Yellow ware is highly-fired earthenware with a buff to yellow paste and a clear lead or alkaline glaze.
Yellow ware had a long period of manufacture, beginning with British-made wares in the late eighteenth century. North American production began shortly thereafter and firms in both locations made yellow ware well into the first third of the twentieth century (Ketchum 1987:13; Gallo 1975:8, 10)1. Most pieces do not bear manufacturer’s marks, so determining a vessel’s age is often a matter of decorative details or vessel form.
British Yellow Ware
The earliest British yellow ware production began in Glasgow, Scotland or the English Yorkshire region, in the last several decades of the eighteenth century (Gallo 1985:10). These areas, with their good deposits of yellow firing clay were ideal for yellow ware production, which soon spread to Derbyshire and Wales (Gallo 1985:10-15). As was true for North America as well, many manufacturers of yellow ware also produced Rockingham wares. Yellow wares were imported from Great Britain into the United States, especially before the North American yellow ware industry took off.
North American Yellow Ware
In the United States, potteries producing yellow wares were established primarily by English potters who had gained experience in the Staffordshire district (Goldberg 2003). Yellow ware potteries sprang up in areas with good deposits of buff colored clay; the main centers of manufactory were in Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New England2 (Gallo 1985:17). North American production can be dated as early as 1797,3 but output during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was limited; the first successful production not occurring until 1828 at the D. & J. Henderson firm in New Jersey (Ketchum 1987:13-14). Prior to around 1850, North American wares tended to be thick-bodied and heavy (Gallo 1985:16). Yellow ware continued production in the United States into the 1930s, but tapered off after the turn of the twentieth century (Leibowitz 1985:9).
East Liverpool, Ohio was a major manufacturing center for ceramics in North America and the industry there started when the first pottery opened in 1839 (Gates and Ormerod 1982:3). Yellow ware and Rockingham were the first wares produced in East Liverpool and continued to be the majority of East Liverpool’s output prior to 1872 (Gates and Ormerod 1982:5, 7).
Trenton, New Jersey, located between two large consumer markets—New York City and Philadelphia—was also an important center of yellow ware production. Trenton firms producing yellow wares included the Speeler Pottery Company (1871-1879), the Excelsior Pottery (est. 1857) and Coxon & Company (est. 1863) (Goldberg 2003:31; Leibowitz 1985:36; Liebeknecht 2003).
Baltimore was the major center for the southern production of yellow ware. The Edwin Bennett Pottery Company operated between 1846 and 1936 (SIRIS), although the manufactory focused primarily on white-bodied wares after around 1870 (Leibowitz 1985:73). Another Baltimore firm, the Chesapeake Pottery, was established around 1880, producing yellow ware and Rockingham (Barber 1904:148). This pottery operated under a series of names, including Haynes Bennett and Company (Barber 1904) and D. F. Haynes and Son (Lehner 1988:89).
Some yellow ware vessel forms and decorative techniques were more commonly produced at certain periods, enabling a greater degree of precision when dating specific vessels. These date ranges will be discussed in the Form and Decoration sections below. Manufacturers in Britain and North America used a variety of names for yellow wares: cane-colored, yellow ironstone ware, buffware and Derbyshire ironstone cane ware (Gallo 1985:141). The following links will take you to two documents: one listing catalog pages and prices lists for yellow ware that have been reprinted in various volumes and the other a list of bibliographic references on archaeological excavations of pottery sites that produced yellow wares.
Paste colors can range from a very pale buff to dark golden, depending on different elements in the natural clays used, the firing temperature and oxidation that takes place during firing.
While round vessels of yellow ware were either wheel thrown or jiggered, most were produced by press molding or of drape molds for some vessel forms, like pie plates, (Ketchum 1987:8).
Yellow wares are typically finished with colorless lead or alkaline glazes (Ketchum 1987:7), allowing the clay body to show through. Some glazes were tinted a yellowish color, perhaps in an attempt to enhance the fired color of pieces manufactured in lighter color clays (Gallo 1985:40).
