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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Salt-Glaze And Salt-Glaze

( Originally Published 1913 )

There is a "glorious uncertainty" about cricket, and so there is about collecting ; the puzzles and chances afforded by the study of old English pottery, for instance, are numberless, and salt-glaze ware is responsible for more than a few.

You know, of course, that common salt, being thrown into a kiln containing raw pottery, under a high temperature, gave off a vapour which, uniting with the silicate in the raw clay, formed silicate of soda, and gave the pottery a glass-like coating, distinguishable from all other glazes by tiny pittings in the surface, like those in fine leather or in the skin of an orange. This vapour also hardened the surfaces of the pottery. so that it could be made very thin and light-weight, yet strong. You also understand that lead-glaze, which immediately followed and superseded salt-glaze, was a lead solution laid on, not chemically incorporated with, the clay.

Most pottery collectors would resent the suggestion that they do not know " salt-glaze " when they see and touch it; though the chances of touching it are few, because salt-glaze ware is rare and dear. The "glorious" uncertainty in this case arises from the fact that there are pieces of pottery in existence which are salt-glaze without entirely seeming to be salt-glaze. Examples on the border-line, so to speak, between the salt-glazing period and the lead-glazing era, which would puzzle the most expert, can be found.

The Teapot. An old teapot was shown me in a shop the other day; the dealer was almost offended when I said :

"What do you call it ? Leeds ?"

He grunted. That was a salt-glaze teapot, that was, if ever there was one, he said, with the emphasis which people lay upon statements about which they themselves feel some doubt.

The teapot was certainly of salt-glaze shape, it was exceedingly light-weight too, and the colouring resembled salt-glaze colouring. But " Leeds " is exceedingly light-weight, too, and Leeds ware was often touched with the same green and pale purple colouring. And this teapot had a quite smooth surface, like "Leeds," such as one would think only lead-glaze could give.

So, "Where are the pittings ?" I asked the dealer, as I more closely examined the teapot. "Where is the characteristic surface ? Salt-glaze ware should look a little like leather, or orange-skin, you know."

All that the dealer could answer was that he knew salt-glaze when he saw it-he did not know who I was-but evidently I did not! He'd had plenty of pieces through his hands, he had, and if that wasn't a salt-glaze teapot he'd eat it ! Why, look at the shape of the handle !

The handle had that upward curl and splay, like a tail out from its lower junction with the body of the teapot, which is characteristic. And, indeed, it was a salt-glaze teapot; in every respect but its surface characteristic.

The Statuette. Salt-glaze teapots are numerous, but salt-glaze figures are few. As I write, a figure stands-or rather kneels-before me, which is a puzzle. It cost me 3s. 6d, only, at the Caledonian Market ; yet, but for the smoothness of the surface, one might swear it to be a salt-glaze figure, made by Littler of Longton Hall.

In no collection have I ever seen the fellow to it ; that, I dare say, was why it was sold me so cheap. A priest or presbyter, clad in a white stole and gown over a half-displayed long under-tunic, kneels before a kind of altar upon which a book lies open. Traces of saltglaze colouring remain on the cross-shaped ornament at the ends of the altar, and the under-tunic is the right Littler blue-the blue of " Longton Hall." For a solid figure, it is light-weight, also. But over nearly all of it is a lead-glaze, washed on. " Salt-glaze ? No ! " most collectors would say at once. And yet, under the lead-glaze, I can detect the salt-glaze pittings, the leather surface, the orange-skin grain.

A Theory. How explain the discrepancies in the teapot and in the statuette ? Well, there is salt-glaze and salt-glaze. Even in pieces of unquestionable salt-glaze ware there are variations of pitting. Sir Arthur Church found that the -grain" varies within wide limits even in the different parts of a single piece. " Moreover, it was the custom of some potters to add a little red-lead to the salt thrown into the kiln, and this made the glaze smoother and thicker." Perhaps the key to the characteristics of what I call " borderland " salt-glaze ware lies in that.

I throw out the suggestion that, just about the time when Wedgwood's smooth lead-glazed Queen's ware was sweeping the market, some Staffordshire potters thought to compete with it by adding more and more lead to the salt thrown into the kiln.

That would suffice to explain the teapot's surface, for instance. As to the figure, it may be that Littler lead-glazed the surface of some of his already saltglazed ware when he was making experiments for his porcelain ; or did so to make the salt-glazed ware more acceptable in a market which was turning towards lead-glazed ware only. That would explain the peculiarity of the figure.

It is puzzles of this kind which add a quickening and intellectual value to collecting, don't you think ?

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