The ceramic assemblage found on the Mardi Gras Shipwreck Site is extremely important as it provides specific information about the time in which this ship met its demise. The video footage collected thus far reveals that there are at least two ceramic types that make up the majority of the ceramic assemblage. The first of these ceramic types appears to be either earthernware or possibly stoneware. To date, only two earthernware or stoneware jugs have been identified in the video footage. The other ceramic style identified on the site is creamware. Two specimens of this type were recovered in 2004. One specimen is a plate while the other is identified as a pôt de crème, a cup used for serving a custard-like dessert (Figures 1 and 2).
Figures 1 and 2. A creamware plate and pôt de crème recovered from the Mardi Gras Shipwreck.
These artifacts were collected using ROV technology (Figure 3)and each exhibit crazing (a network of tiny cracks in the glaze that forms over time) as well as small pits and cracks. Both artifacts were conserved at Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Lab. While both are plain in decoration, the plate exhibits some common attributes found in the manufacturing process. On the obverse and reverse sides, a set of cockspur marks are visible (Figures 4 and 5). Cockspurs are three-pronged spacers that were used for separating pottery while being fired. Cockspur marks are a result of the cockspur sticking to the ceramic during the firing process (Marken 1994:243).
Figure 3. ROV brushing off sediments from footring of teapot to determine if any maker’s marks are present.
Figure 4. Cockspur mark on the obverse the plate.
Figure 5. Cockspur marks (three) on the reverse side of plate lip.
The creamware located on the Mardi Gras Shipwreck Site is important as it provides a solid time period from which we may work. Creamwares are a high-fired ceramic that became popular in the mid 18th century. Noël Hume (Noël Hume 1970:123) refers to the gradual perfecting of cream-colored refined earthenware as the most important development in 18th century ceramic technology. The first creamwares were produced in 1750 by Thomas Astbuiry and Thomas Whieldon. These individuals mixed ground flints into clay, which produced a white saltglaze when fired at high temperatures and a cream-colored glaze when fired at lower temperature (Noël Hume 1970:123).
In the late 1750s, a partnership between Whieldon and Josiah Wedgwood was struck whereby they refined the cream-color firing process to produce a rich green glaze to the wares. This style was perfected in 1759 but never achieved the popularity that the manufacturers had hoped. Wedgwood left his partnership in 1759 and went into business on his own, focusing his attention on producing a plain cream-colored ware (Noël Hume 1970:123-124). Eventually, Wedgwood improved the glazing process by adding lead powder. The glaze would often pool around the footring or in other crevices producing a distinct greenish to yellowish tint. This is different than the Pearlwares that were produced later (1779-1820s) using cobalt to dust the wares prior to firing. The cobalt, like the lead powder, would pool up around the edges of the footring and produce a blue tint.
Unfortunately, the two pieces of creamware recovered during 2004 do not have maker’s marks or any other type of decoration on them. Decoration and form of the plate recovered in 2004 indicates that these wares may represent British regimental wares. These wares, utilized during the American Revolution, were typically mass produced plain wares. Lynne Sussman, explains that two primary types were popular during this period:
By 1780, creamware, introduced by Josiah Wedgewood 20 years previously, had replaced salt-glazed stoneware as the most common ware for regimental table services; indeed, between 1770 and 1780 nothing but creamware was available in large quantity from the manufactures. The most frequently occurring regimental patterns at this date were the Royal Rim and plain, the latter being produced with either a flat or concave brim. The featheredge was also an institutional pattern, but it was most popular on creamware between 1760 and 1770. Regimental tea ware made of creamware, like that made of slat-glazed stoneware, was usually undecorated (Sussman 2000:49).
Stoneware jug with etched flower design.
The presence of the pôt de crème, however, may suggest a later date. According to John Keefe, an expert in creamware from the New Orleans Museum of Art, this style of dessert dish became extremely popular for a ten year period starting in 1790 and ending sometime around 1800 (Keefe personal communication 2005).
Based on the current video and artifact data, it is suggested that the Mardi Gras Shipwreck Site may date to around 1780-1810. This thirty-year date range is not definite and additional data is necessary before a final determination can be made. One important note, Wedgwood never patented the manufacturing process and as Noël Hume points out “anybody who knew how to make it did so in factories ranging all the way from Bovey Tracy in Devonshire to Leeds in Yorkshire and Glasgow in Scotland” (Noël Hume 1970:128). This critical distinction must be made, as we cannot simply assume that these wares are a Wedgwood production. Rather, it is a descriptive style that guides our questions and research. Additional data and analysis will no doubt provide a clearer picture of the ceramics found at the site as well as a more accurate date for the age of the ship.
Creamware has a hard, somewhat porous body and thin walls. Crushed, finely ground silicon, feldspar, and occasionally kaolin, were added to the clay (Kybalová 1989:13). This paste is basically the same as that used for white salt-glazed stoneware, but is fired at an earthenware temperature, producing a cream-colored body (Noël Hume 1970:123).
Bisque creamware was dusted with lead powder to produce a light transparent lead glaze when fired. The glaze often pooled in crevices, such as footrings or molded design elements, in yellow or greenish yellow shades. Earlier creamware tends to be a deeper yellow than later vessels but this is not an infallible rule and thus not a reliable marker.
The vast majority of early creamware is plain, though often molded or slip-cast. Decorations in color by overglaze painting and overglaze bat transfer printing, often in imitation of Chinese porcelain, were the main decorative techniques used in the mid-18th century. Transfer printed designs were also painted with overglaze enamels. Underglaze painting with cobalt blue became more extensively used after 1780 (Noël Hume 1970; Miller et al. 1994:220-223).
Annular, "dipped", wares are characterized by bands of color and engine turned designs on hollowware forms, mugs, bowls, and pitchers. Applied slip polychrome designs, known as "common cable" and "cat's eye", plus the dendritic mocha or seaweed motif, were popular annular motifs (Miller 1980; Sussman 1997).
Creamware came in all tableware forms, especially tea wares, and including punch pots, bowls, punch bowls, jugs, and tureens. Decorative pieces such as figurines, latticework baskets, and fancy centerpieces, plus toiletry ware (especially chamber pots) were also made.
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