelain - A compound of infusible and fusible clay (kaolin and petuntse) fired at a very high temperature. It is normally resistant to a file. Hard-paste porcelain is glazed with a preparation of petuntse and the body and the glaze are fired at a high temperature, usually in one operation.

Soft Paste Porcelain - The early European porcelain mixture of ground glass or frit for translucency (frit was a mixture of white sand, gypsum, soda, alum, salt and nitre melted together in a mass, then broken and pulverized), blended with white clay, soapstone, lime, etc. It can be marked easily with a file and when broken, the body appears granular. It must be fired a first time in an unglazed state and then re-fired at a lower temperature after glazing. The lead glaze which fused with the body, provided a perfect base for enamel decoration which sank into it during a third firing giving it a beauty almost unobtainable on hard-paste porcelain. 
Bone China - The standard English porcelain since c.1800. Bone china is a non-frit paste which contains bone ash, a substance which added lime and phosphates that kept the porcelain from warping or collapsing when fired. Bone china was so different from all that preceded it, that it acquired an independent status in ceramic technology (Although bone ash as an ingredient of porcelain was used at Bow from 1749, and at Lowestoft, Chelsea and Derby, Josiah Spode is credited with stabilizing the proportions in c. 1794.)

Kaolin - (From the Chinese - "kao-ling" high hill the name of the mountain or district in Fukien Province from where it was first obtained.) A fine unfusible, plastic white clay formed by the decomposition of felspathic rock. In England, it's called "china clay".

Petuntse - (From the Chinese - "pai-tun-tzu" - little white bricks - the form in which the Chinese potter received it.) The fusible felspathic rock used in the manufacture of porcelain which gives it translucence. In England it's called "china stone".


Enamel - Low fired over glaze ceramic pigments derived from metallic oxides such as copper, gold, manganese, iron or antimony used singly or combined with an opaque white and lead, zinc or some special flux, (flux is a substance which determines the melting and fusion point of a glaze) used in Europe since the 18th c. This technique was derived from China and the Near East. (This is NOT the opaque tin glaze used on Delft, maiolica, faience and delftware.) 

Lead Glaze - It was the first really efficient glaze for clay pottery, known in the Near East nearly 4000 years ago. 

Dusted - A finely powdered and sifted natural sulfide of lead which was applied to ceramic surfaces.

Liquid - About 1748, calcined lead was ground with calcined flint, clay and water. The biscuit was dipped into this mixture and fired a second time. This produced a highly lustrous and uniform surface which, for the first time, made it possible for every piece in a service to be glazed exactly alike. Early glazes were soft and easily marked by cutting with a knife or even by stirring with a spoon, hence the preference for wood or metal plates and bowls until the introduction, in 1764, of an improved liquid glaze which produced a harder smoother surface. This latter glaze was made from frit and other fusable materials ground to a creamy consistence with water. 
Salt Glaze - A hard translucent non-porous glaze on stoneware produced by the action of sodium chloride on the surface of the clay. (Salt was thrown into the kiln at the moment of peak temperature, and as chemical changes occurred, a fine coating of soda and alumina was deposited on the surface of the ware giving a thin, intensely hard film of transparent soda glass. Brilliant and of long durability, salt glaze was characterized by tiny pin-holes or granules giving it a roughness which was not suitable for plates and dishes.

Tin Glaze - A white opaque glaze containing oxide of tin, which gives the outward appearance of a white-bodied article. The technique was an ancient one which came from the Near East and introduced into Europe by way of Spain and Italy. (See Delft, delftware, Maiolica and Faience.) 

Felspathic Glaze - This glaze was used on hard paste porcelains and was made of the same kaolin and petuntse as the body, but in different proportions.


Agate, Marbled Wares - From about 1740, potters intermingled white and colored clays to produce Solid Agate or blended different colored slips to produce Surface Agate as a decorative effect or to emulate natural stones on earthenware. 

