Pottery. The word "pottery" is derived through the French poterie from the Latin poterium, a cup or drinkiug vessel. This, originally of clay of the simplest form, came to stand for all kinds of vessels made of earthenware. The potter's art is perhaps the oldest in the world. The wonderful series of monuments in Egypt allow of a more or less accurate history of many arts to be written; and from this source it is certain that from 3000 B.C. jars for milk and wine, and pans and bowls for domestic use, were in common use in that country. As to how long before this date, and how far back into prehistoric times, pottery was made, it is impossible, in the present state of our knowledge, to make any useful guess. The earliest potter's vessel was made of clay, roughly moulded or modelled into its shape, whether globular or elongated, by the hand of the worker, which, guided by his eye, served to make some very symmetrical vases, such as are now found in the tumuli of the early inhabitants of this country. At first these were simply sun-dried or air-dried, and were naturally very friable and useless for service as containers of anything but corn, seeds, or similar substances. It was, however, very early in the history of our civilisation that man found that fire had the effect of hardening the crumbling clay, and from that time the potter's work was fired, and his art became a permanent record of civilisation. For many centuries in every country these simply-baked pots were all that were known, and various expedients were used to prevent the loss of the liquid, by reason of their porosity, they were required to hold; and coatings of wax or pitch were applied to their internal surfaces to render them more or less watertight. This was done to those vessels of the Greeks and Romans that were destined to contain water or wine or oil, and, Indeed, is used to this day in many Mediterranean countries.
Certain finer wares were, however, exceptions to this rule. They were more or less impervious from the fineness and closeness of the texture of which they were made, rather than from the application of a glaze such as we are accustomed to see. Nevertheless, true glass glazes and true enamels were known in Egypt and Assyria in very early times, and doubtless the necessity for rendering the ordinary baked vessel capable of holding liquids led to the early application of either glaze or enamel to the ware to bring about this end. The early Greek and Etruscan pottery show not only a rudimentary glaze, but, what is more interesting, show that by the application of outlines and painting to their vases - by which they have transmitted to us a storehouse of facts, traditions, myths, and folklore - they have produced vessels that are now valued as the highest efforts of the potter's art.
The invention of the potter's wheel or lathe, laid horizontally and revolving on a central axis and pivot, on which the clay sas "thrown," and to which it adhered sufficiently firmly to allow it to be accurately shaped, was a wonderful advance; for, as the wheel spun round, all possible combinations of spherical and cylindrical forms, of even thickness and of perfect symmetry, could be produced with great speed. It is remarkable that no instance of Greek work has been found that has not been "thrown" on the wheel or moulded, though this latter method of production is only found on the latest wares.
Pottery may be divided into certain large sections, such as glazed and unglazed. The unglazed ware may be of hard or soft body. A soft body is one that can be scratched with a knife. The glazed wares, again, can be divided into those which are glazed with glass glaze, with lead glaze, or with salt glaze. A further subdivision may be made of those wares which are coated with enamel.
The ordinary potter's vessel is made of any suitable clay, and, after being fired in a kiln to render it capable of being handled and to render it hard and compact, it is dipped into a mixture of powdered glass and water (the constituents of which are siliceous sand and soda) and fired again to fuse this opaque-looking powder into a clear transparent skin or glaze. It is obvious that the original colour of the baked clay is seen through this glassy coating. The addition of lead to this powdered glaze and water gave a material that was more easily fused and not less transparent, but from this cause it still allowed the colour of the body of the pot to show through its clear substance. The opportunity to use colour was slight, and efforts were made to find a surface suitable to take simple colours. A very obvious means to obtain this was to coat the common body with a layer of white clay, such as pipe-clay, and, after firing, paint on this as on plaster or paper, and then glaze on it over the coloured pattern upon its surface. After firing, this pattern became embedded in the glaze of the surface of the pot.
