First developed as a cheap but useful alternative to porcelain, creamware soon became popular in its own right. Early examples are both collectable and relatively inexpensive.
While many 18th-century potters devoted their lives to recreating the glories of
Chinese porcelain, others attempted to provide a more affordable ware as a substitute. There was certainly a ready market for it, especially for tableware. The new custom for family dining at a single table rather than a collection of smaller ones had encouraged the production of large services.
Many Staffordshire potters attempted to make earthenware that was cheap, robust and had the look of porcelain. The results would fall short of one of the three aims until 1761, when
Josiah Wedgwood perfected creamware, a type of earthenware with a strong, near-white body and a thick, yellowish glaze.
The first Wedgwood creamware had a glaze that scratched and crazed easily and was easily damaged by boiling water, making it unsuitable for tea and coffee pots. By 1764, though, these technical problems had been overcome. Over the next few years the glaze got paler and paler and more evenly applied, and various mechanical means were introduced to decorate the wares, giving patterns that were characteristically smooth and neat.
FIT FOR A QUEEN
In 1765, Wedgwood was commissioned to supply Queen Charlotte with a 60-piece creamware tea set. The result was so admired that Wedgwood was appointed 'Potter to Her Majesty' and Wedgwood creamware was known from then on as Queens Ware.
The enormous success of creamware led Wedgwood to experiment with vases and other purely decorative articles, while other potteries - particularly those at Leeds, Liverpool and Swansea - produced creamware services and decorative items of their own. Creamware has never gone totally out of fashion, and it is still made today.
Originally developed as an affordable alternative to expensive
Chinese porcelain, creamware soon developed an identity of its own. Primarily employed in the manufacture of useful wares, it was sometimes decorated with printed or painted motifs, and sometimes left plain. It was made by dozens of Staffordshire factories throughout the 19th century.
Wedgwood Cream Ware
Creamware from the 18th and early 19th centuries is easier to find than other ceramics of the period. Most specialist and general antiques dealers will have some in stock, while it's also a staple of antiques fairs and markets, and you might find the odd piece at a car boot sale or even a jumble sale. If you want to acquire a whole service, though, you'll be better off looking for it at auctions and house sales.
Most people, though, are quite happy to collect single pieces. Because there are so many different kinds, you'd do well to find a speciality, either a particular sort of ware - jugs or tureens, perhaps, or pieces with fretted decoration - or the products of a particular factory, although only Wedgwood invariably its creamware.
You could also concentrate on early pieces. Although the rich, buttery finish of early creamware - the product of a glaze made of ground lead, pipeclay and flint - had its admirers in the 18th century, the majority of customers then seemed to have regarded paleness as a sign of quality, and something of this remains today, making early creamware surprisingly available and affordable.
A great deal of creamware was unmarked, though it's always worth examining a piece carefully; the glaze would often run into the impressed mark, and a particularly thick glaze would make it virtually invisible.
LEEDS AND LIVERPOOL
Leeds creamware was very like Wedgwood, but some features were peculiar to the factory, including handles moulded in the form of two pieces of rope twisted together and ending in a leaf, or a knob in the form of a double convolvulus flower. The factory specialized in ambitious pierced and lattice work, and in enamel painting executed in two colours, brick red and black, with some objects, notably teapots, also boasting striking green stripes. As a contrast to this, Liverpool specialized in black transfer-printed wares embellished with hand-painted floral motifs.
• Genuine early pieces of creamware feel very light in the hand.
• Any 'Wedgwood' piece with a network of fine lines (crazing) in its glaze is either pre-1764 or, more likely, a fake.
• Only the very earliest Wedgwood was unmarked. Look for the name Wedgwood impressed in capital letters. An added '& Co' is not seen on genuine pieces. Creamware that is additionally marked 'Made in England' dates from after 1890.
• Creamware decorated with American scenes may well have originated at the Liverpool pottery, which exported to the USA.
Read articles and references: Good standards are Warman's
English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain (Susan and Al Bagdade), and
Marks & Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain (William Chaffers).