Introduction of Salt'glaze into England - Amusing Story as to its Discovery - Dense Volumes of Smoke Caused by the Glazing Process - How the Salt was Added - Similarity to Leeds Ware - Decorations of Salt-glaze Ware - "Scratched Blue "-Figures and other Articles Made in the Ware - Marks
Readers of the article on page 2745, Vol. 3 of Every Woman's Encyclopaedia will remember that the introduction of salt-glazing into this country was attributed to the Brothers Elers, who had settled in Staffordshire about the year 1690.
It is certain that John Dwight, of Fulham, was using salt as a glaze at this time, and it had been employed in Germany and the Rhenish provinces from the fourteenth century onwards. There is, moreover, little doubt that the Elers had learnt its use in Holland before they settled in this country. In the light of this knowledge, it is amusing to reflect that until comparatively recent years the discovery of salt as a glaze was attributed to an accident in a farmhouse kitchen in Staffordshire.
It was said - and was believed - that in 1680, at Stanley Farm, near Bagnall, the servant of Mr. Joseph Yates was boiling salt in water for the purpose of curing pork. During her temporary absence from the kitchen, this mixture boiled over, covering the sides of the earthenware pan. The pan became red hot, and, when cold, it was found to be glazed. Acting, it is said, upon the hint, Mr. Palmer, a local potter, began to glaze rough earthenware in a similar manner, his example being followed by others.
That the Elers made salt-glazed ware there is little doubt. We have Wedgwood's statement to this effect, written about 1765. This includes the evidence of an old workman as to the astonishment in the neighbourhood at the extraordinary volumes of smoke issuing from the kilns at Bradwell, a phenomenon always witnessed during the process of salt-glazing. Shaw, in his "History of the Staffordshire Potteries," says, "The vapour arising from the salt-glazing is described, about the end of the seventeenth century, as being so considerable as to produce a dense white cloud, sometimes so thick as to cause persons to run against each other in the streets." Salt as a glaze superseded the coarse lead glaze used in earlier times upon all kinds of pottery, but the term " salt-glazed ware " has come to be looked upon in these days as the definition of that fine white stoneware glazed with salt which became, during the early part of the eighteenth century, the principal manufacture of the Staffordshire potteries. It was sometimes called "Crouch ware," and, according to Mr. Solon, this name was derived from the use in its composition of a white Derbyshire clay, known as "Crouch clay."
The name "Elizabethan ware " has also been applied to it - why it would be difficult to say, since it was not made in this county till long after that Queen's death. The explanation may be that a jug of this ware was found in Shakespeare's house at Strat-ford-on-avon.
Elizabeth is said to have valued greatly a cup of "grene pursselyn" and a porringer of "white porselyn " given her as New Year gifts by Lord Burleigh, but these were of Chinese origin. It is well known that Queen Elizabeth not only expected, but demanded, presents from rich and poor alike, and that she was pleased to accept an offering of "ginger" from a poor crossing-sweeper. Indeed, it was said "she sware right lustily "
Vase, sauceboat and cream-ewer, in Staffordshire salt-glazed embossed ware of the 18th century. The art of salt-glazing was introduced into England by the brothers Elers about 1690 From the South Kensington Museum
From the Hanley Museum if gifts in plenty were not forthcoming at the moment when expected.
Salt-glaze ware was at first made from local clay and sand. According to Dr. Shaw, the earliest body was composed of "brick earth and fine sand," the second of "can marl and fine sand," the third of "grey coal measures clay and fine sand," and the fourth of " grey clay and ground flint."
The first body was an ugly drab or buff colour, but the later bodies were of a much more delicate shade, and were so thin and fine in texture that Professor Church has said "it may almost take rank as porcelain, for thin pieces are translucent, and if a little more alkali had entered into its composition it would have been, in chemical nature and physical texture alike, a veritable hard porcelain." These words testify to the nearness of the old English potter to the discovery of that elusive secret, true porcelain, in the search for which he spared neither time, money, friends, or even life itself.
