Early American Pottery: 18th to 19th Century Ceramic Ware

Updated on April 5, 2019
artsofthetimes profile image

Ancient art and architecture isn't only for historians, but for people like us who’ve always been interested in anything olden and periodic.

The earliest American pottery of some interest was first made in the State of Pennsylvania, in the mid-eighteenth century. Though practically all pottery objects made were required for everyday use of the early colonial settlers of the 17th century, none was made with any form of decorative patterning except perhaps for an imprinted mark that identified one owner from another.

That there is no known earthenware pot with any artistic value is reasons why how they were exactly formed is not that certain, save for the fact that they were molded strictly for utilitarian purposes.

18th century American pottery, made more for functional use than for decorative value.
18th century American pottery, made more for functional use than for decorative value. | Source

18th Century American Pottery Art

American pottery and other simple ceramics with decorative value were first produced by the Germans around the mid-18th century. At the time, earthenware ceramics (slip), had decorations of crudely scratched carvings. They were called sgraffito ware. Sgraffito was typically made on slip before firing and was applied on wall plaster or stucco.

Sgraffito refers to a method of decorating pottery (or any other) surface with scratch-like patterns which then exposes colour finishes beneath the top layer. There are variations of this early pottery art where the deep scratches are coloured with contrasting or enhancing colours.

The main body colours were cream, red and brown and the slip was blue, green and pink. The result is the colours of the main body showing through the 'ornamental' carved scratches on the slip body.

Subjects of the Sgraffito Ornamental Motifs

Sgraffito scratched characters and subjects include the following crudely created ornaments:

  • Strangely shaped animal sketches
  • Flowers
  • Human figures
  • Dates pottery was produced
  • Names of the maker or the owners
  • Other types of personalised inscriptions

All marks, shapes, and inscriptions are incised or cut into the wet clay after the shapes have been created, just before firing.

The Pennsylvanian potters also produced some ceramic ware with a marbleized finish. Some creativity started to evolve in the art of pottery making at this time in the history of American pottery.

And in Massachusetts and Connecticut, ceramic ware production soon evolved on a more serious note because of the recognition of the fact that the objects not only possess practical values but also decorative value as well.

It was a time when Americans began to appreciate the art of beautifully formed and finished ceramic ware.

Ceramic Ware Production in 19th Century America

Around the third quarter of the 18th century, many English potters, trained by some of the well-known English pottery firms of the time migrated to America, bringing with them the technical training and knowledge they had acquired in the art of ceramic ware.

The influx of the new migrant potters prompted and inspired the colonial American potters to attempt to produce ceramic art of a better quality than they previously produced.

The most sought-after 19th-century American ceramics were terra-cotta objects and salt-glazed stoneware made from kaolin which was found in large quantities in Bennington, Vermont.

The factory also produced copies of English cream ware which were ceramic objects with a cream form, coloured by metal oxides dabbed on the surfaces with a sponge, creating a tortoiseshell effect.

Designs were richly and brilliantly glazed and were generally heavy and quaint, with many of them humorous in appearance.

The Bennington factory reached its zenith between 1847 and 1857, and their production line consisted of both ornamental art and utilitarian objects.

From this period on, and continuing to the end of the 19th century, there was a corresponding improvement in the style and quality of American ceramic products.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the pottery and finer ceramic ware production industry had expanded to virtually every major city across America.

Why America's Development of Decorative Pottery Stalled

Importations of fine earthenware and porcelain from England, both before and after the Revolution hampered the full development of decorative pottery production in America.

The beauty of imported ceramics, coupled with their popularity, often made the American potters copy them and try to disguise their origins by knowingly omitting their own stamped names or factory inscription marks.

Also, the French and Oriental productions that were readily available to buy didn't help much either as large quantities of transfer-printed ceramic ware from England flooded the ceramic art market after the American Revolution.

These are the some of the major things that affected a full-blown American pottery art development. It also greatly affected the production and capital investments of the American potters.

The First True American Porcelain

The first authentic American porcelain ceramics were produced in Jersey City, New Jersey in the early 19th century while simultaneously in Philadelphia an ambitious porcelain production factory was also operating.

Their porcelain wares were gilded with banding and were painted with sprays of flowers, styles that were influenced and inspired by Rockingham of England. The two factories also copied the French Empire forms.

Thereafter, porcelain and earthenware ceramics were produced in Baltimore, Maryland; Kaolin, South Carolina; East Liverpool, Ohio; Trenton and South Amboy both in New Jersey; and many other places across the US.

Most of their imitated porcelain products were poorly made and artistically crude, with most of them made for commercial use.

By the end of the 19th century, America's production of ceramic art declined and there was little, if any, of their pottery that was fit to be classified as decorative pottery art.

© 2011 artsofthetimes


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      7 months ago

      yes yes yes yes yes yes

    • profile image

      Arlene V. Poma 

      8 years ago

      Wow! This Hub is loaded with information, so I bookmarked it for reference. I am familiar with the art potter from Zanesville, Ohio, and that's about it. I really enjoyed this Hub and the videos. Voted up!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Jersey would be the last place I would of thought to have produced porcelain! I love terra-cotta, I had a whole dish set that was made out of it.

      Great history lesson on art thank you!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)