Basalt - A uniformly and densely grained black stoneware developed and made by Wedgwood from 1766. Basalt was a mixture of ball clay, calcined ochre, and manganese dioxide. (It was a refinement of the early Egyptian black, long made by the Staffordshire potters who stained an ordinary earthenware body with manganese dioxide.) 

"Blue and White" - A term used to denote porcelain and other ware decorated in blue under the glaze. The blue pigment is derived from cobalt. 

Caneware - Unglazed dry looking tan or cane colored stoneware, sometimes decorated with slight designs in light blue enamel. It was made by Wedgwood in about 1770. (A darker version is called "Bamboo".) 

Celadon - Chinese, Korean and other Asian stoneware with a characteristic bluish-green color derived from a feldspathic glaze on a slip containing iron, first seen in the Tang dynasty. In the Sung dynasty, a greyish green porcelain was made. (The word Celadon "Éis probably a corruption of Salah-ed-din (Saladin), Sultan of Egypt who sent forty pieces of this ware to Nur-ed-din, Sultan of Damascus, in 1171. It is often suggested that the derivation is based on the colour of the costume of a charactre, Celadon in L'Astree, a seventeenth-century French romance. The costume is said to have been a greyish-green in colourÉ.") (Porcelain through the Ages, p. 62 by George Savage, Pelican)

Chinese Export Porcelain - Hard paste porcelain made in Ching-te-chen in Kiangsi province, and decorated by artists in the enamel works outside of Canton, for export to foreign countries. It almost never has any factory or other manufacturers' marks on the back. (See Chinese Ceramics below.) 

Clobbering - White, or blue and white porcelain redecorated with various colors with or without the intent to deceive. 

Combed Ware - A coarse combed or marbled 17th c. slipware or earthenware with a two-colored marbled appearance. 

Crackle - A decorative effect of fine cracks in glazed ware used by the Chinese and sometimes imitated in 19th c. Europe. 

Crazing - A network of thin irregular crisscrossing lines resembling fine cracks. This may be confined to the glaze or may go beneath causing discoloration. Delft - A blended earthenware made in Delft beginning early in the 17th c. It was coated with tin-enamel, decorated and then glazed. It has a porous body, yellowish or pale brown in tint, is light in weight and usually soft enough to be marked with a knife. 

Delftware - Earthenware made in England and written with a small "d". It was first made in Norwich in 1567, much earlier than in Delft. However, Delft became an important center for this type of pottery and thus the English ware became known as "delftware." The English version is denser, more vitreous and thus less evenly coated with enamel. Sometimes the red or buff body is faintly visible through the enamel. Crazing is frequent, a fault rarely found on Dutch Delft. 

Dipped Wares - Various 18th and 19th c earthenwares (marbled, mocha and banded wares) were described as "dipped" because they were dipped in a vat of colored slip during the course of decoration.

Engine Turning - A decoration, particularly on black basalt ware, produced by placing the leather-hard body on an eccentric lathe so that it made a geometrical pattern. Could also be done on slip covered wares so that the lathe cut through, exposing the body underneath. Introduced about 1765 in Staffordshire. 

Faience - The French version of tin-glazed earthenware popular throughout Europe in the 16th, 17th, and 18th c. - name comes from the town Faenza in Italy, where Maiolica was made. 

Famille - The French word for family. "Families" were an arbitrary classification created in the mid-19th c. by the French ceramic historian, Albert Jacquemart, based on the use of green, yellow and black enamels in the decoration of Chinese porcelain made from the reign of K'ang His (1662-1722) and rose made popular during the reign of Yung Cheng beginning in 1723. 

Famille Jaune - A Chinese palette of colors combining famille verte with a yellow ground color used in the K'ang Hsi period.

Famille Noire - Same as famille jaune with a black ground color.

Famille Rose - Color ranges from a pink to a purplish rose depending on the kiln temperature. The pigment, known as "Purple of Cassius," was developed by Andreas Cassius of Leiden, from gold chloride and chloride of tin (which made it opaque). The formula for the color was taken to China by Jesuit missionaries in c.1685, appearing first on enamels on copper, and then by, c.1700 on porcelain. Famille rose porcelain was at its best during the reign of Yung Cheng. The color was employed by a number of European factories for wares in the Chinese style and on German faience decorated by Hausmaler before its arrival in China.