Some yellow wares were finished with a mottled or streaky brown glaze, often characterized by patches of the vessel’s yellow body showing through. These wares are generally referred to as Rockingham and are the subject of another essay on this website. Apple green glazes on molded bowls was typical of the circa 1900 to 1940 period (Slesin et al. 1997:140).
Some yellow wares, in particular bowls, contain a white slipped interior lining. Although these wares are often attributed as British, this treatment was used on wares produced in the United States as well (Gallo 1985:13). Illustrated examples in the yellow ware source books listed in the references below date examples with this lining from the middle of the nineteenth century into the twentieth century.
Gallo (1985:41) states that there were five major techniques used for decorating yellow ware: slipped decoration, mocha, Rockingham glazes, oxide washes/flint enamels and molding. Decorative techniques can be used to help establish manufacture date ranges for yellow ware.
Slip Decoration: Many hollow yellow wares were decorated with multiple thin bands of slip encircling the vessel’s exterior, with white, blue and brown being the most commonly used colors (Gallo 1985:42). Slip color and color combinations provide dating clues (Table 1).
Table 1. Slip Decoration Details (from Gallo 1985:42)
||Dating and Manufacture
| Pale green, pale pink
|| Early 20th century
|| More frequently used by British manufacturers
Brown and white
Blue and brown
Blue and white
| Mid-19th century into 20th century
Blue and pink
Green and white
Green and pink
| 20th century
Some hollow wares-bowls, pitchers, mugs, master salts, pepper pots, sugar bowls and mustard pots—display slipped decoration produced with multi-chamber slip cups. Common cable and cat’s eye motifs have been recorded (see Dipped Wares section of the Post Colonial Ceramics page for photographs of these motifs).
Mocha: There are several distinct types of mocha decoration and they enjoyed different periods of production (Gallo 1985:43), ranging from the early 19th century through the first quarter of the 20th century. Thistle patterns, which combined a slipped flower with a mocha stem, were the earliest produced, introduced between 1810 and 1830. Most mocha motifs, however, post-date 1860. Tree-like (design oriented vertically) mocha motifs are from the mid-19th century to around 1880, with these motifs on London-shaped bowls dating earlier than on rounded bowls. The more horizontally oriented seaweed and feather mocha motifs became popular in the 1870s (Gallo 1985:43). Mocha and multi-chambered slip motifs were laid on wide bands of white slip that encircled hollow vessels decorated in these fashions.4
Rockingham: Rockingham wares are typically made from the same yellow and buff clays as yellow ware and finished with a mottled brown lead glaze. Rockingham wares will not be discussed here since they will be considered more fully in a separate essay.
Oxide Washes/Flint Enamel: – Flint enamel treatment, which produce a mottled, multicolor effect, are often confused with a Rockingham glaze. Powdered oxides, such as copper and cobalt, were sprinkled onto the glazed vessel surface. During a second firing, the oxides melted and fused with the glaze to produce an enamel-like surface. This technique was patented by Christopher Fenton in 1849 (Hastings et al. 1918:25).
Molding: While many yellow ware vessels were press molded in plaster molds, with the surfaces of some vessels displaying elaborate molded designs. Overall surface treatments, such as basket weaving, grids, or wood grain, are common, as were scalloped rims, floral, geometric or pictorial motifs. Molded designs without maker’s marks cannot be assigned to specific manufacturers, since molds were often copied or sold to other companies when manufacturers went out of business or changed hands.
Additional, but less commonly used, types of decoration include bat printing, overall sponging, designs applied with cut sponges, engine turning and encrustation.
Yellow wares were produced in a variety of vessel forms, largely reflective of the food preparation and utilitarian nature of this sturdy ware. Yellow wares were produced predominantly in hollow vessel forms. While the most commonly seen surviving vessels are mixing bowls, yellow ware forms ran a wide gamut, including mugs, pitchers, molds, pie plates, chamber pots, rolling pins, washboards, miniature and novelty items, foot warmers, spittoons, to name but a few.