The process of glazing with salt required that outside the kiln a scaffold should be erected. When the heat of the oven was at its highest, and the ware white hot, men, swathed round in wet cloths, mounted the scaffold and threw quantities of common salt through apertures at the top of the kiln. The salt volatilised, and the vapour attacking the silicate in the body of the ware, the two formed a silicate of soda and aluminium, which coated the surface with a fine and very hard glaze.
Leeds ware and salt-glaze ware are to the uninitiated so much alike that it may puzzle the amateur to distinguish between them. The latter, however, has characteristics which, if carefully studied, will prove in-valuable in the identification of these wares. If the surface of a piece of Leeds cream ware be examined, it will be found to be smooth and even, but a piece of salt-glaze will be seen to be pitted all over with minute indentations. The surface might be likened to fine orange peel, or to a piece of leather, upon the upper side of which tiny depressions will be found. They can be seen with the naked eye, but a magnifying glass is useful in such a test as it serves to impress the differences which may be noted.
Salt-glaze ware was made in Staffordshire by many potters from the time of the Elers till about the year 1780. Prior to 1720 the vessels were engine-turned, and decorated with applied ornament. From 1720 to 1740 the best and sharpest work was done. After 1740, and until about 1760, coloured enamels and oil gilding were used as decoration, and pieces so ornamented are much sought after, and command high prices today. From 1760 to 1780 pierced work and basket ornamentation were used, but the body and moulding were not so fine as in the earlier periods ; in fact, this was a time of decadence. With basket and pierced borders transfer printing in various colours was used, the ware being sent to Sadler & Green, of Liverpool, to be printed.
It is supposed that at first the potter decorated this ware with applied ornament in the style adopted by the Elers for their red ware, but examples are extremely rare. Later on, moulded decoration was used, and the earliest moulds are believed to have been raised and perforated ornaments From the South Kensington Museum of metal, similar to those used by silver-smiths. These produced exquisitely sharp designs.
An 18th century Staffordshire salt-glazed teapot, without cover, pecten shell pattern, and basket'shaped tray of the same ware, with
Tea and coffee pots shaped like houses, upon one side of which the house may have two storeys and upon the reverse three, are often met with in collections. The spout is generally modelled to resemble an arm, a snake, or the neck and head of a camel. Another popular shape was that of a kneeling camel carrying a square box upon its back. A very popular subject which was portrayed in moulded decoration upon salt-glaze ware was that of the capture of Portobello by Admiral Lord Vernon. Such pieces are of an early period, and sometimes bear the date 1739.
"Scratched blue" was a kind of decoration found upon this ware, which was produced by Scratching lines in the body in the form of flowers, the lines being afterwards filled in with cobalt blue. Designs enamelled in colour upon salt-glaze ware generally took the form of flowers, foliage, and birds in Chinese taste and colouring, and are often faithful copies of the original. Applied ornaments were of white slip, and these upon the pale drab background give a very delicate and attractive appearance to the ware.
A favourite shape for cream-jugs, sauce-boats, and teapots was one in which the pecten shell formed a motif at either side. In our illustrations a teapot of this design may be seen. In the British Museum is a teapot in the form of a squirrel holding a nut.
Figures were made in salt-glaze ware, also vases and beakers of Chinese form, tea and coffee ware, mugs, bowls, delicate little leaf pickle-dishes, sauce-boats, plates, and dishes of large and small size, spill vases, busts and animals, tureens and fruit-dishes.
Some very large round plates with moulded borders carry one's thoughts back to the days of the wooden trencher, which, no doubt, they were designed to supplant. The size is accounted for by the fact that in those days more than one person ate from the same plate.
Many pieces of salt-glaze ware are dated, and some bear initials. These cannot be looked upon as the marks of any particular factory, this ware having been manufactured by most of the Staffordshire potters of the day. They are probably the initials of the person for whom the piece was made, or perhaps they may be those of the particular workman who made it.