Department of Anthropology

Tin-glazed earthenware - Delftware

  • Refined earthenware
  • Date range: c.1600-1800
  • Peak: 1650-1750
  • Place of origin: England (plain "delftware")

Tin-enamelled earthenware made in England or Holland is known as "delftware." Tin-enamelled earthenware was also produced in France (faience), Spain (maiolica), Italy, Western Asia, Africa and Central America.

Fabric colours vary from buff, yellow, orange or red. The glaze consists of lead with the addition of tin oxide. A distinct characteristic is the sandwiched appearance of the fabric between two layers of opaque glaze. The glaze has a tendency to flake off the fabric. The early tin-glazed delftware was elaborately decorated with Italianate or Chinoiserie designs. In the 1640s, potters started making the plain white vessels without decoration, so that the ware could be mass produced. Click photo to enlarge

Small vessels such as teacups are rarely found in colonial contexts after 1750 because the small vessels tended to lose their glaze at the lips.

Round or octagonal plain white plates, with wide rims, were produced in London until the last quarter of the 18th century. Plates were being made until at least 1802, and mugs until 1793. Pharmaceutical pots were produced later, and lasted until the early part of the 19th century.

Hand-painting was the most common type of decoration. Colours used for tin-enamelled polychrome ceramics were pale blue, yellow, red, green orange and/or purple before firing. The most common motifs for tin-enamelled ware are floral, chinoiserie and geometric.

See Noel Hume 1976: 108-111, 211; South 1977: 211-212; Davis, Cottreau and Niven 1987: 17-18


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Top photo: Tin-glazed earthenware sherds 
Bottom photo: Polychrome tin-glazed earthenware sherds


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