Chinese porcelain seemed fine, white and desirable to 18th century Europe, and it inspired skilled potters there to develop their own versions of porcelain. Others worked on more affordable earthenware, trying various clay and flint blends in the search for pale, creamy colours. This new creamware was developed during the mid-1700s.
One of the most successful versions of creamware came from the well-known English potter Josiah Wedgwood who managed to make paler earthenware than anyone else in the 1760s. Part of his success depended on clay from south-west England. Also important were his design expertise and the clear glaze.
After Queen Charlotte ordered a cream table service from Wedgwood he “branded” his cream pottery by calling it Queen’s ware, and didn’t use the name creamware himself. So Queen’s ware, or queensware, is a kind of creamware, but not all creamware is queensware.
Although there were other potteries making creamware, and other people also made crucial discoveries, Wedgwood got the acclaim for being the first to make a high quality pale cream earthenware. He described it as “quite new in appearance, covered with rich and brilliant glaze, bearing sudden alterations of heat and cold, manufactured with ease…and consequently cheap.”
Competition amongst potters to produce whiter ceramics continued. In the mid-1770s one of Wedgwood’s rivals got ahead with a pale “china glaze”. He soon came back into the lead with a “pearl white”, now known as pearlware.
Creamware lent itself to decoration with transfer printing. This is not only cheaper than hand painting; it also allows for a very detailed surface design with elaborate drawing and lettering. Other decorative effects on creamware included piercing and embossing.
Creamware was popular for a wide range of household pottery appearing in the Georgian dining-room and on the tea-table. It brought a finer kind of tableware to middle-class families, and wasn’t only for the rich. It was also used for commemorative items, like the pitcher, or jug, in the photo. English-made for the American market, this was one of many similar exports leaving from Liverpool.
America’s own creamware production started with John Bartlam in 1770s South Carolina. By the 1790s Philadelphia was a centre for manufacturing this kind of tableware. Many of the potters described their products as queensware, or like queensware.
Wedgwood-style creamware continued to be popular until the mid-19th century. By this time the names creamware and queensware were applied to a wider range of pottery. Some of it was not at all fashionable, and was much coarser or browner than the cream ceramics produced by the innovative 18th century manufacturers.
Food served with a cold spoon may cool down too quickly for some tastes. Even worse, a dish with rich, fatty gravy may congeal unappealingly on its way to your plate. A decorative container filled with hot water to keep serving spoons and sauce ladles warm seemed like the perfect solution in Victorian England. The earliest spoon warmers date from the 1860s.
This makes more sense when we remember how cold British houses could be for much of the year. Until the later 20th century rooms were often poorly heated, even in wealthy homes. Households with servants urged their staff to hurry from kitchen to dining room so food could be served hot, or at least warm, on heated plates. (Keeping the plates hot was a big deal, but that’s another story.) Hot food was appetising and proof of a well-run home too. Spoon warmers played their part in the effort to serve food at the right temperature – and fitted in with all the other paraphernalia in a fashionable late 19th century dining room.
Shapes and materials
A silver nautilus shell, open end upward, was a popular shape for a spoon warmer. Antique shell types are not hard to find today. Presumably they’re appreciated as decorative items and not used much.
Silver and silver plate warmers were common, but spoon warmers were also made from majolica, bone china and other pottery, and sometimes from brass or copper. As well as the favourite shell style, often on a seashore-themed base, there were frogs and fish with open mouths, helmets, or hunting horns on their side.
Designs ranged from elegant pieces of silversmithing and ceramics to absurd novelties. You could buy a neatly lidded spoon warmer to match your Royal Worcester dinner service, or a boat-shaped warmer or bright blue toad made by Minton. The best warmers kept the hot water mostly covered, with an opening just big enough for convenience.
Some were designed to double up as something else, like this one which could also be an egg coddler.
