Plain white with just a hint of blue, pearlware was, after creamware, black basalt and jasperware, the fourth type of earthenware to be developed and popularized by Josiah Wedgwood in the late 18th century.
The cream-coloured earthenware that was introduced by Josiah Wedgwood in 1761 was widely accepted as a fine practical alternative to porcelain for useful ware such as dinner services. Queen's ware, as it became known, enjoyed a huge popularity.
Some people liked the warm, buttery glaze of the new ware, but a large body of popular opinion still hankered after the purer white of Chinese porcelain. As a result, the glaze on creamware was made progressively paler. Still, though, Wedgwood and other potters sought to re-create the blue-white moonlit look of the best Chinese porcelains in earthenware.
In 1779, Wedgwood marketed the results of his experiments as Pearl White ware, later known more simply as pearlware. The new ware was a first cousin to creamware; the only differences were that the body contained more white clay and flint, and was fired at a higher temperature, while a small amount of cobalt was added to give a hint of blue to the glaze.
Wedgwood was not as committed to the new style as he was to his other introductions. He made it clear that he was simply responding to fashionable taste, declaring that 'the pearl white ware must be considered a change rather than an improvement'. Despite his reservations, Wedgwood's Pearl White was a great, and much-imitated, success, though not, as he had feared, at the expense of creamware, which continued to sell well. Other factories, including Leeds and Spode, made their own versions of pearlware, including figurines as well as services.
BLUE AND WHITE PEARLS
The white body with a faint blue tinge made pearlware ideal for blue and white designs in the Chinese style, and from 1790 until about 1820, pearlware was the base for most Staffordshire blue and white earthenware, usually transfer-printed under the glaze. After about 1820, pearlware gradually drifted out of fashion, and Wedgwood ceased production in 1846. Other factories, though, continued to make pearlware, along with an even whiter variation known rather prosaically as whiteware, for some time.
Pearlware was a commonplace from the late 18th century to around 1820, and is not particularly rare today. It's a staple of antiques markets and fairs, and you may find pieces in house sales, general and specialist antiques shops, and even junk shops. Once you know what you're looking for, you might turn some up at garage or boot sales, though you'll rarely find pieces in good condition.
It's easy enough to tell a piece of pearlware and a piece of creamware apart if you have them side by side, but the shading can be subtle, and the only way to identify a single, unmarked piece for sure is practice. Visit dealers or, better still, pottery museums such as those to be found in Stoke-on-Trent. At the moment, creamware and pearlware prices are very similar, so any confusion you feel won't necessarily result in a financial loss.
Look for pieces in good condition, with no disfiguring
chips or cracks. As much of the value, even in nominally useful wares such as dinner plates, lies in the decoration, avoid pieces which have distressed over-glaze painting, rubbed gilding or the like. Faults in the transfer printing borders with noticeable seams for example, or designs that are not quite centred - are not as serious, though they do indicate that the piece probably wasn't made by one of the top firms.
A good clear mark will help you with identification and dating, though many pieces of pearlware were never marked, and you should be on guard against the many 19th-century variations in the WEDGWOOD mark.
English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain.