Finding Tin-glaze

by Kayla MarciniszynSenior Field and Lab Archaeologist

1750HisCerEdtFlmRecent excavations at Site 44FX0704 in the Old Colchester Park and Preserve (OCPP) have unearthed a large number of tin-glazed coarse earthenware sherds. Tin-glazed earthenware, as the name suggests, is a ceramic that contains tin oxide in the glaze and has a very soft, buff to reddish colored paste (the body of the ceramic). The tin oxide creates a unique “M&M-like” shell over the paste when viewed in cross section and easily chips off. The glaze is most often either white or blue in color and is commonly found with a hand-painted or sponged decoration in various colors. Production of tin-glazed coarse earthenware in Europe began in sixteenth century and continued until the early nineteenth century. The ware was produced all over Western Europe and has a variety of names depending on the country of origin. For example, the term “Delftware” is used for Dutch tin-glazed, “Faience” for French, and “Majolica” for Spanish.


English or Dutch tin-glazed usually has a lighter, buff colored paste while Spanish and French tin-glazed often has a reddish paste. In the Middle Atlantic, tin-glazed earthenware is common to colonial period sites and is usually assumed to be either Dutch or English made. Dutch tin glaze is more common earlier in the colonial period and English varieties more common in the later colonial period, particularly from the eighteenth century onward.

The decorations found on tin-glazed earthenware are often diagnostic and therefore a great way to determine the time period of a site. The sherds found on the site on OCPP are decorated with both blue hand-painted and purple sponged decorations. Hand-painted decorations can be diagnostic depending on the motif or the design but some have been difficult to determine during cataloging due to the small size of the ceramic fragment. Tin-glazed with a sponged decoration has been useful in narrowing the more broad production range of the coarse earthenware; according to Jefferson Patterson Park Museum, sponged tin glaze has a production range of 1708 to 1786 with peak popularity between the years of 1730-1760. Coupled with the production dates of creamware we have uncovered on the site and the absence of pearlware, we can most likely date Site 44FX0704 occupation from the mid to late eighteenth century.

Further Readings:

Tin-glazed Earthenware – Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum

Ceramic Type Collection – Historical Archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History

Tin-Glazed Earthenware – The Port Tobacco Archaeological Project



About cartarchaeology

We are the County Archaeological Research Team, part of the Archaeology and Collections Branch, Resource Management Division, Fairfax County Park Authority. We are tasked with understanding and managing the cultural resources on Park land throughout Fairfax County.
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3 Responses to Finding Tin-glaze

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