Cataloging the historic artifacts from a site in Delaware County, I find myself quite literally overloaded with pearlware ceramics. These blue-tinted (and quite pretty) refined earthenwares “replaced” the slightly older creamware ceramics, and can be a common find on archaeological sites dating to the early nineteenth century. Broadly speaking, pearlware ceramics date to 1780-1830, while creamware dates to 1762-1820.
In addition to all the usual sources, there is a great website available to help those like me trying to accurately classify, date or even just understand the complexity that is pearlwares. The Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory has designed a great website entitled Diagnostic Artifacts In Maryland, which provides a range of data and details on various artifact types. The Post-Colonial Ceramics section includes a host of information concerning nineteenth-century ceramics, particularly in terms of the various decorative techniques used over time. The website makes the important point that, while eighteenth-century ceramics are usefully categorized into specific ware types based on vitrification and glaze, nineteenth-century ceramics are better understood in terms of the decorative techniques used. It is these attributes that provide archaeologists with the important temporal markers to help place their data in time.
The Post-Colonial Ceramics section includes detailed information on shell-edged, painted, printed, dipped and molded wares. It provides great close-up photographs of the various wares, and provides detailed explanations concerning the technology used in the application of various decorations. Anybody who wants to be able to distinguish the early 1800-1830s shell-edge wares in their collection from the later 1840-1860s shell-edge sherds would do well to check this site out.