North Midlands -Type Slipped Earthenware
Typically, a thin, buff-bodied earthenware coated with white and dark slips and decorated with trailed, combed, or marbled designs. Generally, the white slip covers more of the visible surface than the dark slip. A clear lead glaze gives these vessels a yellowish "background" color. However, sometimes the visible proportion of light and dark slips is reversed, producing a brown vessel with yellow decorations. This ware has also traditionally been called Staffordshire-type slipped earthenware, but the term North Midlands-type more accurately reflects the broader geographic range of production of these wares.
Slipware was being made in the Staffordshire region by the mid-17th century. A gradual decline in production in north Staffordshire began in the 1720s, as more attention was turned to refined stoneware and earthenware (Barker and Crompton 2007, Hildyard 2005). The first well-known Staffordshire slipware products were the elaborately decorated ornamental dishes and chargers popularly called Toft Ware, after the Toft family of potters, although many other individuals also made these vessels. They were in production by around 1660, and continued to be made into the 1720s. They are very rare on archaeological sites (Barker 2001:84; Grigsby 1993: 38; Lewis 1999: 24-27; Noël Hume 1970:136). Sherds from a Toft vessel were recovered from the Middle Plantation site in Anne Arundel County, Maryland (Doepkens 1991:153).
By the last quarter of the 17th century, the production of more utilitarian trailed and combed vessels was begun and continued into the early 19th century. These pieces were used in households of all economic levels (Barker and Crompton 2007:14), as well as for use in taverns. These North Midlands-type slipwares were widely exported to America until the 1770s, although simple slipped earthenwares continued to be made in England into the late 19th or early 20th centuries (Barker and Crompton 2007; Wondrausch 1986).
Many potteries produced North Midlands.
North Midlands-type slipware is has an earthenware body. It often has inclusions of fine sand and other materials, and can be somewhat porous. It generally has a buff to yellow body, although red or agate fabrics can also occur. On some pieces, pink clay or grog is added to the lighter-colored clay. North Midlands -type vessels were made in two ways: thrown on a wheel, or press molded. In press molding, a flat, pancake-like "bat" of raw clay is shaped over a convex mold to form the vessel (Barker 2001:75; Cooper 1968:99; Lewis 1999:31; Noël Hume 1970:134-135). Press molded dishes are difficult to date and source, since they were made a number of potteries over the course of about 250 years and the range of shapes and decorative styles changed little (Barker and Crompton 2007:127).
A clear lead glaze was applied to these vessels. It generally appears to be yellowish as a result of iron inclusions in the glaze, and because of the underlying buff fabrics and white slips that characterize North Midlands-type wares. On flat vessels, the glaze is often on the interior only, and the bases of most North Midlands -type slipware pieces are unglazed (Erickson and Hunter 2001:98; Grigsby 1993:39, 56).
Several steps were involved in decorating a North Midlands -type slipware vessel. First, the piece was coated with a white or dark slip (and occasionally both colors were used to cover a single vessel). Next, tubes were used to apply slip in a contrasting color. This slip was used to create the designs. On Toft-type dishes, on pieces with simple designs, and on vessels with molded reliefs, the decorated surface usually was first coated with a white slip. Darker slip, sometimes in several different shades, was then applied. On combed or marbled pieces, the dark slip was applied first, then wide bands of white slip were added. These bands often covered a large portion of the vessel, so that the finished piece appeared to have dark designs on a light background. Sometimes vessels were reverse decorated, with simple yellow designs on a dark brown or black background. As a general rule, only the interior of a flatware vessel was decorated, while on many hollowwares only the exterior was decorated (Cooper 1968; Erickson and Hunter 2001:101-113; Grigsby 1993).
Various techniques were employed to decorate vessels, and were sometimes used in combination on a single piece. The most basic technique is called trailing. This entails using a tube or quill to trail lines or dots of slip across a vessel. Designs included geometric or abstract patterns, flowers and animals, and human figures. Initials, words, and dates also appeared. Sometimes, simple dots predominated, especially on hollowwares. In some cases, small slip dots were placed on top of lines of slip in a contrasting color, a process called "jeweling." By the second half of the 18th century, simple straight or wavy line designs were common on flatwares. The stripes on these pieces tended to get straighter and wider through time. Many of the "Toft" dishes and chargers from the 17th and early 18th centuries had a trailed trellis-like design around their rims (Erickson and Hunter 2001:111; Grigsby 1993:46-56; Noël Hume 1970:135).
Two other decorative techniques, combing and marbling, are commonly found on North Midlands-type sherds from American sites. Combing, also known as feathering, was created by drawing a pointed tool through bands of wet trailed slip, resulting in patterns of peaks and troughs. It was employed on both flat and hollow form vessels. Marbling entailed the twisting, or "joggling," of a vessel coated with wet trailed slip, which caused the slip trails to run across the piece and form abstract patterns. Dishes with joggled or marbled decoration were being produced in Staffordshire in the early to mid-18th century (Barker and Crompton 2007:14). In the 17th and 18th centuries, marbled designs were sometimes called "agate." Among excavated examples from Williamsburg, marbling is most commonly seen on flat round dishes, with blotches of green occasionally present. Marbling can also be found on hollowwares. Combed and marbled designs tended to be more elaborate and fine-grained on early pieces than on later 18th-century vessels. The designs on the earlier pieces also tend to have more of a vertical appearance, while on the later wares the combing often goes around the vessel horizontally (Grigsby 1993:17-18, 56-61; Noël Hume 1970:135).
Another decoration technique involved relief impressions. The impressions came in a vast variety of forms, including dates and words. Animal and human or anthropomorphic figures were popular. These designs were stamped or rouletted onto a vessel, or created when a dish was formed over an incised press mold. Slip was then applied to the low portions of the reliefs. Sometimes the reliefs remained unslipped, or the slip was applied in a pattern that did not follow the relief. Relief decoration developed in the mid-17th century and continued in use through the mid-18th century, but was most popular in the late 17th and early 18th centuries (Grigsby 1993:39-45). Sgrafitto designs, in which a tool is used to cut through a slip coating, revealing the underlying body, are occasionally found on North Midlands -type vessels. In some cases, the body fabric consists of mixed clays of different colors (Grigsby 1993:62).
North Midlands -type slipware comes in a wide variety of utilitarian and ornamental forms. Among these are cups, tygs, mugs, posset pots, puzzle jugs, bowls, drug jars, honey pots, teapots, jugs, sweetmeat dishes, baking dishes, decorative dishes and plates, candlesticks, chamber pots, miniature cradles that were given to newlyweds, statues, and money boxes (Noël Hume1970; Grigsby 1993; Lewis 1999). Press-molded combed dishes were the most common Staffordshire product after 1740 (Grigsby 1993:52). Flat forms were often coggled or crimped to form "piecrust" impressions around the rim (Noël Hume 1970:137).
2001; Barker et. al. 2007; Cooper 1968; Doepkens 1991; Erickson
and Hunter 2001; Grigsby
1993; 2000; Lewis 1999; Noël Hume 1970, 2001; Wondrausch 1986.
Although Staffordshire and the surrounding Midlands counties produced
large quantities of slipware in the 17th and 18th centuries, other English centers, such as Bristol, Donyatt, and Yorkshire, made wares virtually indistinguishable from those of Staffordshire (Noël Hume 1970:134, 2001: 83; Grigsby 1993:39, 52, 60). For this reason, the term "Staffordshire-type" is used here.