Developed by Staffordshire’s potters in the 1740’s both creamware and its later derivative pearlware enjoyed enormous popularity for several decades on either side of the transition from the 18th to 19th centuries.
Two names are often mentioned in connection with the development of the earliest lead-glazed creamwares, Enoch Booth and Thomas Whieldon. The former is – at least apocryphally – credited with the creation of the fluid glaze necessary for creamware production, whereas Whieldon was a prodigious undertaker of experimentation who, initially at least, applied this new ‘technology’ in a successful commercial environment.
Creamware was, essentially, a cheaper alternative to porcelain. As the quality, availability and affordability of the latter increased during the 1750’s, creamware producers saw their market-share diminish and prices crash accordingly. Whieldon sought to improve the quality of his own products by recruiting one Josiah Wedgewood in what would now be termed a ‘research and development’ role. This project was met with such success that Whieldon’s fortunes revived and Wedgewood was sufficiently confident in his own new-found abilities to strike out on his own in 1759, resolving to forge ahead with his new ‘scientific’ approach to pottery production in premises at Ivy House, Burslem.
With a continuance of his earlier successes, Wedgewood’s superior products set the standards to which other creamware producers aspired, and which they were ultimately able to replicate. In order to maintain some degree of exclusivity, Josiah’s own material was subsequently given the name of Queen’s Ware, having been used to produce services for both George III’s queen, Charlotte, and Catherine the Great. It became inordinately popular as a result of this marketing wheeze, in a manner similar to that in which Worcester’s ‘Queen Charlotte’ pattern was used to label dining and dessert services for several decades, boosting its popularity with similar success.
As ever, though, the ceramic ‘arms race’ continued unabated, and by the late 1770’s it was time for a newcomer to take centre stage. This was to be ‘pearlware’, which was essentially creamware, improved and enhanced by the inclusion of cobalt in its glaze recipe, which produced a most desirable - though elegantly subtle - bluey tinge, applied to a slightly less-white body.
There was at least as much experimentation – if not more – when it came to the development of decorative methods for creamware as had been required to evolve the basic material itself. Colouration was applied directly to the substrate with sponges, then glazed and fired, producing ‘tortoise-shell’ finishes; combinations of plumbate powders and similarly-reduced metallic oxides were artfully combined during the firing process to create shimmering, iridescent colour-ways – all alongside more established methods such as transfer printing, bat printing and simple overglaze enamelling.
Ultimately, creamware in all its guises became so diverse that its appeal was diluted to a point where it was considered rather run of the mill, and popularity waned with the constantly faddy public who always craved the latest 'thing'. By this time, however, there was more than enough in circulation to ensure that present day collectors would have a wide range from which to choose...