Creamware, Pearlware and Whiteware

Creamware, Pearlware, Whiteware (left to right)

Creamware, Pearlware, Whiteware (left to right)

by Kayla MarciniszynCART Assistant Lab Director and Collections Assistant

Ceramics provide an effective means of dating historical sites or a particular soil layer because stylistic elements change over time. There are certain wares and decorative techniques that have very specific date ranges that archaeologists can utilize when dating a site if other non-diagnostic artifacts are present. While there are dozens of known types and wares, white refined earthenwares are often prevalent on American sites and can be categorized into three basic ware types: creamware, pearlware, and whiteware. All three have specific production date ranges as well as varying stylistic elements that can help us further refine those dates.

Creamware, the earliest of the three, was formally introduced in England by Josiah Wedgewood in 1762. Cream-colored wares were being produced as early as the 1740s, but Wedgewood succeeded in creating a more refined ware. Wedgewood coined this ware as “Queen’s Ware” after completing his commission for Queen Charlotte in 1765 (Wedgewood Museum 2016). The creamy color seen in the glaze is achieved by the addition of copper to a lead oxide glaze. In places where the glaze pools, such as a footring, the glaze will look almost green. The popularity of creamware began to decline around 1800 with the introduction of pearlware and is virtually non-existent after 1820.

English potters experimented different techniques in order to achieve a ceramic that could achieve the glass-like appearance of Chinese porcelain. It was discovered that by adding cobalt to a lead oxide glaze potters could achieve the blue-tinted glaze found on early Chinese porcelains. This ware goes by a few different names including pearl white, China glaze, and pearlware. China glaze appears as early as 1775 but Josiah Wedgewood introduced his “pearl white” wares in 1779 (Miller and Hunter 2016). We usually refer to any ceramics with the blue-tinted glaze as “pearlware,” an adaptation of Wedgewood’s “pearl white,” but some may refer to pearlwares with a Chinese-style decoration as “China glaze.”

Over time the use of cobalt decreased, most likely due to the expense of obtaining the mineral. Fun fact: the word cobalt is derived from the German word “kobalt,” which means “goblin.” Cobalt ore, when smelted, produces a powder that contains arsenic, which is highly toxic. As the use of cobalt decreased, whiteware begins to emerge, approximately around 1820. During the transition between pearlware and whiteware, it can sometimes be difficult to determine the difference between the two. Early whitewares can have a slight blue hue to the glaze, particularly in areas where the glaze is thicker. Sometimes we define this as transitional whiteware. Whitewares are still produced today.

So, when identifying white refined earthenwares look at the color of the glaze! Sometimes it is helpful to set the ceramic sherd on a white piece of paper. Whitewares will blend in with the paper but creamware and pearlware should stand out.



Wedgewood Museum. 2016. “Queen’s Ware.” Accessed February 16, 2017.

Miller, G. and Hunter, R. 2016. “How Creamware Got the Blues: The Origins of China Glaze and Pearlware.” Accessed February 16, 2017.

Further Reading

Jefferson Patterson Park Mac Lab. “The Evolution of Creamware, Pearlware and Whiteware.”

Seidel, J. 1990. ““China Glaze” Wares on Sites from the American Revolution: Pearlware Before Wedgewood?” Historical Archaeology 24 (1): 82-95. Ceramics in the image are listed from left to right: creamware, pearlware, and whiteware

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Eighteenth Century Buttons

buttonby Jean Cascardi Archaeology Crew Chief

Archaeologists today rely heavily on one piece of academic work to interpret the frequency and finding of buttons on eighteenth century domestic sites. This work, written by Stephen Hinks in 1988, “A Structural and Functional Analysis of Eighteenth Century Buttons;” has been used by FCPA archaeologists on sites such as Colchester to interpret the button assemblage encountered through excavation. CART’s current excavation has yielded a fair number of buttons and is cursorily being interpreted as an eighteenth century domestic site. Once all the information is gathered and analyzed archaeologists will determine both the temporal period and function of the site.

It is probably no surprise to the reader that the button, much like many everyday objects, prolificness and use has changed over time. This is no doubt evidenced in the archaeological record, as well as historical documents that have survived. During the eighteenth century, men’s clothing utilized the button closure much more frequently than women’s clothing. Eighteenth century women’s clothing typically was laced or had hook and eye closures. Not only has the use of the button changed, but the manufacturing technique and material in which buttons are made from has changed over time. This change has led the button to be produced at a much higher rate than it was in the eighteenth century.

As mentioned above, it was eighteenth century men’s clothing in colonial America that most commonly used buttons. Hinks’ research compared not only four site assemblages, but also examined more than one merchants’ records. What Hinks’ found was that merchants of the day classified and inventoried their buttons much like an archaeologist would. The description entered into the merchants’ records included details pertaining to material type, color, decoration, and size; most often the merchant would include in their description the type of garment the button was for. When archaeologists are lucky enough to have these types of supporting documents to go along with an assemblage, we are able to infer more information about a specific site.

