What is Spatterware?

Spatter Decorated Pottery Sometimes Referenced as Spongeware

Five-Color Spatterware Pitcher and Bowl Set
Five-Color Spatterware Pitcher and Bowl Set, ca. early 1800s, sold for $19,200 (plus buyer's premium) in June, 2012. Morphy Auctions

Spatterware is a rather broad term for pottery with colors that look as if they were spattered or sponged onto the surface. This type of pottery was crafted in England beginning around 1780, and is usually called spongeware in European circles.

The base of these pieces is most often made from common earthenware, although creamware was used in some cases, according to Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles.

Stoneware crockery with a similar look is sometimes called spatterware by collectors and dealers, so don’t be confused by this similarity in terms when researching your pieces. Make sure that what you have is true spatterware to assess the value correctly.

Spatterware made in the Staffordshire district of England was being imported to the United States in the early 1800s, reaching its peak from about 1810 to 1840. As popularity grew, American potters began decorating in this style as well to meet demand. Some of the potteries that made spatterware were Harvey and Cotton, Adams, and Barlow, although pieces marked by the manufacturer are considered to be hard to come by.

Spatterware Patterns and Colors

Some pieces only have spatter decoration on the borders with other patterns in the centers or on the sides, while others have the pattern covering the whole surface. Considering that it took several hundred brush touches per square inch to get the look just right, according to Warman’s, this type of pottery was very labor intensive to decorate.

Spatterware collectors focus on finding these various patterns, among others: Castle, Fort, Peafowl, Rainbow, Rooster, Rose, Thistle, and Schoolhouse. 

The quality of the décor and rarity of the pattern drive the valuation of these pieces. The same basic patterns were repeated on pieces made by various potters, so some are more skillfully decorated than others.

The color used for the actual spatter decoration also plays a part in pricing them.

Red and blue spatterware are the most commonly found colors. Brown, green, and purple are mid-range in value. Hard to find colors include black and yellow, and those can be pricey. Sometimes a common color will be decorated with a rare pattern or vice versa, and that also contributes to the overall price. Multicolor pieces in pleasing combinations are perhaps the most valuable. Learn more below about a rare five-color spatterware pitcher and bowl set that sold for more than $19,000.

Not all spatterware is as old as the early English and American pieces mentioned above. Boleslaw Cybis of Poland made a peafowl design with an older look about it during the 1940s, and spatterware patterns are known to have been produced on earthenware even more recently. Take care when evaluating your spatterware pieces, and ask the advice of a more experienced collector or dealer if you're not sure what you have.

The Most Coveted Examples Bring Big Bucks

Today collectors will pay good sums to own old pieces of spatterware. Most, however, come nowhere near the hammer price realized for the pitcher and bowl set shown above.

This particular spatterware pitcher and wash bowl was imported from England for the American market in the first quarter of the 19th century. It is only one of six sets known in existence, according to Morphy Auctions, when the set sold in June of 2012. The use of five colors in the design sets it apart from other similar spatterware sets available in the secondary antiques marketplace. Most others have one color, or maybe two, and only a few specific colors are considered to be rare, as noted above. 

In spite of some condition issues including glaze loss to the base of the pitcher and a rim chip on the base of the 12 ¼" diameter wash bowl, this is an attractive set for the advanced collector. The lucky bidder who now owns these pieces paid $19,200 (plus buyer's premium) to acquire them at auction.

This selling price handily exceeded the pre-auction estimate of $12,000-16,000.