Storeroom Stories: Creamware – Latest Fashion ware

Sprig-decorated tea wares from Broad Street, the South Carolina Society Hall, and the Heyward-Washington House.  

Creamware ceramics are ubiquitous in archaeological Charleston. The development of refined earthenware in the late 18th century by Josiah Wedgwood and other British potters revolutionized the ceramic world. But it was Wedgwood’s brilliant marketing and the patronage of royalty that gave the ceramic a new name, “Queen’s Ware.”  Material culture expert Ann Smart Martin notes that Wedgwood himself marveled “how quickly creamware spread over the whole Globe and how universally it is liked.”  By continually bringing out new styles, Wedgwood satisfied the middle class consumers eager to display their knowledge of manners and the fashionably wealthy who sought to distance themselves from the nouveau.

An elaborate serving bowl from Broad Street and Daniel Horry’s enameled creamware from Hampton Plantation.

George Washington ordered a set of Chinese export in 1752 and again in 1763.  But in 1769 he asked for an assortment of over 250 pieces of Queen’s Ware “ye. Most fashionable kind.”  Six months later, he ordered an even greater quantity. And, during his 1791 Southern tour, President Washington dined on Daniel Horry’s enamel-decorated creamware at Hampton Plantation on the Santee.

Feather-edged creamware plates and Royal pattern creamware graced Thomas Heyward’s table at the Heyward-Washington House.

Charlestonians evidently flocked to the ware: creamwares are 20% of late 18th century archaeological ceramics in the city, augmenting, but not replacing, Chinese porcelain for tea and table. Archaeologists recover plenty of feather-edged and royal pattern tablewares, mostly plates of all sizes. But we also find many of the elaborate forms touted by Wedgwood, particularly on townhouse sites.  Other creamwares were enameled in floral or nautical patterns; some of these were decorated in Britain, while others may have been embellished by Charleston craftsmen. Mr. Lessley, a local artisan, advertised in the South Carolina Gazette in 1770 that he “also paints on china and the cream colored ware Gentlemen’s Coats of Arms, or any patterns they might choose”

Enamel-decorated creamware  from Broad Street, Lamboll Street, and the Heyward-Washington House.

– Martha Zierden, Curator of Historical Archaeology