Famille Verte - During the K'ang-hsi period (1662-1722) designs were outlined in browns and blacks and then covered with translucent enamels. Because green predominated the palette of that period, it has come to be called famille verte. 
Flux - Substance added to glaze or vitrifiable bodies to lower the fusion point during firing. Commonly added to enamel colors. 

Hispano-Moresque Pottery - Golden lustre ware with Arab designs made in Spain by Moorish potters as early as the 12th c. It was a coarse reddish-buff body coated with a warm cream tin enamel - decoration generally in metallic luster and dark blue. (Hispano-Moresque lustre wares were the forerunners of pottery in Europe (1400-1525). They were exported to Italy via Majorca, resulting in the term "maiolica" being adopted by the Italians to refer to their own ware by the end of the 15th c. Early lustre was golden-yellow or golden brown in color, derived from silver. This pottery flourished for about 300 years but by the end of the 16th c. was in steady decline. The technique, however, survived. (see - Lustre) 

Ironstone - A hard, durable white stoneware alleged to contain slag of ironstone as one of its ingredients, which was patented by Charles James Mason in 1813. Other manufacturers adopted the name for similar wares that they made throughout the 19th c. 

Jasper Ware - A dense, white, vitrified stoneware of nearly the same properties as porcelain, developed in 1774 by Josiah Wedgwood. The body could be colored with metal oxides. Other firms did make imitations of this ware. 

Lustre - There is evidence of this technique on both a clear lead glaze and an opaque tin glaze, from about 850AD in Iraq. The colors were always various tones of yellow, graduating to a rich coppery brown. Lustre was revived in England in the 19th c and produced in silver, gold or pink on creamware, earthenware and bone china. (see Hispano-Moresque above and Near Eastern Pottery below) 

Maiolica - Italian earthenware covered with a tin glaze and painted in colors, made in Italy, Sometimes it refers to tin-glazed earthenware of an early kind made in France, Germany, and the Low Countries, in the Italian style. The word "majolica" with a "j" was used in the 1860's in England for relief decorated pottery covered with colored glazes. The word is an Italian version of the place-name Majorca, from whence the Italians learned of the Spanish ware Hispano Moresque. 

Mocha Ware - Utilitarian earthenware, chiefly mugs, decorated with colored bands into which tree, moss or fern-like effects were made by means of a diffusing agent, a drop of which "ramifies" the colored bands to produce the pattern. The process was used from about 1780 -1914. The early form had a creamware body but after the 1830's, a white earthenware or hard cane-colored stoneware was used. It was so named because of its resemblance to the quartz known as mocha-stone. 

Parian Body - A special kind of porcelain bisque dating from about 1845, which was used chiefly for statuary. 

Pate-sur-Pate - A style of decoration produced by successive coats of porcelain slip which are applied to a tinted Parian body and then carved to create a cameo-like design. 

Pratt Ware - 1790-1820 - Jugs and other objects with molded decoration in underglaze blues, green browns, yellows and occasionally black.

Mid 19th C. - The class of ware decorated with multicolored prints of the so-called "pot-lid" type.

Proto-porcelain - Stoneware, approaching the character of porcelain, in particular the feldspathic, glazed stoneware of the 2nd c. BC Han dynasty in China. 

Queensware - In 1765, Wedgwood secured the patronage of Queen Charlotte and named a superior type of his creamware "Queensware". 

Redware - A general term for all red stoneware and earthenware 

Scratch Blue - English stoneware (usually salt glaze) with the design incised into semi-soft unfired clay and blue pigment (or sometimes another color) rubbed in the incisions. 

Sgraffiato - From the Italian word sgraffire, meaning to scratch. The Iranians used this process in the 10th c. English slip covered ware with contrasting design obtained by cutting away the coating to expose the color beneath. 

