Dipped wares were the cheapest decorated hollow wares available on the market in the late 18th and 19th centuries, according to ceramics scholar George L. Miller (Miller 1991). At the inception of dipped wares’ production in the 1780s, these pieces cost 60% more than undecorated wares (likely due to novelty and a nebulous manufacturing process). By the mid-19th century, however, prices dropped to only 8% more than their plain counterparts. Dipped wares were often used in bars, where the rate of breakage was likely quite high, and a diminished supply could be restocked rather inexpensively. Indeed, dipped wares are prevalent today mainly as pottery sherds in archaeological excavations; complete vessels are difficult to find because they were often broken and disposed of as a result of their being so inexpensive.
Though dipped wares were produced and sold cheaply, they are emblematic of a combination of unique artistry and a meticulously developed manufacturing process. The aesthetic balances randomness and order. Dipped wares were developed and produced in Staffordshire, England in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, a period which saw a decrease in agrarian-based economies and an increase in urbanization that led to the rise of factories and mass-production. Creation processes previously undertaken by artists and craftsmen passed to factory workers, who worked to turn out hundreds of pieces daily to supply market demands. Dipped wares represent this transition: a melding of Industrial Revolution mechanization and the previous generation of pure craftsmanship.
A mechanized element of this bowl can be seen in the engine-turned rouletted band of green chevrons around the rim. Engine-turning, which can be found on pottery as early as the 1770s, was a process that was used to create complex and exact geometric designs. Another Industrial Revolution manufacturing process exemplified by this bowl was the use of molds to reproduce vessel sizes and shapes in large quantities.
After the vessels were formed and dried, an artist would apply the unique designs. The cable pattern on this bowl was created using a multi-chambered pot. The potter filled each chamber with a different colored slip, then poured the mixture directly on the vessel to create the desired design. Artists used the multi-chambered slip pot to create cable designs, such as the one on our bowl, and the so-called “cat’s eye” design, which featured just a single drop of the slip mixture rather than one continuous cable. The overall look was controlled by the artist to a point, however the finished design was subject to the interaction of the different slips.
Dipped wares were sort of the “everyman’s” ceramic, but their global impact cannot be underestimated. Exported in great numbers to the United States, dipped pottery inspired American artisans to produce their own pieces. As aforementioned, dipped ware sherds are abundant in archaeological excavations in the States. Dipped wares exhibit new artistic innovations and ways of manufacturing as well as the impact of trade and global inspiration.