Colonial period Rhenish stoneware is salt-glazed stoneware that comes in two major varieties: a buff to dark gray bodied ware coated with a speckled brownish slip, and blue on gray, a light gray bodied ceramic often colored with cobalt blue and/or manganese purple pigments. Both varieties can be decorated with incised and/or applied molded relief decorations. An unpainted very light gray to off-white stoneware called Höhr ware, typically produced c. 1675 to 1750, forms a less commonly found variety of Rhenish stoneware.
True stoneware was developed in Germany at the end of the 13th century, and was exported to England in the 14th century (Gaimster 1997:35, 79). This trade with England peaked in the 17th century (Gaimster 1997: 82). The towns of Cologne and Raeren were leading stoneware production centers in the first half of the 16th century, and the term "Cologne ware" was popularly applied to all mottled brown stonewares. By the mid-16th century, the nearby town of Frechen had replaced Cologne as a pottery center, and supplanted Raeren as the leading exporter of brown stoneware to England (Gaimster 1997:193, 209, 225). This trade began to decline in the mid-17th century, and the development of English brown stoneware in the late 17th century greatly diminished the demand for Rhenish brown stoneware. However, it was still imported in limited numbers into the 1770s, and production of brown stoneware continued in Frechen until the mid-19th century (Gaimster 1997:210-211; Noël Hume 2001:127).
Blue on gray stoneware developed in Raeren in the mid-16th century, but primary production had shifted to the Westerwald region by the end of that century. Although Westerwald products were less common than the Frechen-type brown stonewares in England before ca. 1650, by the latter part of the 17th century, and throughout much of the 18th century, blue on gray stonewares dominated the English import market (Gaimster 1997:94, 226, 252). In the Chesapeake region, Rhenish brown and blue on gray stonewares were in use from the earliest days of colonial settlement. Although Rhenish brown use declined in the late 17th century, the blue on gray wares continued to be imported in large numbers until the 1770s (Gaimster 1997:253; Noël Hume 2001:107) and remained popular until the end of the 18th century (Skerry and Hood 2009:59).
Around 1860, there was a revival of the Rhenish stoneware tradition in Germany, in which the vessels that had been produced centuries earlier were often imitated. This movement lasted into the 20th century and, in fact, stoneware is still being made in the Westerwald region today (Gaimster 1997:251, 325; Noël Hume 2001:110).
Rhenish stoneware has a hard, impermeable body with low porosity. It can be partly vitrified, particularly on the blue on gray wares. The paste of the brown wares is generally coarser than that of the blue on gray, and can have occasional inclusions. However, it is not as grainy as typical English Fulham-type brown stoneware and does not include the dark flecks of hematite characteristic of English brown stoneware (Skerry and Hood 2009:65). The paste colors of Rhenish stonewares range from off-white to various shades of brown and gray, and the interior vessel surface is often a different color than its exterior. A dark gray paste is common on Frechen vessels (as it was on Cologne products), but these pieces can range from light gray to buff to reddish brown. Blue on gray type wares are most often a light gray, but can also have a buff color. Rhenish stoneware vessels were primarily wheel thrown. Templates used to shape 18th- and 19th-century blue on gray vessels often left shallow chatter marks visible in on the vessel surface (Gaimster 1997:220, 256; Noël Hume 2001:106).
Rhenish stoneware was salt-glazed. This technique was gradually introduced in the 15th and 16th centuries. On Rhenish brown stoneware, a brown engobe or a wash thinner than the engobe was added to the surface before firing. On the finished vessels, this slip appeared in various shades of brown, and was mottled to differing degrees. This mottling led to the popular name of "tiger ware." On blue on gray wares, no slip was added (Gaimster 1997:40, 47).
Rhenish stonewares are notable for their often elaborate decorations, with applied molded relief ornaments (sprig molds) being perhaps the most characteristic element. Other common decorative techniques included incising (engraving), stamping, and rouletting, as well as cordoning around rims, necks, and bases. Diaper carving and piercing (on double-walled vessels) also occurred.
Applied ornaments came in a wide variety of motifs. On brown stoneware, one of the most typical was the "Bartmann" face mask, also known as "Bellarmine" or "graybeard” (Skerry and Hood 2009:9). Bartmann bottles, which were made from the early 16th century through the mid-18th century, are quite common on 17th-century Chesapeake sites. As a general rule, the face mask tended to become more "debased," or grotesque or cartoonish, in appearance over the course of the 17th century. However, high quality and poor quality masks can be found on contemporary vessels, so this is not a reliable dating marker. Molds used to create the masks were sometimes dated; since these molds were used over long periods, the dates cannot be used as a reliable indicator of vessel manufacture date (Skerry and Hood 2009:9).