Not everyone was whole-heartedly enthusiastic about spoon warmers and other fancy dining accessories:
His table was a torment by reason of its patented aids to enjoyment. What with his radial carver, iris spoon-warmer, and folding cruets; his self-acting gravy-helper, excelsior asparagus-tongs, and duplex plate-warmer; his royal potato-parer, imperial cucumber-slicer, and oriental digester, to say nothing of patent wine-lifts, corkscrews, oxygen-generators, appetite-stimulators, and the rest of it, dining became a burden, and dessert a weariness of spirit.
M.E. Braddon, A Victim of Patents, July 1869 Belgravia
They went out of fashion early in the 20th century. It wasn’t long before magazines were suggesting you could use them as “novel” flower holders.
The history of Delft tiles goes back to the early 1600s when blue and white porcelain from China first arrived in the Netherlands. It was much admired and Dutch potters wanted to imitate the look, even though they couldn’t recreate true Chinese porcelain.
Potteries in Delft had some success with good quality blue and white glazed earthenware. Craftsmen in the city who were already making multi-coloured tiles soon started to work with the new colour scheme.
The tile-makers began by rolling out a clay mixture and cutting squares from it by pressing a wooden frame into the clay. Typically these were 1 cm deep with 13 cm edges. They were dried before firing in a kiln heated to around 1000°C. Next liquid white tin glaze was spread on the upper surface and left to dry naturally.
Decorating the surface
Decorative scenes were sketched on paper. Pricking through the outlines with a pin created a stencil, or pricked transfer, called a spons. Then a bag of charcoal dust was rubbed through the pinholes onto the glaze. Painters followed the charcoal tracing and sometimes added freehand shading to the design. The characteristic cobalt blue decoration fused into the opaque white surface during a second firing. Manganese-based purple, introduced in the later 17th century, was sometimes chosen as an alternative to blue.
Dutch homes used tiles generously round chimneypieces and stoves, in kitchens, and decorating hallways or stairs. Scenes from everyday life were popular: children playing, animals, workers, soldiers, or ships and harbours.
“Delft” tiles were made in other parts of the Netherlands too, for export as well as for local buyers. Social and economic trends meant that ceramic production was centred on Delft by about 1700, but was greatly reduced in that city by 1800.*
Antique hand-made tiles don’t look as smooth as reproductions made in modern factories. The glaze is more crackled, with colour variations in the white, and there may be indentations where the tiles were held in place by nails in the early stages before firing.
The Delft style and technique was used for a range of household and ornamental ceramics – often called Delftware or Delft Blue – not just for tiles. By the later 19th century Dutch tile manufacturers were losing out to industrial competitors elsewhere in Europe, but the Delft tile name lives on and is still popular today, whether new or antique.
Toby jugs portray a character whose story is rather unclear. He reminds some people of Shakespeare’s jovial, disreputable Toby Belch, and he very likely has something to do with an old song about Toby Fillpot.
Dear Tom, this brown jug that now foams with mild ale,
(In which I will drink to sweet Nan of the vale),
Was once Toby Fillpot, a thirsty old soul,
As e’er drank a bottle, or fathomed a bowl….
(1761, by Francis Fawkes, a clergyman)
This ceramic character was born in the English Staffordshire potteries region in the 18th century, fully clothed in breeches, coat, and a tricorn hat, seated, and clutching his own jug of ale. Sometimes Toby holds a pipe, takes snuff, or has a barrel between his feet.
Although Tobies are real glazed jugs with a handle behind and a spout in front, usually formed by the front point of the three-cornered hat, they have probably never held much liquid, and were originally intended to be decorative pieces of pottery.
Toby inspired many other character jugs, and they have been made more or less continuously over the last 250 years. Some are fictional personalities, and some are based on real people. They generally have humorous, earthy faces. Character is drawn in their wrinkles, and there may be an element of caricature. Themed sets are also possible.
Were any early Toby jugs made outside England?
Everyone knows Toby is an Englishman, and that’s why I was surprised to find that a French museum (Musée de Bretagne) has a Tobyish jug made in Rennes, probably 18th century. (See photo) His jug says Boy-Tout or Drink-All. In France of the 1700s this was a slangy, joky word to do with finishing your drink in one swig:* rather like the Toby Fillpot character, that “thirsty old soul”. As far as I can discover, Toby’s French cousin is called Jacquot, but please comment if you know more.
