Pearlware and Creamware Pottery – 5 Key Differences

  • Written by: Lesley

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Pearlware and creamware are two of the most popular types of fine china, but they are distinctly different. Both are decorated pieces that look very similar to each other, often using the same types of patterns. What sets them apart really is their history and what inspired them.

Pearlware is fine earthenware with a white glaze and opaque body color. The term creamware, on the other hand, refers to opaque white earthenware with a glaze that creates a pastel effect known as “cream.”

Read on to learn more about the similarities and differences between these two types of pottery.

Creamware Pottery

Creamware was a type of soft-paste porcelain that was produced in Britain from the early eighteenth century. Named for its color, which is derived from the use of white clay, it is decorated in tin-enamel colors and gilding or in enamels under the glaze.

The creamware period roughly coincides with Queen Anne’s reign (1702-1714), a time when Britain’s trade with Asia was at its height. China wares were being imported into Europe, and creamware production was heavily influenced by Chinese decoration.

For an in-depth look at exactly what creamware is you might want to check out my article here. It will give you a comprehensive idea of how creamware is made, its history, uses, and appearance.

creamware pottery
Creamware Pottery. Image: Josiah Wedgwood, CC0,
via Wikimedia Commons

Pearlware Pottery

Pearlware is a general term for pottery decorated with a nacreous or iridescent glaze, usually white. Some ceramics of this type were called “pearlware” by their producers; others were not.

The word was sometimes used in the 19th and early 20th centuries to include any white-glazed earthenware, even when it was not decorated with nacreous pigmentation. The glazes on pearlware vary greatly in thickness, from solid enamel to transparent lacquer, so that the surface can have a shiny to matte finish ranging from opaque to translucent.

pearlware pottery
Pearlware Pottery. Image: Daderot, Public domain,
via Wikimedia Commons

Similarities Between Pearlware and Creamware Pottery

Pearlware and creamware share some basic qualities, and some people even use the names interchangeably. For one, they are made from the same type of clay- porcelain. Only, the porcelain used on creamware is relatively thicker than the porcelain used on pearlware. What’s more, the method of creation is similar as in both cases; the porcelain is fired at pretty low temperatures.

Both are styles of ceramic tableware. Thus, you can use both as tableware, even though creamware is more suited for this than pearlware. Also, both are types of early pottery and were developed in the eighteenth century after whiteware was replaced with a plaster mixture.

Pearlware was made from a mixture of Britannia ware, kaolin, whiting, and lead, resulting in a hard glossy shine that resembles pearls. Creamware made from the same basic ingredients but with less lead resulted in an off-white or cream color due to the lack of shine.

pearlware pottery
Pearlware Pottery. Image: Los Angeles County Museum of Art,
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

5 Differences Between Pearlware and Creamware Pottery

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, these two types of pottery are distinctly different. Some of their differences include the following.

1) Appearance

It is impossible to mistake creamware for pearlware as they look so different from each other. For one, creamware is cream in color, while pearlware is bluish-white (source). Moreover, pearlware has a slightly metallic luster due to the presence of mica in its composition. Elsewhere, creamware lacks that glossy look as it lacks mica in its content makeup.

2) Glazing Method

The type of glazing used on pearlware differs from glazing used on creamware pottery. Creamware is covered with a tin-lead glaze, while pearlware is covered in a lead-oxide glaze. For this reason, creamware is readily food-safe, while pearlware is not. You would have to remove the lead glaze in pearlware before using it on food, a process that requires a certain level of skill to procure properly.

3) Degree of Translucence

While both types of pottery have a translucent quality, the translucence is more prominent in pearlware than creamware. Pearlware is made from white or buff-colored translucent porcelain, allowing light to pass through it. On the other hand, creamware was made from much thicker porcelain, allowing only a small amount of light to pass through.

4) Purpose

Even though pearlware and creamware pottery would be used for kitchen and decorative purposes, creamware was mostly used as tableware/kitchenware, whereas pearlware woold was mostly used for decoration. This is because pearlware is relatively more appealing to the eye for one. On the other hand, creamware is more suited to hold food.

5) Mode of Decoration

The methods used to decorate creamware differs from pearlware methods used on pearlware. Essentially, pearlware was decorated with a molded or hand-painted relief pattern. Most pearlware would be decorated in cobalt blue.

Meanwhile, creamware would be enameled for decoration. The technique was borrowed from the early porcelain industry, where potters would paint overglaze on the pottery with pigments acquired from finely powdered colored glass. The ware would then be re-fired so the enamel would fuse to the ware perfectly.

Which is More Valuable? Pearlware or Creamware?

The value of a piece of pottery depends on its history and rarity.  That said, a rare piece of pottery may be costly than an ordinary one. For example, a rare antique “pearlware” dinner service set would cost more than a similar-looking dinner service set made of creamware.

Even so, creamware pottery is valued higher than pearlware pottery. This means that you would pay more to acquire creamware vessels compared to pearlware. One of the reasons why creamware is more expensive is that the glazes on pearlware are much thinner than those of creamware, creating a more delicate effect. Because the glaze on pearlware is so thin, it tends to deteriorate more quickly than the glaze on creamware. So, quality comes into play here.

Also, while they are both made using salt-glazed stoneware, pearlware was made using a slightly more coarse clay body.

Final Thoughts

Pearlware and creamware were developed in the eighteenth century by the British. Both were created using porcelain, which would be fired at relatively low temperatures. While they are similar in a lot of ways, pearlware and creamware also have a myriad of differences. Their differences are based on factors like appearance, purpose, mode of decoration, glazing method, and the degree of translucence.

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Attributions for featured image:

Daderot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons