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Prior to the modern ceramic plate, people primarily ate from a surface of wood or stale bread. Trenchers, as both of these surfaces were often called, served as a sturdy, easily replaceable tool rather than decoration or an item of luxury. This practice largely continued through to the 18th and 19th centuries, with some exceptions for wealthier people, until porcelain became easier to make and eventually mass produced. Porcelain is a harder, less porous material that was more appropriate for plates and dishes than the softer earthenware ceramics created prior to the 18th century.

Salt glazing is a common firing practice that has been used on earthenware and stoneware for centuries. Prior to innovations in porcelain, it was a common glazing method for making jugs, ewers, and other household containers that were used on a daily basis. Salt glazing involves throwing salt into the kiln during the height of the firing process to create a colorless, glossy glaze on the surface of the pottery. This technique can be seen in Lot 39: Pair of Staffordshire Salt Glazed Stoneware Polychrome Reticulated Plates, which also feature polychrome decoration.

In contrast to this earlier glazing practice, by the mid 18th century English ceramicists were making progress in their attempt to replicate porcelain with a much smoother, translucent glazing process which produced pottery called “Pearlware”. The name Pearlware came from the “Pearl Glaze” (also called “China Glaze”) that was developed by Josiah Wedgwood in 1779. A cobalt blue glaze was applied to the pottery giving it a blue tint once it was fired, an appearance that came closer to imitating the desired look of porcelain. This technique can be seen in Lot 76: Staffordshire Pearl Glazed Earthenware Table Base Figure Group ‘A Pleasance’.

Though Pearlware was a step on the journey to replicate porcelain in England, English porcelain makers had been moving closer to developing a similar product since the early 18th century.

A Jesuit missionary Père D’Entrecolles provided two detailed descriptions, one in 1712 and the other in 1722, of the production process and the materials used in China. This knowledge helped direct English potters towards the correct technique, and by the middle of the 18th century English soft-paste porcelain factories had been established in Bow, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Worcester, with hard-paste porcelain, such as Staffordshire ware being created shortly after. By this period, porcelain designs were becoming more refined than those seen in salt glazed ceramics and indicated a shift to more sophisticated taste. An example of this evolution in design can be seen in Lot 160: Three Chelsea Porcelain Silver Shape Oval Dishes, which are English soft-paste porcelain created at the Chelsea porcelain works. Chelsea’s designs were aimed at an affluent market and often took inspiration from Meissen and Sevres porcelain with Rococo design elements such as scrollwork or shell-shaped edges as seen in these oval dishes. These Chelsea dishes illustrate the height that ceramics attained in the evolution from medieval trencher to Georgian porcelain, and their alteration from a disposable utilitarian object to a decorative luxury.

Additional porcelain can be seen in our auction on January 19 at 11:00 am, Property from the Collection of Wynn A. and Elizabeth F. Sayman.

Time & Location


Property from the Collection of Wynn A. and Elizabeth F. Sayman
Wednesday, January 19 at 11am

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