Victorian and Edwardian attitudes to Toby jugs
In 1904 the writer Gertrude Jekyll thought of a Toby jug as an ornament to sit above the fireplace on a cottage or farmhouse mantelpiece along with other “coloured glazed pottery and low-class porcelain”.
She was not the only person of that period who was unimpressed by earthenware Tobies, whether recently-designed Victorian ones or earlier jugs from the Georgian period. Edward Downman, who wrote English Pottery and Porcelain in 1896, doesn’t sound too enthusiastic, even when he admits that the older antique jugs were made by expert craftsmen.
…the most eminent potters of a bygone age may be associated with this grotesque and commonplace ware…
Now Toby jugs are admired by many and collected by enthusiasts. Genuine antiques may cost several hundred pounds in their home country. Collectors can specialise in particular types – pearlware or Wemyss ware, sailor or farmer Tobies, for example – and they expect the best jugs to be sold by upmarket auction houses and antique dealers.
Why did Cornishware appeal to people in its early days? Now we think of it as a British “design classic”, collected above all for its distinctive broad blue and white stripes, the core pattern of the original TG Green Cornish Kitchen Ware range. Some collectors also like less common variations: black stripes, or a storage jar lettered with the name of a retro cooking ingredient.
The blue and white banding has always been the most popular design. Did it really suggest white-crested waves under a blue sky to its early customers, as the company now believes? Cornish seascapes inspired the brand name, but people often associated it more with cottage and farm kitchens than with the wide open sea.
In 1932 the Manchester Guardian wrote about “Cornish farmhouse-ware, with its bold blue lines and white background”. A few years later one of its writers said you might get some at a “cottage sale” or “the village store”.
Cornishware was available in Canada in its early years, and there too it seemed like homey kind of stuff. When a new batch arrived in British Columbia after the second world war, an ad in the Vancouver Sun called it “lovely wholesome famous blue and white ware”.
In 1957 a New York store offered “peasant-type Cornishware earthenware, cherished for its rugged good looks.” It still had a pleasantly down-to-earth image for a New Yorker writer twenty years later:
… nice English Cornishware whose wide blue and off-white horizontal stripes have such an air of cheerful comfortableness …
Was it always intended to have a folksy appeal, for people wanting to make their kitchen or breakfast table look cosy and rural? Maybe not. The colour was originally called electric blue, or “e blue”, which sounds more contemporary than rustic. And Catherine McDermott, professor of design, links the style to Modernism as well as to farmhouses and dairies:
Cornishware’s distinctive blue and white bands owe something to the Continental development of well- designed, mass-produced Modernist tableware at this time.
So how do you react? Does Cornishware make you think of ocean waves, wholesome farm kitchens, or modernist electric blue?
I haven’t tried to distinguish between genuine TG Green Cornishware and imitations here, with the main focus on discussing the way people feel about the Cornish Blue style.
One 1930 ad offered a Cornish Ware tangerine-and-white version which I haven’t come across elsewhere. Orange was available at some point, but was it made by TG Green in 1930?
…It’s available now in green-and-white or tangerine-and-white, as well as in the blue-and-white that everybody likes. The whole range is reduced for this event – plates, basins, store-jars, everything, as an example, you can have a sturdy two-pint milk jug for 2/9 Ad for Lewis’s Household Bargains Event, Feb 1930, Manchester Guardian
A hundred years ago a woman going out in the cold of winter could tuck a miniature hot water bottle inside her fur muff to keep her hands warm: like Maw’s Dainty Muff Warmer in the photo. This kind of hand warmer was on sale in late Victorian and Edwardian England.
The Thermos Hot-water Muff Warmer is a delightful little invention which is sure to be appreciated by my readers. Ada Ballin, Womanhood, 1904
Poorer people had to find simpler ways of coping with a cold journey: heated stones or potatoes in a pocket, perhaps.
