English Staffordshire Spatterware

Spatterware pottery is a unique form of art that is highly desirable and sought after throughout the world. Although the collection of plates, saucers, cups, other and articles of pottery decorated by "spatter" techniques were very popular in Lancaster County during the early 19th Century, this type of art is not really Pennsylvania Dutch in origin at all.

In fact, spatterware came from the Staffordhire region of England and pieces were exported to the United States in the early 1800's. Historically, the colorful and imaginative patterns of the design hit a particular note with the households in southeastern Pennsylvania and a large percentage of the imports went to this region. When the imports from Staffordshire ceased, the largest supply in America remained in southeastern Pennsylvania. As a result,the mainstream began to associate spatterware with the Pennsylvania Dutch.

"Spatter" refers to the technique by which the colorful designs were applied to the pottery before it was glazed and fired. Essentially, a small sponge was first dipped into a selected color pigment. Then, the sponge was carefully applied to the pottery. Although there are instances where the entire article of pottery would be decorated with the spatter technique, too much spatter was not always attractive.

More common was the method where the spatter was applied only to the margins of the dish or other article of pottery. Then, another design such as an animal, flower, house, schoolhouse, windmill, or human figure would decorate the center.

The most common colors used in the spatter decoration on the pottery is various shades of blue, pink or red. Purple and brown were also used as well. Green and yellow were rarely used. When the pottery did not have a central design, various combinations of colors were frequently used.

The most common pieces of spatterware that collectors can find nowadays are plates, cups, saucers, and pitchers. It is believed that full dinner sets were made during the heyday of this unique artform. However, many of the less frequently used items such as platters, salt cellars, gravy boats, sauce dishes, and chamber pots have not survived to present day.

Sponge Blue

Although English Staffordshire is the most commonly known form of spatter that was popular in the the United States in the 19th Century, there are others. Sponge blue which is also referred to as "Blue Sponge" is a particularly beloved variety.

Sponge Blue Spatter was most common in areas such as New Jersey and Ohio during the 188o's. This variety became popular with serious collectors during the 1950's and 1960's.

One of the main difference between English Staffordshire and the Sponge Blue varieties of spatter is that Sponge Blue pieces do not contain a central design such a flower, animal or figure which often does occur with English Staffordshire.

Another difference is that, with Sponge Blue spatter, the color was applied as a powder on the sponge and then ran in the kiln. This gave the pigment a quality of melting and flowing. The positive side of this approach is that the spatter designs could be uncommonly beautiful since there was a greater variety of color intensity. The downside is that, if not done well, the design could become spotty or streaked.

Blue Sponge spatter tended to serve better as decorative objects than as usable pieces of kitchenware. Historically, Blue Sponge spatterware tended to be softer that the English Staffordshire variety and chipped more easily.

Sponge Spatter

Another variety of spatterware is known simply as "Sponge Spatter" or "Stick-sponge Spattter". Sponge Spatter differs from the other forms of this art form in that here the sponge is actually shaped into a specific design.

The shaped sponges were often applied to the end of a stick and then dipped into the colored pigment before application to the object. With Sponge Spatter, the most commonly used colors tended to be green and purple.

As mentioned before, this variety of spatterware is characterized by the fact that the application sponge itself was shaped into a design. The most common type of design shapes were six-pointed rosettes, flowers, wavy lines, and vines.

Sponge Spatter is not as popular to collectors as the other varieties of spatter. The most obvious reason for this is that historically the artists had used poor-quality glazes which had the unfortunate consequence that the pieces have become discolored over the years.

Virginia Ware

Another variety of spatterware is Virginia Ware which was made in England as well as in Holland. Virginia Ware combined the sponge spatter technique along with a hand painted or transferred design.

Virgina Ware pieces tended to be very crowded with respect to the number of designs in relation to blank white space. A typical piece might consist of purple flowers around the margin of the piece; a design such as that of a rabbit transferred unto the center; and, then stick-sponged blue rosettes filling in the spaces between the center design and the spatter-designed margins.

If you liked learning about spatterware and would like to find out more about other unique types of Pennsylvania Dutch art that can be found in Lancaster County, please see the following pages:

Amish QuiltsBasketryButter MoldsChalkware
FrakturHex SignsRedwareSgraffito

If you're interested in learning more about Lancaster County's unique folk art during your visit, why not check out some of the best Pennsylvania Dutch folk art museums where you and your family can experience firsthand this rich and complex and relatively unknown artistic culture.

Return to Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Art

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