Earthenware is the general term for pottery that is not porcelain or some other specific types such as fritware or stoneware. It is, or can be, fired at relatively low temperatures and vitrification does not take place, leaving the body (if not glazed) slightly porous. Until porcelain became very widely used in the modern period, the great majority of pottery from the earliest times onwards was of types classed as earthenware. Pit fired earthenware dates back to as early as 29,000–25,000 BCE. Porcelain only began to be manufactured outside East Asia in the 18th-century, and then as an expensive luxury. Unlike porcelain earthenware is not translucent, and it is normally relatively thick and so heavy. It is far easier to make than porcelain, as a wide range of clays can be used, and it is much more tolerant of low and variable firing temperatures. Most modern craft and amateur pottery is earthenware.
After firing the body is porous and opaque, and depending on the raw materials used will be colored from white to buff to red. Earthenware articles may sometimes be as thin as bone china and other porcelains, though they are not translucent and are more easily chipped. Earthenware is also less strong, less tough and more porous than stoneware, but is less expensive and easier to work. Due to its higher porosity, it must usually be glazed in order to be watertight. Any body (i.e. the mixed raw materials) that is suitable for porcelain or stoneware will produce earthenware if fired at a lower temperature.
Types of earthenware
There are several types of earthenware, including
- Tin-glazed pottery
- Victorian majolica
- Ironstone ware
Modern studio earthenware is commonly biscuit (or "bisque") fired to temperatures between 1000 and 1150 °C (1800 and 2100 °F), and glost-fired (or "glaze-fired") from 950 to 1,050 °C (1,740 to 1,920 °F). However, the reverse — low biscuit and high glost firing — can sometimes be found: this can be popular with some studio potters where biscuit temperatures may be 900 to 1,050 °C (1,650 to 1,920 °F) with glost temperatures around 1,040 to 1,150 °C (1,900 to 2,100 °F). The exact temperature will be influenced by the raw materials used and the desired characteristics of the finished ware. Higher firing temperatures are likely to cause earthenware to bloat.
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- Tin-glazed earthenware livery-button, ca 1651, Victoria & Albert museum jewellery collection