Ma slipped piping hot baked potatoes into their pockets to keep their fingers warm, Aunt Eliza’s flatirons were hot on the stove, ready to put at their feet in the sled. The blankets and the quilts and the buffalo robes were warmed, … Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods (story of the early 1870s in Wisconsin)
The branded stoneware muff warmer was a new take on elegant ceramic or silver hand warmers that ladies’ maids filled when their mistress was about to set out on a cold carriage ride or walk. With carrying strings and tight stoppers, and optional fabric cover, these were clearly designed for people going out from home.
Hand warmers indoors
Hands could be cold indoors too. Plenty of people made good use of a hand warmer in a room or workshop with neither fireplace nor stove. Most parts of Europe had a variety of portable warmth providers, from silver braziers to ceramic novelties to heat-retaining bricks.
An earthenware pot with glowing charcoal was a common source of portable heat. It might be put on the floor, used as local heating or as a foot warmer, but it could also be raised up to warm someone’s hands -as in the picture. At night it could be used in a bed wagon.
Portable containers for hot water or glowing embers are sometimes called hand warmers even when they are used for more than just cold hands.
Neat little hinged cases with sticks of charcoal inside were in use in Europe by the first world war, when some officers carried pocket warmers. Someone patented a design in the US for a similar case holding heated metal slugs but I don’t know if these were ever made. There were also tubes to hold charcoal rods.
One of the newest inventions for winter comfort is a small hand warmer consisting of a hollow cylinder of fiber. A small pencil of heated charcoal is inserted through one end. The device will keep warm … for two hours. Popular Science, USA, 1924
Chinese & Japanese handwarmers
You can’t really discuss antique handwarmers without mentioning the traditions of Eastern Asia.
Japanese homes might offer guests a small roundish ceramic pot with fuel in to warm their hands. Called a te-aburi , it could be used by an individual at the same time as a hibachi brazier big enough for a whole group of people.
Copper or bronze box-shape hand warmers a few inches across, often with carrying handles, were called shou lu in China: convenient, portable, with glowing coals inside. China and Japan had used both metal and ceramic hand warmers for many centuries. The perforations were an attractive part of the design as well as being functional. I like this tiny piece of Chinese pottery for warming 7th century hands.
European travellers in the later 1800s and early 1900s were interested in the little heaters they saw in the Far East. Some people called them “Japanese muff warmers” and recommended them for nursing and medical purposes. One Englishman bought one for his own winter outings and praised the:
…little stoves which the Japanese women put in their sleeves and obi [wide sash]. They are small enough to push up the sleeve of a [European] coat, and…will keep alight for four or five hours. Walter Tyndale, Japan and the Japanese, 1910
These could be lit with a simple paper fuse in 1910, but it was not long before a modern version of the metal “box” hand warmer was introduced to Japan. It was ignited with platinum catalyst technology. The Hakkin hand warmer or kairo, invented in 1923, looks like a cousin of the cigarette lighter, but I like to think it was inspired by its older ancestors.
S. Maw, Son, & Sons
This English company’s Dainty Muff Warmer was by no means an important product. Maw’s had been dealing in surgical and pharmaceutical supplies from 1807 onwards. One of their early earthenware products was an inhaler (from the 1860s or before). By the early 1900s they were making ceramic foot warmers as well as hand warmers, and also baby feeders, toothpaste pots and more. The company name varied over the years. From 1901-1920 they were S. Maw, Son, & Sons of Aldersgate Street, London.
Jasper dip and solid jasper are two different kinds of Wedgwood jasperware. Both have white classical designs on a coloured background, and look similar to non-experts. If in doubt you are always safe calling this style of pottery jasperware.
Solid jasper came first. After secret experiments in the early 1770s, blending clays with other ingredients, Wedgwood produced a range of hard stoneware with an unglazed, matt blue or slate-coloured finish, and white scenes, figures and motifs in a neo-classical style. Most of the designs were carefully sculpted copies of classical Roman or Greek ceramics – pottery in “antique form” as it was called then.
