Rockingham is highly-fired earthenware or stoneware, generally with a buff to yellow paste and a brown mottled and streaked glaze, often characterized by patches of the vessel’s body showing through. Rockingham is generally not felt to be a specific ware type; rather simply a type of glaze applied to yellow, buff or (rarely) white-bodied ceramics. Rockingham is typically characterized by relief molded decoration.
Rockingham glazed vessels were inexpensive, mass-produced wares of the
mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries, manufactured in both England and North America (Claney 2004:xiii). The original use of the term Rockingham can be traced back to the late eighteenth century in England. Around 1770, the Swinton Pottery developed a rich brown glaze for white earthenware that quickly became popular and eventually came to be known as “Rockingham” glaze (Cox and Cox 1983:108).ftn1 These expensive teaware vessels, often decorated with gold gilding (as shown in the photo on the right) or polychrome enamels in Chinoiserie or floral motifs, bear little resemblance to the later Rockingham wares that are the subject of this essay.
British Rockingham Relief decorated wares with mottled brown glaze began to be produced in England in the mid-nineteenth century and were exported to the United States (Claney 2004:63). Importers’ records and tariff reports indicate that British imports to the United States of Rockingham glazed wares, as well as yellow ware, had virtually ceased by the 1880s (Claney 2004:65).
North American Rockingham The production of Rockingham glazed wares in North America began as Staffordshire potters immigrated to the United States and who were either employed by or started potteries there. Additionally, several important British modeler-designers, including Charles Coxon and Daniel Greatbatch, were employed by North American manufacturers to create relief molded designs (Goldberg 1994; Stradling 2005). The earliest datable North American example of the pottery that would come to be known as Rockingham was a brown glazed pitcher made in 1830/31 by the Poughkeepsie firm of Orcutt and Thompson (Claney 2004:39). The use of the term “Rockingham” to describe these wares did not occur, however, until the mid-1840s (Claney 2004:41; Stradling 2005:10). The more mottled brown and yellow finishes more typically associated with Rockingham began to be produced in the 1840s, gaining pace in the 1850s and 1860s in the wake of the rococo revival (Claney 2004:46-47).
Rockingham glazed vessels were produced by many North American manufacturers, including firms in Canada, the East Liverpool Pottery District of Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky and in Trenton and Jersey City, New Jersey (Goldberg 2003; Liebeknecht 2000; White and Liebeknecht 2002; Genheimer 1987; Mansberger and Mounce 1990). One of the best known manufacturers of Rockingham glazed wares was Edwin Bennett of Baltimore, in production under several different firm names between circa 1848 and 1936 (Kille 2011).
Since the dark Rockingham glaze obscured printed manufacturer’s marks and filled impressed marks, making them difficult to read, Rockingham-glazed wares were generally not marked by their manufacturers. The Philadelphia firm of J. E. Jeffords appeared to have marked more of their Rockingham wares than other manufacturers (Liebeknecht, personal communication 2012).
Manufacturers sometimes used the term “Rockingham” to describe stonewares, usually pitchers, teapots and flowerpots, dipped in brown manganese (Albany) slip (Ketchum 1987:10). Rockingham is also sometimes mistakenly called “Bennington ware” after the town in Vermont that was home to the United States Pottery Company, which produced Rockingham glazed wares (Gates and Ormerod 1982:7, Ketchum 1994:222; Spargo 1926). Since not all Rockingham wares were produced in Bennington, the use of this term is misleading.
While some sources state that all Rockingham vessels are yellow wares (Barber 1909, Gallo1985), this glazing was also used on buff earthenware, stoneware (Claney 2004:32) and rarely, white-bodied wares. One Utica, NY potter was producing redwares with Rockingham glaze by the early 1840s (Stradling 2005:10).
Rockingham glazed vessels could display either a mottled brown glaze or a dark brown glazed finish that was more uniform in character. Both mottled and more uniformly brown glazed pieces were produced by both British and North American manufacturers (Claney 2004:63). The earliest Rockingham glazed wares produced in England and the United States were characterized by the uniform brown glaze (Stradling 2005:11). Mottled or streaked glazes appeared in the 1840s and predominated until the 1870s, when the more uniformly brown glazes again became common (Claney 2004:54).
The characteristic mottled Rockingham glaze could be produced in two ways. A biscuit-fired vessel was first dipped in a clear or yellow glaze that was then allowed to air dry, followed by dripping or spattering with an iron-based brown glaze and firing in a glost oven (Langenbeck 1895:66, 72; Stradling 2005:11). Alternately, some North American potters dripped clear glaze or boracic acid onto a vessel that had first been dipped in brown glaze to create the characteristic appearance of the Rockingham glaze (Stradling 2005:11). Colors range from tan to dark browns in mottled and swirled designs (Gates and Ormerod 1982:7). Some manufacturers applied glaze to air-dried green wares, and fired the pottery and the glaze at the same time; these once-fired wares did not have the depth of color of pieces that were fired twice (Spargo 1926:172).
A smooth, consistently brown finish to a completed Rockingham vessel was created by dipping a biscuit fired vessel into brown glaze. An uncommon variation of Rockingham used cobalt instead of iron in the glazing, resulting in a mottled blue vessel (Ketchum 1994:223). Vessels with variegated glaze colors, including orange, olive, blue, red, brown and yellow, produced by the use of metallic oxides were known as flint enamel wares (Goldberg 2003:28).
Rockingham glazed wares are generally characterized by relief molded decoration.ftn2 Molded motifs are often quite elaborate and include hunting scenes, naturalistic motifs with vines, corn, flowers, grapes, seashells or waterfalls and eagles. Gothic arches, panels and geometric designs were also produced.
Molded motifs have some use as dating indicators. Neoclassical motifs such as acanthus leaves were more typical of patterns produced in the 1830s and 1840s, while naturalistic motifs were more typical of the 1850s to1860s (Claney 2005:51).
Perhaps the iconic Rockingham vessel is the “Rebekah at the Well” teapot, molded with a scene of a female holding a jug at an open well. Introduced by Edwin Bennett in 1851, this pattern quickly became popular and was produced by numerous manufacturers (Claney 2004:81, Liebeknecht 2000). This pattern exhibits a great deal of variation; sometimes the pattern name was done in raised lettering, while others were impressed. Individual components of the motif, like the pitcher, the tree and the rock, show variation as well. Because manufacturers sometimes purchased molds from other potters, these variations cannot be used as an indicator of a specific maker. The Edwin Bennett Company continued production of the pattern until the factory closed in 1936 (Claney 2004:81). This firm’s “Rebekah at the Well” teapots are noted for their fine molded detail and consistent caramel glazing (Brooks 2005).
Rockingham glazes adorned a variety of vessel forms for kitchen, dining and ornamental use. These forms included pie plates, mugs, bowls, candlesticks, coffee pots, molds, vases, inkwells, soap dishes, picture frames, doorknobs, marbles, tobacco jars, washboards and sugar dishes. Claney (2004:75) argues that the range of vessel forms produced in Rockingham declined over time and that by the 1880s, teapots, spittoons, pitchers and cooking vessels became the most predominant forms.
1The term “Rockingham” probably originated because the first of the dark brown glazed wares were produced at a pottery located on the estate of the Marquis of Rockingham in Yorkshire (Goldberg 2003:27). The manufactory was later renamed the Rockingham Works (Claney 2004:33) and produced a variety of porcelain and other expensive wares.
2 A number of patterns produced in Rockingham glazed wares were also made in smear glazed stonewares. See Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland essay on Relief Molded Stonewares.