Soaprock (Soapstone) Porcelain - Soapstone or steatite was first added as an ingredient of the English soft-paste porcelain paste at Lund's Bristol, and was transferred to Worcester in 1751 when that Bristol factory closed. The soaprock was used instead of petuntse, which technically makes it a "true porcelain" rather than a soft paste porcelain since it is adding a fusible rock instead of a glassy frit to the clay. However, many authorities still consider it "soft paste." It had many advantages, not the least of which was that it could tolerate hot water without cracking and objects could be formed more thinly and with greater precision. 

Spatterware - Inexpensive English pottery (later, ironstone) made for the American market in the first half of the 19th c. with simple, brightly painted designs, ground and borders densely 'spattered' or sponged with color. 

Sponged Ware or Sponge Decorated Ware - A crude, easily recognized peasant style of decoration achieved by free painting and by dabbing the ware with a sponge impregnated with pigment. Made in England in the 19th c. for export to America. 

Staffordshire - Many types of wares made by the numerous pottery manufacturers of Staffordshire, the center of the English industry since the early 18th c. - particularly lead-glazed earthenware, stoneware, and later developments therefrom. 
Staffordshire blue-printed ware. Earthenware, usually pearlware, made from the end of the 18th c. on, which was transfer-printed in blue with a variety of subjects.

Staffordshire figures - Earthenware and stoneware figures for ornamental use which were made from the early 18th c. on, at the various pottery factories in Staffordshire. Toward the middle of the 19th c. a type of figure known as a "flatback" appeared. It was made in a press mold and thus had no modeling on the back and was frequently placed on mantels. This type is often referred to as Victorian Staffordshire figures.

Stone Paste Body - In the 11th c. the Iranians developed this body to imitate Chinese white porcelain. It was 10 parts ground quartz, one part ground glass frit, and one part fine white clay. In the 16th c. the Iznik potters made a similar ware. 

Stone China - A Staffordshire stoneware developed by Spode in 1805. At a casual glance it seemed similar to porcelain because it contained petuntse, was very hard and of fine texture and it had a clear ring when lightly tapped. However it was opaque. This ware was really patented in 1800 by William and John Turner, and was known as "Turner's Body" or "Turner's Patent". 

Terra Cotta - Literally, "baked earth". Hard fired unglazed earthenware. The color varies from a light buffish or pinkish red to a strong purple red according to the firing and quality of the clay. Can be wares of great antiquity but also re-introduced in the mid 18th c. by Wedgwood. 

Tortoiseshell and Whieldon Ware - Much cream-colored earthenware was enriched with semi-translucent colored glazes. That known as tortoiseshell is decorated with mottled patterns in blue, green and brown derived from the oxides of cobalt, copper and manganese. Made in the mid 18th c. by Thomas Whieldon and others. 

Transfer Print - An English method of decoration, the design is minutely engraved in reverse on a copper plate, taken off in enamel pigment on paper, transferred to the surface of the porcelain and then fired. The invention was first used on the enamel on copper boxes at Battersea in 1753. The transfer print was all one color, usually black or blue. (The well-known Willow pattern is an example.) The design could also be painted with a wash after the first firing. Other printing methods were developed including the "glue bat" process and the multiple printing process used by Pratt on the "pot-lids" and other pieces. Though continental factories followed suit, the taste for it never caught on. In England, it is still in practice today.


Illustrated Dictionary of Ceramics, George Savage and Harold Newman, Thames and Hudson, 1992
Encyclopaedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marksby Geoffrey Godden
Gardner's Art Through the Ages by Richard Tansev
Islamic Ceramics by James Allan, Ashmolean-Christie's Handbooks, 1991

Bagdade,Warman's English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain.


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Warman's English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain (3rd Ed)
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Illustrated Multilingual Dictionary of Ancient Near­East Ceramics by Marguerite Yon

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Encyclopaedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marksby Geoffrey Godden

Kovels' New Dictionary of Marks: Pottery and Porcelain, 1850-Present by Ralph Kovel

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