The colour was incorporated in the basic mix for solid jasper. This formula was expensive to manufacture and Wedgwood soon developed an alternative – the jasper dip, or surface jasper. This was a way of tinting only the visible surface, leaving backs and insides un-coloured. As well as light Wedgwood blue, colours used for jasper dip during this period included deep blue, lilac, olive, light green, black, pink, and yellow.
White ornamention was made in a mould, then attached to the coloured vases, tableware, portrait medallions etc. This so-called “sprigging” technique was already familiar to potters of the time.
The Cupid and Psyche marriage scene in the first photograph was produced in different sizes, from a small cameo ring to a substantial over-the-fireplace panel. Wedgwood wall plaques in this style fit well into Georgian interiors with white plasterwork ornamenting coloured walls and ceilings.
Jasperware was probably Josiah Wedgwood’s most successful creation, imitated by Sèvres and Meissen, and despite going out of fashion for part of the 19th century is still made and appreciated today. When people say ‘Wedgwood’ or ‘Wedgwood china’ they may well be thinking of this particular kind of pottery with its distinctive white scenes on unglazed colour.
…a fine-grained white stoneware for the ‘sprigs’or bas-reliefs…applied to small background tablets which he coloured blue with a cobalt stain. This blue Jasper has become Wedgwood’s most famous product…
…some had just a ‘blue dip’ because the cost of the cobalt was so high; another, solid Jasper, had the blue colour throughout…
Robert Copeland, Wedgwood Ware
How many pies today are baked with a little ceramic chimney inside that supports the crust and channels away steam so that hot fillings don’t burst out in places where they shouldn’t? Also called a pie funnel, vent, or whistle, they don’t actually have to be birds, though using a little pottery bird with dark feathers and bright yellow beak is a nice reminder of the song about four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie. You are as likely to see them in a collector’s cabinet as in a pie dish, but they can be useful. Pastry crust is less likely to end up drooping or soggy when a pie funnel is doing its bit to help.
All the same, they don’t really seem like cookery essentials, and this could help explain why they don’t seem to have been around for much more than a century. I’ve looked in vain for them in Victorian cookbooks and housekeeping manuals from both sides of the Atlantic. Mrs. Beeton’s comprehensive advice from the 1860s covers all sorts of pastry equipment but there’s no sign of a pie funnel. Pie funnels appeared around 1880 along with other not-quite-necessary late 19th century kitchen gadgets. Many similar “chimneys”, “crust supports” etc. were patented over the next couple of decades.
Classic blackbird funnels
Clarice Cliff added pie blackbirds to her range of ceramics in the mid-1930s. At least one expert says this was her own original idea, and it was the first British pie bird registered design, but in Australia there was a similar pie blackbird funnel designed by Grace Seccombe a few years earlier.
Nutbrown pie funnels
From the 1930s to the 1970s and later a plain white or yellowish pie funnel was a familiar item in UK homes. The Nutbrown brand did well and its name is stamped on many vintage pie funnels. I am doubtful of claims that there was ever a Nutbrown Pottery. Pastry utensils of all kinds came from a company called Thomas (Thos.) M. Nutbrown Ltd. of Blackpool, England whose range of kitchenware also included many stainless steel things like toast racks, cookie cutters, and can-openers. By the 1980s Nutbrown kitchenware had been absorbed into the Wilkinson Sword group via a company which made scourers and cutlery.
Pie funnels in the USA
In the early years of pie funnels they seem to have been more popular in the UK than in the US. There are few American patents in the quarter century after 1880. The first I found was a “pie-ventilator” from 1891 (see picture) and the next was an 1897 “pie-crust support” patent granted in the US to an Englishman. Meanwhile in England dozens of designs were registered, and pie-related businesses liked to distribute simple ceramic funnels with their branding on. The big surge forward with animal and character pie “birds” started in the 1940s, according to the The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink.
By the way, the only name for this kind of thing in the Oxford English Dictionary is pie funnel. Their first date for it is a 1910 entry in a department store catalogue. They don’t mention pie birds.
pie funnel…a funnel-shaped device placed within a pie while it cooks to support the piecrust and to provide a vent for steam.