Another common applied ornament motif on Rhenish stoneware was the armorial or heraldic medallion. These were sometimes dated, but cannot be used as a totally reliable temporal indicator, as molds could remain in use for a number of years. Heraldic and portrait medallions continued to appear on blue on gray vessels throughout the 17th century and into the early 18th century (Gaimster 1997:148). On vessels intended for export to England or its colonies in the late 17th and 18th centuries, the royal initials "WR," "AR," and "GR" were often added. GR mugs, tankards and jugs continued production in the third quarter of the 18th century (Skerry and Hood 2009:47), commemorating King George I (1714-1727), King George II (1727-1760) and King George III (1760-1820).
Beginning around 1630, blue on gray stoneware was often decorated with a combination of applied and incised elements (Noel Hume 2001:105). Common applied motifs—roundels, fleur-de-lis, and floral sprigs, including tulips and daisies—were used in conjunction with incised lines of foliage, often created with a two or three-tined rake tool (Noel Hume 2001:105). Cobalt blue and often manganese were used to highlight the incising and applied elements.
By the end of the 17th century, decorations on blue on gray stoneware vessels were becoming more schematic, relying on stamped and incised motifs, with the incised foliage and scrolls either outlined or filled with blue pigment (Noel Hume 2001:105). It also became more common to stamp designs, rather than apply them as sprigged elements. These stamped designs commonly included hearts, circles, triangles, and floral motifs. To determine when specific decorative elements were introduced and later declined, consult the more detailed references listed below (Reineking-von Bock 1971; Gaimster 1997; Noël Hume 1970:282; Noel Hume 2001:118, 126).
Cobalt blue painted under the glaze was a typical addition to blue on gray stoneware beginning in the second half of the 16th century, and occasionally appeared on Rhenish brown. Manganese purple appeared as early as the 1630s, but did not become common until the second half of the 17th century. The combined use of cobalt and manganese on a single vessel body is characteristic of the late 17th-century (Glenn 2002). These vessels, often decorated with applied floral sprigs with incised stems, seem to date to the last two decades of the century. The use, however, of manganese to decorate rilled necks of jugs continued into the first half of the 18th century.
Around 1675, off-white or very light gray-bodied salt glazed stoneware with no paint was introduced, and remained in production through the first half of the 18th century. This is sometimes known as "Höhr ware," after a village in the Westerwald (Gaimster 1997:225, 252; Noël Hume 2001:94).
Pewter or silver lids and ornaments were attached to some Rhenish stoneware vessels. Ghost images of these mounts, as well as the lug holes where they were attached, are sometimes visible on handle sherds (Gaimster 1997:108; Noël Hume 2001:109
Rhenish stoneware was used primarily for storage, service and consumption, and sanitary purposes. Among the Frechen-type brown stoneware, globular bottles and jugs in various sizes are the most common forms found in the Chesapeake region. Drinking vessels were also imported, as were simple lozenge-shaped mineral water bottles in the 18th and 19th centuries.
A variety of Rhenish blue on gray stoneware vessel forms are found on American archaeological sites, with more variation in form and decoration apparent prior to the 18th century. Elaborate panel bottles and jugs, as well as ball-belly pitchers, occur on some of the earliest sites. Straight-sided tankards and round mugs (globular-bodied drinking vessels also known as gorges) were introduced after ca. 1650. Tankards, mugs, and jugs were produced to hold standard capacities, and by around 1715, capacity numbers ranging from 1 to 10 were sometimes incised or painted on jugs and drinking vessels (Noel Hume 2001:103; Skerry and Hood 2009:43).
Chamber pots and straight-sided tankards became popular at the beginning of the 18th century, and along with mugs, pitchers, and jugs, are the most common forms on Chesapeake sites. By the mid-18th century, the rise of English refined earthenware and molded white salt-glazed stoneware led to a decline in the popularity of Westerwald-type tablewares among wealthy Chesapeake households, but storage and sanitary vessels were still used. Other blue and gray stoneware forms include porringers, teapots and tea bowls, salts, terrines, plates, storage jars, jardinieres, and figurines (Gaimster 1997:34, 103-104, 252-253: Noël Hume 2001:125)
Gaimster 1997; Gawronski 2012; Glenn 2002; Gusset
Hume 1970; 2001; Reineking-von
Bock 1971; Skerry and Hood 2009
Rhenish stoneware was produced in the Rhine River valley of Germany and the Low Countries. Similar stoneware was also made in other parts of Germany and Central Europe, but few of these ceramics appear in North America.
Frechen and the Westerwald were the most common sources of Rhenish stoneware found in the Chesapeake. Their products have been found on 16thand 17th century Native American
sites. Rhenish vessels such as Frechen-type Bartmann bottles and Westerwald jugs have been found in early colonial contexts at sites like Jamestown and Martin’s Hundred. On most 17th century Chesapeake archaeological
sites, Frechen-type stoneware constitutes a majority of the Rhenish recovered, at times making up to 80% of the stoneware assemblage. However, Westerwald-type vessels such as jugs, tankards, and pitchers are also found in significant numbers (Gaimster 1997:98-103).
A great big thanks to Dr. Meta Janowitz, AECOM Senior Material Specialist, Burlington, New Jersey, for her assistance with the preparation of this essay.