White Granite (aka White Ironstone)
Note to reader: This essay’s purpose is to provide an overview of white granite that will be of assistance to archaeologists attempting to more easily date and identify fragmentary vessels. Many excellent references, linked at the end of this essay, are available to researchers attempting to name and date specific patterns or shapes.
The durable opaque stone china most commonly known as white ironstone (or white granite, as it will be referred to in this essay) was produced in England’s Staffordshire district and in the United States. It was most popular in the United States between 1840 and 1870, although it continued to be sold into the twentieth century (Wetherbee 1985:6). Majewski and O’Brien (1987:123) state that “classic, heavy ironstones found on pre-1870 sites invariably are of English origin,” with factories in New Jersey, Ohio, and Maryland beginning production of these wares after 1870.
Characterized by dense white semi-vitrified to vitrified pastes and brilliant glazes, white granite was meant to provide the appearance of porcelain at a fraction of its cost (Godden 1999:162). It was sold at prices comparable to those of printed teawares in the late 1850s (Miller 1980:32). White granite went by a variety of names which were assigned by different potteries and used to mark their wares. Table 1 lists some of the names used in printed or stamped marks on white granite.
Table 1. Partial List of Names Used by Potteries for Opaque White Stonewares
||Improved Stone China
||Warranted Ironstone China
|Opaque Granite China
||Pearl Stone Ware
||Porcelaine a la Francais
||Pearl Ironstone China
Inexpensive and durable, white granite was very popular in the United States and Canada, but not in England or Europe. It was probably introduced in the late 1830s (Godden 1999:162), but not produced by many potteries until the 1840s (Wetherbee 1985:33). By the mid-1850s, potters’ price lists and bills of lading include large quantities of white granite (Miller 1980), which “became the dominant type in use from the 1850s until the end of the 19th century” (Miller 1991:10). By the turn of the twentieth century, white granite was largely restricted to hotel and restaurant china and toilet wares (Wetherbee 1996:10).
Hundred of white granite patterns were produced and since different potters copied and slightly altered popular patterns and shapes, many patterns are very similar. This essay is meant only to provide a general means of dating archaeological sherds based on categories of molded patterns. For identification of specific ironstone patterns, please consult the numerous and excellent printed sources listed in the reference section below.
Molded motifs do show chronological patterning and these broad patterns are discussed below. Broadly speaking, up until the 1870s, potters produced wares with detailed molding or sharp angles. After this period, the use of molded motifs decreased or disappeared and vessel lines became simpler (Wetherbee 1996:10).
Foliage Motifs (late 1850s-1860s). Fruits, flowers and leaves were popular motifs in the 1860s (Wetherbee 1985:87). Floral motifs included lily of the valley, morning glories, forget-me-nots, roses and fuschias, while foliage included ivy, holly, oak, apple and berries. These vessels were often produced in rounded or pear shapes.
|Geometric and Paneled/Scalloped Motifs (1840s -1850s)
. The earliest white granites were produced with flat or slightly concave panels on hexagonal and octagonal hollow vessels. In flat vessels, such as plates or platters, these geometric designs took the appearance of six or eight flat panels forming the marly. The use of the term “gothic” is quite common in the pattern or shape names of these flat paneled designs, which were common in the 1840s. Arches, scallops, loops and lobes, used in conjunction with vertical panels, became common on white granite in the 1850s (Wetherbee 1996:81). Production of these paneled jugs or octagonal vessels virtually ceased after 1860 (Wetherbee 1985:102).
|Harvest Motifs (1860s - turn of 20th century)
. Harvest-themed molded wares began production in the 1860s. Wheat was one of the most common motifs, taking off with the popular Ceres Shape that began production in 1859 (Sussman 1985). Sussman (1985) shows that twenty grain inspired patterns were registered by English potteries between 1848 and 1883. Wheat was often used in combination with other plants, such as grapes, corn, clover (Wetherbee 1985:77).
||Classical Motifs (1860s). Classical motifs included acanthus leaves, Greek and Roman keys and fleur-de-lis.
|Ribbed Motifs (Last quarter 19th century)
. Bands of thin ribbing encircling vessels were typical of the last quarter of the nineteenth century (Wetherbee 1985:120).
|Plain and Rounded (1870s-1880s)
. Plain and simple lines with much less molding were characteristic of this later period. Little or no molding was typical of these vessels, which were produced in rounded shapes or often in square or rectangular body forms (Wetherbee 1985:130).
Some of these wares have a light grey/blue tint that is a characteristic of the feldspathic stones from which they are produced (Wetherbee 1985:13). China Stone, the most common ironstone paste, contained Dorset or Poole clay, flint and kaolin, while China Clay, with a whiter paste, contained decomposed granite in place of the Dorset or Poole clay (Wetherbee 1985:25). Ceramic historian Geoffrey Godden states that city consumers preferred whiter bodies, while rural purchasers preferred bluer bodied wares that typically went by the names Pearl or Pearl White (Godden 1999:162).
White granite and white ironstone are one and the same. As shown in Table 1, potters used a variety of names for this durable white stoneware and according to Majewski and O’Brien (1987:122) “no other ware had so many synonyms”.
White granite was glazed with a glassy, transparent glaze containing feldspar (Wetherbee 1985:25). Powdered feldspathic rock was mixed with sand, lime, potash and other materials to create a high temperature glaze used in the production of stoneware and porcelain (Grimshaw 1971:342).
Copper (and less frequently gold) luster was often painted in bands around the rims of white granite vessels—a decorative attribute that began in the 1850s and remained popular for the next five decades (Wetherbee 1996:150-151). Luster was also used for painted motifs; particularly popular was the Tea Leaf pattern, consisting of three serrated leaves and a bud. Produced by a number of potters, this pattern appeared in the 1850s, remaining popular for almost half a century (Upchurch 1995; Wetherbee 1996:153). The Tea Leaf pattern also sparked the production numerous similar variants. Sometimes molded patterns were highlighted with cobalt in dark or lighter blues (Wetherbee 1996:94).
White granite was produced in a large number of vessel forms, including table, tea and chamberwares. Tableware sets produced during the 1840s to the 1860s contained a wider range of vessel forms than in later decades (Wetherbee 1985:27). Tableware sets could include plates, cup plates, and soup plates, as well as serving pieces such as tureens, ladles, vegetable dishes, compotes, and dessert plates. Toilet wares and restaurant china are more typical vessel forms for later periods of production (Wetherbee 1996:10).
The term “white granite” is preferred by ceramics scholar George L. Miller (1991) because it avoids confusing these minimally decorated, molded wares with highly decorated stone china and ironstones produced by the Mason’s factory and others beginning in 1813 (Wetherbee 1985:13).
Many of these names were also used on wares that bore printed or painted decoration. This essay will only be dealing with vessels bearing molded decoration and minimal painted motifs.