On Lustreware Teapots

This is a piece called ‘English Silver Lustreware Teapots’ of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, I wrote it for another blog but thought Decor Extremus readers might also like it. 

Lusterware is one of those materials desirable for its ability to deceive. The entire point of silver lusterware was to allow earthenware to simulate old English pewter or plate. Thus an earthenware body carrying fluted or beaded design with a coat of silver lustre might transform a brown earthenware teapot – suitable only for the kitchen – into an object worthy of the drawing room.

The method of judging a work of early nineteenth century luster therefore becomes it nearness to the silverware it tries to imitate. The best examples of these teapots being those that appear to be silver until a visitor picks them up.

In his seminal work Chats on English China (1904) Arthur Hayden attributes the manufacture of such pieces to –

“Brislington by R. Frank about 1770: at Eturia, by Wedgewood, in 1780: and by Wilson in Staffordshire, in 1785, also by Moore & Co. and Dixon & Co. at Sunderland, about 1820.”

Yet it was almost certainly Wedgewood who popularized the plainer lustreware designs that came about in the earlier part of the Nineteenth century. To these Hayden attributes a deep colour that simply could not be achieved in silver itself – ‘the lustre is of a deeper and richer quality.’

In such works it was not silver that was used, but an oxide of platinum. The first coat made up of platinum dissolved in nitric acid and treated with a spirit obtained from tar. This was then painted with a large brush over the earthenware and fired. The oldest silver lustre is on a black or brown body. Later on it was made on a creamy body, but one gets the extreme brilliance of the silver lustre only on the brown or brownish-black body.

These pieces were intended for an evolving middle class to whom silver plated items had not yet come down sufficiently in price. Yet there were two essential problems with the material. If your ‘wondrous lustre tea pot slips to the ground, it lies in a heap of brown earthenware fragments.’ Secondly the silver manufacturers were keen to capture the same market and were soon designing silver plate for the same market. Thus silver plate tea services meant lustre fell from fashion and a high degree of breakage made it rare and collectable.

One last word from Arthur Hayden – ‘to collectors of this ware – do not wash your specimens any more than you can help, as warm water has a deleterious effect on the lusted and tends to make it less brilliant; we recommend our readers to polish their luster ware with a soft cloth, and we wish them absolute and entire freedom from all mishaps.

DLJ

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