Types of Pottery Every Collector Should Know - Thomaston Auction
New England’s Trusted Auction & Appraisal Professionals.
51 Atlantic Hwy
Thomaston, ME 04861
207-354-8141 • 800-924-1032

August 1, 2023

Types of Pottery Every Collector Should Know

Pottery is a timeless collectible and art form that has continuously prospered since the dawn of human civilization. It comes as no surprise that it still holds an iron grip in the art market, let alone within antique dealerships and auction galleries like ours.

If you’re starting to get into collecting, making, or learning more about pottery, we can provide a list of our most popular forms of pottery that we see come through our gallery.


Wedgwood is an English fine china and porcelain created by Josiah Wedgwood and Sons in 1895. Its rapid success made it one of the largest manufacturers of Staffordshire pottery.

Many collectors would know Wedgwood just by looking at it, especially with its iconic Jasperware, which has an unglazed exterior and often displays Roman or Greek classical figures.

A great example of Wedgwood is this 19th c. Blue Jasperware Portland Vase with Classical figures, which sold in our March 2019 auction for $1,930.


Rookwood stems from the American company, Rookwood Pottery.

During its popular years, it was a recognized manufacturer of decorative American art pottery and sought after by not just artisans but architects as well. The company was hit hard by the Great Depression and rapidly declined. It has since seen a resurgence in collector admiration in recent years.

A fine example would be this Vellum Glaze Vase decorated by A.R. Valentien, which sold in our August 2013 feature auction for $26,267.


Earthenware is made from clay that is fired at a relatively low temperature. It's one of the oldest and most common types of pottery found around the world. The clay used for earthenware is usually red or brown.

Earthenware has a porous structure, meaning it has tiny holes that can absorb water. This makes it less watertight compared to other types of pottery.

To make it more waterproof, a layer of glaze can be applied to the surface before the final firing. The glaze is a special liquid that, when fired, forms a glassy coating on the pottery, sealing the pores and making it more suitable for holding liquids.

A fine example would be this 16th-17th c Tin-Glazed Earthenware Bracket, which sold in our January 2012 auction for $2,300.


Mochaware originated in the late 18th century and is known for its distinctive swirled or marbled patterns. The name "mochaware" comes from the word "mocha," which refers to the port in Yemen where the pottery was believed to have been traded.

Creating mochaware involves a unique technique called "mocha diffusion." To begin, a potter starts with a vessel made of earthenware clay, such as a bowl or a mug. The potter then applies different colors of liquid clay, called slip, onto the surface of the vessel.

Using a tool, the potter drags or swirls the slip on the surface, creating the characteristic patterns. The slip colors can be layered, allowing the potter to create intricate designs.

After the slip decoration is complete, the pottery is fired at a relatively low temperature. The firing process causes the clay to harden and the slip to fuse with the vessel, creating a durable and decorative piece of pottery.

Mochaware was especially popular during the late 18th and early 19th centuries in England and the U.S. It was often used as tableware and prized for its visually appealing patterns.

Today, antique mochaware is highly sought after by collectors, and contemporary potters continue to create modern interpretations of this distinctive style.

A great example would be this Earthworm Pattern Bowl, which sold in our July 2023 feature auction for $700.


Spongeware gets its name from the technique used to create its pattern. The pattern resembles a sponge texture by applying paint or glaze using a sponge-like tool.

After the application of the sponged pattern, the pottery is fired in a kiln, which hardens the clay and sets the glaze or paint. This firing process gives the pottery its durability and makes it safe for use.

Spongeware is known for its rustic appearance. The technique allows for endless possibilities in terms of color combinations and patterns, making each piece unique.

Spongeware has a long history, dating back to the 18th century, and has been popular in different parts of the world. It continues to be appreciated today for its nostalgic aesthetic, adding a touch of character to any setting.

A great example would be this lot of 19th c. Stoneware Lemonade Pitchers, which sold in our August 2013 feature auction for $2,170.


Agateware is known for its marbled patterns, similar to the natural patterns found in agate stones. It is created by combining different colored clays or clay bodies together, resulting in a unique and eye-catching appearance.

Potters start with two or more clay bodies of different colors. These clay bodies can be natural or clay mixed with pigments. The clays are kneaded together to create a uniform consistency.

The potter then shapes them into various forms. The potter can choose to layer the clays, stack them, or swirl them together to create the desired pattern.

After shaping the clay, the pottery is typically left to dry to a leather-hard state. At this stage, the potter can refine the form and add any additional details or textures.

