A Look at Ceramic Sherds

The other day I saw this really cool post on one of the forums. The person was digging at a site and uncovered over 50 broken ceramic pieces. They collected all the sherds, brought them home, and pieced them back together. Something I honestly would never have the patience to do myself. From all the ceramic sherds they were able to reconstruct what was once a dinner plate or platter that was manufactured sometime between 1780-1840. They found probably close to ninety percent of the plate. I find it sort of remarkable that they were able to piece it all back together. I imagine it's kind of like putting together a puzzle without all the right pieces. The pictures below are from the post I found so inspiring. The ceramic sherds were found by Larry Cissna. The plate he reconstructed from all the broken sherds he discovered is a pearlware dish with a blue shell edge design.

As I enter into my eleventh year in this hobby I realize that I may have become slightly jaded in regards to what I consider good finds for myself to be. In the very beginning, when I first started detecting, I was excited by nearly every piece of history that I dug. Every piece, the thousands of spoons, the ugly horse tack buckles, the hem weights, the crushed thimbles, the annoying ox knobs, even the boring old flat buttons with no designs. I'm not sure when things changed exactly. I don't think it was something that happened overnight. It was probably more of a gradual thing, but all of the everyday, extremely common finds, such as ceramic sherds, completely lost their appeal. Maybe it's because they are such a common item to find. There are just so many broken pieces out there. You can literally find thousands of ceramic sherds at any old site. Or maybe it's just that after you've been metal detecting for a while you realize where your passion really lies. Whatever the reasons may be, I've decided to make more of a conscious effort to try and appreciate the unnoteworthy, lesser liked artifacts again too. The run of the mill, garden variety relics that we seem to dig up all the time. They all once served a purpose and they provide us with information about the past. While these items are not always all that thrilling to discover, I can still find great value in the information we can learn from them. So recently, I have begun to collect and save the ceramic sherds with various different designs that I find when I'm out digging. Now I know that they are essentially worthless in value. With that being said though, there is quite a bit of valuable information one can learn from these broken shards. Ceramic sherds can provide us with information about the old homesites we detect. They can be a valuable aid in regards to dating the age of a site. Ceramic techniques and fashions have evolved quite a bit over time so it is usually possible to determine the general time frame of when a piece was manufactured. These sherds can provide us with clues about the time period of when the sites were occupied. One can gain a better understanding of when the former settlements were abandoned from examining the different ceramic sherds at that location. They also provide us with strangely intimate glimpse into the life of those who lived there. What dishware did they use? What patterns did they select? Were they simple in design or more complex? In addition to providing us with information about style and fashion, they give us a gander at the economic status of those who once resided at that location. Ceramic sherds on their own can provide us with information about trade and commerce in our region. They also can give us an idea of how technology has changed over time. There's an awful lot we can actually learn from them if we take the time. Below is some information that could be helpful if you are interested in trying to identify and date the age of the ceramic sherds you have found while out metal detecting.

Banded Slip Ware Description: An annular decoration found on creamware, pearlware or whitewater. Decorated with horizontal bands of colored slip applied in varying widths. Those with narrow patterns in earth tone colors are generally older in age. Wider bands and bright colors were introduced later on. Decorative Technique: annular, band Age Range: 1785-1840

Decalcomania or Decal Ware Description: Printed decorative pattern applied over the glaze on English bone china, whiteware, or ironstone. Decorative Technique: Decalcomania Age Range: 1870 to Present

Engine Turned Dipped Decoration Description: These pieces have striking patterns such as complex geometric designs including chevrons, checks, dots, lines, or zigzags. Decorative Technique: Turned or rouletted patterns Age Range: 1770- late 1800's

Flow Blue Decoration Description: A refined earthenware, sometimes porcelain. A purposely blurred transfer printing technique was used to make the design. Decorative Technique: Transfer printing Age Range: 1820-1900

Hand Painted Enameled Pearlware Description: A refined lead glazed earthenware with a hard fired surface. Hand painting was done over the glaze. Decorative Technique: Painted, over freehand Age Range: 1795-1820

Hand Painted Whiteware Description: A thin, hard, compact refined earthenware with a clear lead glaze. White to off white in color. Hand painting was done over the glaze. Decorative Technique: Painted, over freehand Age Range: 1813-1900

Luster Decoration Description: Typically found on pearlware or whiteware. A metallic decoration produced by the reaction of gold or platinum based paint with a glaze. Decorative Technique: Luster Age Range: 1790-1860

Mocha Decoration Description: A type of dipped ware. These pieces are decorated with tree like or dendritic patterns. Decorative Technique: dendritic or tree or branch like decoration Age Range: 1780's - 1860's

Polychrome Description: This decorative style applies to hand painted decorations that includes multiple colors. Those with warm hues including slightly yellowish green, olive, caramel or mustard yellow, deep yellow, brown, and blue are commonly on creamware or pearlware and older in age. A cooler color palette of greens, magenta, and light blues can be found on whiteware and are not as old in age. Decorative Technique: Botanical elements and bands Age Range: 1795-1920

Spongeware Decoration on Whiteware Description: Whiteware is a thin, hard, compact refined earthenware. Color is applied using sponges, brushes, or pieces of cloth. Technique is sometime used in combination with hand painting Decorative Technique: sponge or spatter Age Range: 1830-1860

Shell Edge Ware Design on Pearlware Description: Pearlware is a thin, hard, compact refined earthenware. It's clear lead glaze has a blue tint. Edge rim decoration is primarily blue, green, or red in color Decorative Technique: Edge decoration Age Range: 1780-1840

Transfer Print Decoration on Creamware Description: Creamware is a thin, compact refined earthenware white to light cream in color. Different designs printed and transferred on to creamware. Decorative Technique: Transfer printed under glaze Age Range: 1770-1815

Transfer Print Decoration on Whiteware Description: Whiteware is a thin, hard, compact refined earthenware. Different designs printed and transferred on to whiteware. Decorative Technique: Transfer printed under glaze Age Range: 1830 to Present

Variegated Surface Design Description: Some of the earliest dipped wares were decorated using this technique. Different colors run and swirl against one another to make a fine grained, granite like design. Decorative Technique: Dipped Swirls Age Range: Late 18th Century- Early 19th Century

White Salt Glazed Molded Designs Description: White colored stoneware with molded rims. Designs composed of adjacent patterned panels. Some common molded designs are basket weave, dots, and plume feathers. Decorative Technique: Molded Age Range: 1740-1805

Yellowware Description: A refined earthenware where the body turned yellow due to impurities in the clay. Is made with clear alkaline glaze Decorative Technique: Banded designs, mocha decoration, pressed or molded scenes and floral decorations. Age Range: 1820's-1900

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this blog article. I realize that ceramic sherds are generally overlooked by most treasure hunters, left behind or discarded as trash by many. I don't imagine that outlook is likely to ever change. Personally, after having taken the time to learn more about ceramic sherds I can say that I have developed a true appreciation for them and the information they provide us with. I hope you have a great week. Happy Hunting!

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