Certain vessel forms, such as bowls, were manufactured throughout the entire span of yellow ware production by nearly every factory, but other forms had a shorter production range. These temporal factors are shown below in Table 2. As noted, many of these initial dates are taken from when the form first appears in potter’s catalogues and does not mean they were not produced prior to this time.
Table 2. Dating of Vessel Forms and Characteristics (from Gallo 1985, Ketchum 1987, Leibowitz 1985, Stradling 2005 and various price lists and catalogues.)
| Vessel Form
|| Dating and Manufacture Information
| Bowls, chamber pots
|| Span the entire range of yellow ware production, 1830s through WWII (Ketchum
1987:31, 41). Pressed bowls show up as early as ca. 1860 in yellow ware price lists
|| By the 1830s in North America (Ketchum 1987:33)
|| Advertised in North America, 1840s-1890s (Ketchum 1987:36)
|| Among earliest forms made in North America, appears in 1850 John Goodwin (East
Liverpool) price list. Made as late as the 1920s (Ketchum 1987:32) in both North America
| Salts, peppers, mustard pots
|| Made in North America by 1850s; production all but ceased by 1860s. British production
into 20th century (Ketchum 1987:39)
| Pie plates
|| In catalogues by 1850 in North America (Ketchum 1987:35)
|| In England as early as 1850 (Ketchum 1987:43)
| Spittons (Cuspidors)
|| Usually seen with Rockingham or flint enamel glazing. Typical of period 1850 to 1900
| Food Molds
|| Corn, wheat or grapes common motifs. Molds typical of period 1860 and 1930 (Leibowitz
| Butter jars and crocks
|| First advertised in 1860s (Ketchum 1987:34)
|| By the 1830s in North America, continuing into 1930s (Ketchum 1987:38).
|| Mid to late 19th century by East Liverpool firms (Ketchum 1987:38)
|| Made as early as 1850 in East Liverpool, Ohio. Typical of period 1860- 1910 (Gallo
| Preserve jars
|| Made into the 1870s (Ketchum 1987:34)
| Vessel Characteristic
| Wide, flat collared rim on bowls
|| c. 1900 to 1940 (Gallo 1985:51)
| Extended, flat, “chamber
pot-type” rim on bowl
| Most likely of British manufacture (Gallo 1985:57)
| Thick, rolled rim on bowls
|| Common to North American manufacturers (Gallo 1985:53)
| Use of grooves or pads (round, heart-
shaped, Hershey-kiss shaped) on base
| Allowed cooking vessels such as teapots, bakers, pipkins, etc. to be used on stove
heating elements without breaking. A nappie patented by J. E. Jeffords in June 1870 has
“kiss” shaped pads encircling the base of the vessel.
| Use of term “Fire proof”
|| Advertisement in 1843 edition of the Fulton, New York Evening Journal advertising
fireproof yellow ware. The earliest dated example of a vessel marked with the term
“Fire Proof” that the author could find was a piece of Rockingham glazed ware patented
in 1870 by J. E. Jeffords & Co. of Philadelphia (pictured in Stradling 2005:32). The Speeler
Pottery Company of Trenton (1872-1878) also produced yellow wares marked “Fireproof”
(Stradling 2005:84) as did Thomas Brunt of Derbyshire (c. 1830-1861).
Several companies, including the East Knoll Pottery in Connecticut and the Nicholas Mosse Pottery in Ireland, still produce yellow ware today.
2 Yellow ware was also manufactured in other states, including Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota, Delaware, South Carolina, California and New York. Canada also had an active yellow ware industry. For more detail on these manufactories, see sources cited in the references.
3 In 1797, the Rising Sun, a weekly newspaper in Kingston, New York published an account of a new manufactory of common and yellow ware established at Tivoli (Ketchum 1987:13).
4 More rarely, these slip bands occur in buff or yellow.