Working in the same direction, it was found that the addition of the oxide of tin gave to the glaze a perfectly smooth, flowing, glossy, but opaque white surface, which covered all the roughnesses and inequalities of the body, whether of colour or texture. It was further found that various metallic colours conld be applied to this surface before firing, which became embedded into it after the whole had been fused in the kiln. This method of treating ware prevailed from the 15th century without interruption until the introduction of porcelain from China drove it out of use, the newer material having a far finer surface on a far harder and whiter body.
Another method of glazing ware, which was also without doubt discovered many centuries before pottery, was wanted for anything but the most strictly utilitarian uses, was that of salt glazing. The material to which this method is applied must be of extremely hard body, as it is necessary that it shall be at a white heat before the salt is applied. This substance is thrown into the kiln on to and among the pieces of ware, and is decomposed by the intense heat. Its soda is volatilised, and seizes on the surface of the ware (in which a certain amount of flinty clay is present), and combines with the ware itself in the form of pure flint-soda glass, absolutely adherent as a portion of the pot is dissolved to make it. Of this ware the most recent development is that known as Doulton ware, and before modern times a very artistic ware made on the Rhine known as Gres de Flandres, or Steingut of the Germans. It is called stoneware by all English writers.
As regards the other methods, that described as tin enamel is characteristic of the wares of Italy, Spain, and Sicily since the beginning of the 15th century, and is perhaps the most artistic pottery ever produced. It had in Italy the services of designers of the first rank, and is sometimes called Raphael ware from a doubtful tradition that that great painter designed for the master-potters of this ware. It is also the covering of the beautiful Hispano-Moorish wares of the later time of the Moorish artists, who were probably the introducers of this manufacture into Sicily and Italy. Both Spanish and Italian "majolica," as it is called, was decorated as to its surface with "lustre," an effect produced by the reduction by heat of a film of metal from certain metallic salts which, in their reduced state, reflect light with ruby, green, purple; and other tints. The knowledge of this property of metal, however, preceded the introduction of the enamel ware. The common pottery of many Continental countries is to this day covered with this tin enamel; and it formed the basis of the ware known as Delft, which was produced in Holland in enormous quantities and exported for use in England very largely in the 17th and 18th centuries. Dutch potters introduced this manufacture into Lambeth, where it continued to be made until within living memory. It was superseded by the cheaper and better earthenware of Staffordshire.
The method of laying a coating of white pipe-clay on to a common body was the ordinary one of decorating tiles and other pottery ware all through the Middle Ages in this and other European countries. It was an obvious thing to scratch away and remove parts of this coating to show in contrast to it the ordinary body of the ware; but the great artistic ware made by this method is the Persian or Rhodian ware. The same method also exists to this day in India and other parts of the East, especially in Scinde, and has been the one used in many modern revivals of artistic ware in England, France, and India.
The lead-glazed wares have been for many centuries the most commonly used of all the various methods of production, and still are the most widely produced of any. These wares were probably the only ones known in Europe until the discovery of tin enamel in the 15th century. Specimens of lead-glazed ware have been found in Assyria and Egypt, though it is probable that in these cases the lead was used as a flux for certain colours. Ancient examples are found in southern Italy, in Pompeii, and other places, and exist to this day in the common as well as in the better wares of Staffordshire. A simple example of this method is an ordinary bread-pan. Henri Deux ware of the 16th century is probably the highest example, and this ware has commanded a higher price than any other.
Of unglazed pottery there is an absolutely unbroken tradition of manufacture from prehistoric times to the flower-pot made to-day. It has subserved the humblest uses, and has also embodied the loftiest ideals of beauty the human mind has reached in the best types of Greek pottery. Porcelain is a Chinese invention of very great antiquity, and is characterised by an intensely semi-vitreous body, and is glazed by a very hard preparation, and is unlike any of the above-mentioned wares. After its general introduction by the Dutch in the 17th century, it was extensively imitated in Europe, and by its beautiful surface and glaze and imperviousness drove out the more artistic tin enamel and Delft wares from household use. The effort to imitate cheaply this beautiful porcelain body led to the invention of our ordinary every-day table ware, which by its cleanliness has superseded the wooden platter and the pewter or Delft plate of the last century, and is one of the most ordinary necessities of our daily life.