Finally, the agateware is fired. The firing process vitrifies the clay, transforming it into a durable material. The temperature and duration of the firing depend on the specific type of clay used.

Agateware has been practiced by various cultures throughout history. It continues to be appreciated for its striking appearance.

A fine example would be this Large Deep Fruit Bowl which sold in our February 2019 feature auction for $250.


Staffordshire refers to a type of ceramic ware that originated in England. It became popular during the 18th and 19th centuries, and played a significant role in the development of the ceramics industry.

Staffordshire encompasses a wide range of products, including dinnerware, figurines, decorative items, and tiles. These items were made using different types of clay, such as earthenware or porcelain, and were often decorated with colorful glazes or painted designs.

One of the most notable aspects is the production of Staffordshire  figurines, often referred to as Staffordshire figures or dogs. These figurines depicted animals, historical figures, or scenes from everyday life. They were mass-produced and affordable, making them popular for middle-class households.

Staffordshire also played a significant role in the development of transfer printing, a technique that allowed intricate designs to be applied to ceramics using engraved copper plates. This method revolutionized the ceramics industry, enabling the mass production of highly detailed and affordable wares.

The popularity of Staffordshire extended beyond England, with its products being exported worldwide. The ceramics from Staffordshire became a prominent feature in many households, contributing to the cultural and artistic heritage of the region. Today, Staffordshire is highly collectible, and antique pieces can be found in museums and private collections.

A great example would be this lot of five hand painted Staffordshire hens on baskets, which sold in our August 2010 feature auction for $2,500.


Blackware is known for, as its name states, its rich black color. (Same goes for similar colors like yellowware, redware, etc.)

It is created using a specific firing technique that involves restricting the oxygen supply during the firing process. This lack of oxygen causes the clay to turn black instead of a natural color.

To make blackware pottery, a potter starts with clay that has a high iron content. The clay is shaped into the desired form, such as a bowl or a vase. The pottery is then dried completely before it is placed in a kiln.

While firing, the potter controls the oxygen supply to the kiln. By reducing the amount of oxygen, the clay is prevented from fully oxidizing, resulting in a blackened color.

Blackware has a long history and has been created by different cultures throughout time. It is associated with various indigenous regions, including Southwest Native Americans from the U.S. and pre-Columbian tribes from Mesoamerica. It is often appreciated for its elegance and versatility, and blackware pieces can be found in both functional and decorative forms.

A great example would be this San Idelfonso Blackware Bowl by Maria Martinez & Popovi Da, which sold in a June 2013 auction for $2,100.


Spatterware is known for its colorful and speckled appearance. It gets its name from the splattering technique used to create its distinctive patterns.

The potter, once done crafting and glazing their piece, takes another glaze color and flicks it onto the surface of the pottery using a brush or sponge. This process creates tiny specks or splatters of color that scatter across the base glaze. Once the pattern is finished, the pottery is then fired.

Spatterware has a playful aesthetic, reminiscent of confetti or paint splatters. It can be found in a variety of forms, from tableware like plates and mugs to decorative items like vases and jars. It is often celebrated for its lively and whimsical appearance, adding a touch of fun and color to any setting.

A fine example would be this 19th c. Soft Paste set, which sold in our August 2013 feature auction for $805.


Basalt pottery is made from a type of volcanic rock, called basalt. Basalt is dark-colored, dense, and hard, which forms from the solidification of lava flows. When used in pottery, it creates durable ceramics.

To make basalt pottery, a potter starts by obtaining basalt rocks and grinding them into a powder. The powder is then mixed with water to form a clay-like consistency.

The firing process transforms the basalt clay into a vitrified, or glass-like, material. It strengthens the pottery, making it resistant to heat and provides durability.

Basalt often retains the natural dark color of the basalt rock, giving it a sleek and elegant appearance.

Basalt is appreciated for its unique aesthetic and the striking contrast it can create when paired with other materials or colors. It is commonly used for decorative purposes. The use of basalt in pottery adds a touch of nature and strength to ceramic creations.

A great example would be this set of three Greek vases, which sold in a February 2013 feature auction for $6,641.

Obviously, this is just a smidgen of what kinds of ceramic and pottery creations you can discover at any auction gallery, but certainly these are bidder favorites! Which are you most interested in?

Would you like to see a similar blog post on antique collectible glassware or woodwork? Let us know!

All Posts
Kaja Veilleux, ME AUC902
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram