Shell-edged, or more generically, edged wares are characterized
by molded rim motifs, usually painted under the glaze in blue or green
on refined earthenwares. The term “shell-edge” was used by Staffordshire potters in the eighteenth century to describe these wares. Nineteenth-century
potters’ price fixing lists and invoices use simply "edged"
to describe both shell-edged and embossed rim motifs (Hunter and Miller
Shell-edged earthenwares were one of the most common
decorative types used on table wares from North American archaeological
contexts dating between 1790 and 1860. Shell-edged earthenwares were inspired
by eighteenth-century rococo designs on continental porcelain and earthenware. Josiah Wedgwood
was the earliest documented Staffordshire potter to use shell-edge motifs,
introducing it in the mid-1770s on creamware. This motif was quickly adopted
by many other English potteries. Edged wares were the least expensive
tablewares available with color decoration between 1780 and 1860 (Hunter
and Miller 1994:443).
It is almost always impossible to date excavated edged
wares using manufacturers’ marks. Not only were the great majority
of edged vessels unmarked, the rims and marlys were not the portion of the vessel that would contain those impressed
marks. Molded motifs display distinct variations through time, however,
and archaeologists can date assemblages using these variations. The date
ranges and definitions below are taken from Hunter and Miller (1994).
Click on the links to images of each ceramic type.
1775-1810—Rococo-inspired asymmetrical, undulating scalloped rim with impressed curved lines.
- In vogue between 1775 and 1800, but
produced until c.1810.
blue and green painting most common, but occasionally seen in overglaze
in purple, green, red, black and brown.
- 1860s-1890s—Non-impressed: Blue rim edging created by brush strokes continues, but impressed
- Shell-edge was becoming rare by this
Shell-edge decoration is found on refined white earthenwares. Refined
white earthenwares have a hard, somewhat porous body. Calcined flint,
feldspar, ball clay, and occasionally kaolin,
were among the substances added to the clay to produce a white body.
Archaeologists have traditionally used the terms pearlware and whiteware
to describe ceramic vessels decorated with shell-edge motifs. Beginning
around the 1780s, Staffordshire potters, importers and merchants rarely
referred to ware type to describe vessels. Ceramics were described by
their decoration type, e.g. “edged,” “painted,”
“dipt” and “printed” (Miller 1980, 1981). Two
exceptions to this are creamware and Egyptian black (black basalt). The
potters name for what is commonly called pearlware was “China
glaze,” which predates Josiah Wedgwood’s “Pearl
white” by at least five years. The terms China glaze, pearl white
and pearlware are almost non-existent in the potters’ price fixing
lists, invoices, accounting records and correspondence (Miller and Hunter
2001). Separating vessels by their ware types has minimal value. For
a further discussion of the evolution of creamware, pearlware and whiteware, click
Edged earthenwares most commonly have a clear lead glaze.
Some early shell-edge wares have overglaze black printed central decoration
or blue underglaze painting or printing. Some examples also incorporate
additional molded swags along the rim. Chinese-style motifs painted in
blue on rococo blue shell-edged rims generally date between 1775 and 1800
on creamware and China glaze, although they persist into the 1810s (Miller
and Hunter 2001:152). Between 1815 and 1830, edged wares were sometimes
decorated with an eagle from the Great Seal of the United States. After
the 1840s, added decoration on edged wares was rare (Hunter and Miller
Shell-edge decoration is almost always found on table ware and is rare
on teaware and toilet ware. The dominant vessel forms for edged wares
from archaeological sites and invoices are plates, soup plates, twifflers, muffins, and dishes (the
English term for platters). Less common edged vessels include bakers and nappies, which are mostly
oval or oblong-hexagonal in shape and do not have footrings (Hunter and
Miller 1994). Although archaeologists often list them as bowls in their
excavation reports, bowls with shell-edged decoration are very rare. Soup
and sauce tureens, pickle dishes, mustards and sauce boats are sometimes
seen in pre-1820 assemblages. With the exception of bowls, all of these
vessels were classified as table ware in the Staffordshire potters’
price fixing lists. Tea cups and saucers with shell-edge decoration are
very rare and almost always date before 1790.
Hunter, Robert R., Jr. and George L. Miller
1994 English Shell-Edged Earthenwares. Antiques,
March 1994: 432-443.
Majewski Teresita and Michael J. O’Brien
1987 The Use and Misuse of Nineteenth-Century English and
American Ceramics in Archaeological Analysis. In
in Archaeological Method and Theory, Volume 11. Edited by Michael
York, pp. 98-209.
McAllister, Lisa S.
2001 Collector’s Guide to Feather Edge Ware; Identification
and Values. Collector Books, Paducah, KY.
Miller, George L.
1980 Classification and Economic Scaling of 19th Century Ceramics. Historical Archaeology 14:1-40.
1991 A Revised Set of CC Index Values for Classification
and Economic Scaling of English Ceramics from
1787 to 1880. Historical Archaeology 25:1-25.
Miller, George L. and Amy C. Earls
2008 War and Pots: The Impact of Economics and Politics on
Ceramic Consumption Patterns. In Ceramics
edited by Robert R. Hunter. Chipstone Foundation, Milwaukee, pp. 67-108.
Miller, George L. and Robert R. Hunter Jr.
2001 How Creamware Got the Blues. In Ceramics in America,
edited by Robert R. Hunter. Chipstone
Milwaukee, pp. 135-161.