In the eighteenth century almost every piece of a man’s clothing utilized buttons. Dependent upon the piece of clothing the button used would have different attributes. Common men’s clothing items that used buttons in the eighteenth century were suits. Eighteenth century men’s suits included many similar pieces to today’s men’s suits; these are jackets or coats, vests or waistcoats, and a shirt. Pieces of the eighteenth century men’s suits that are not commonly worn today were the “breeches,” and the frock; the frock was a less formal piece of clothing than the jacket or coat. Other commonly worn pieces of eighteenth century clothing that would have buttons for closures were the great coat and a looser, informal item of clothing known as a banyan.

Button frequency differed on the various clothing pieces mentioned above. For example, the shirt worn with the eighteenth century suit was typically a pull over that utilized two smaller buttons at the collar and would most likely have two connected buttons at each sleeve cuff; unlike today’s suit shirt. Breeches, if you are not familiar with the term or article of clothing, were the common colonial pant that went to the knee or just below the knee. Where the breeches ended there typically would be a series of buttons or combination of buttons and a buckle to close the pant leg. Hinks’ notes that smaller buttons would have been used at the knee and larger buttons would have been used at the waist to close the article of clothing. The Colonial Williamsburg website provides brief descriptions of the different pieces of men’s clothing commonly worn in the eighteenth century, a link is provided below.


Article of Clothing Number of Buttons Size of Button
Banyan 6 Small
Breeches 7-10; 2-3 Small; Large
Coat/Frock 12-26 Medium
Great Coat 9 Large
Shirt 6 Small
Waistcoat/Vest 20 Small to Medium

Adapted from Hicks’ document and reproduction clothing sewing patterns for eighteenth century men’s clothing; approximate numbers      

Eighteenth century buttons were manufactured out of a variety of material including different types of metal, glass, wood, bone, and shell. When certain artifacts are deposited in the soil of northern Virginia they tend to begin the process of degradation almost immediately; organic materials such as bone, wood, and shell are affected by the acidity of the soils at a much faster rate than other materials such as metal, glass or ceramic. Overwhelmingly, the buttons FCPA archaeologists have collected from the current site have been brass buttons with soldered shanks. Pictured below are three examples of various sized buttons, the center button is iron.

References Cited and Further Reading

Anatomy of a Suit. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2016, from

Adsummus, F. W. (n.d.). Wm. Booth, Draper – Everything for American Revolutionary War Reenactors. Retrieved December 20, 2016, from

A Colonial Gentlemen’s Clothing: A Glossary of Terms. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2016, from

Hinks, S. J., & University of South Carolina. (1900). A structural and functional analysis of eighteenth century buttons. Columbia S.C: South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Noël, H. I. (1970). A guide to artifacts of colonial America. New York: Knopf.

Introduction to Eighteenth-Century Clothing. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2016, from

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D.C. Archaeology


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Archaeology Symposium, 4 March 2017


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CART Bi-Weekly Update

31 January 201731jan2017

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Finding Buckles

Buckle recovered during recent excavations of a late eighteenth – early nineteenth century site in Fairfax County.

Buckle recovered during recent excavations of a late eighteenth – early nineteenth century site in Fairfax County.

by Samantha WoodstockCART Archaeological Technician

Buckles have been used for multiple different purposes throughout centuries. There are numerous types of buckles: knee, belt, shoe, girdle, boot/garter, spur, etc. A buckle  is made of two parts, the frame (or ring) and the chape. The chape itself has three parts, the pin, roll and tongue. The pin is placed on the backside of the frame where it is drilled into holes of the frame. The roll and tongue pivot on the pin but, they face opposing ways. Not every buckle has all five parts and use of the buckle is dependent on the size and shape of the parts of the buckles.

Buckles started to become a fashion statement in France during the reign of Louis XIV in the late 1600s. This fashionable icon came to the American colonies in the early 1700s. These particular buckles were lavish pieces that were gilded and jeweled to present wealth and power. Girdle buckles were lavish women’s buckles popular around 1740. The girdle was the leather belt that fastened a gown with a decorative piece in the front. Men had stock buckles were used to fasten a neckcloth with a lavish piece in front.

Horse saddles and harnesses also used buckles. These buckles are usually brass or iron with a single or double frame. These buckles are a simpler size and shape for more practical purposes. They are used to secure the harness to the horse through a leather and/or textile strap. They are also used in securing the rider to the horse through a saddle belt that is attached to the harness.

The pictures above are also of buckles excavated from sites that date from the eighteenth to nineteenth century.


Button Country. 2012. Div IV-Buckles & Claps. Electronic.

Hume, Audrey Noel. 1971. Wetherburn’s Tavern Archaeological Report, Block 9 Building 00 Lost 20 & 21. Electronic.

Hume, Ivor Noel. 1969. Artifacts of Colonial America. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press. Electronic.

White, Carolyn L. 2009. Knee, Garter, Girdle, Hat, Stock, and Spur Buckles from Seven Sites in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Springer. Electronic.

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Biweekly Update – 13 January 2017

13jan2017Click here for details on the Archaeology New Volunteer Orientation

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