Monday, June 21, 2010
QUESTION: My great aunt gave me a funny little pitcher shaped like a cow. It has no markings on it. Can you tell me anything about it?
ANSWER: What this person has is a cow creamer. Originally made in England, then in Scotland and America, these unique creamers were the pride and joy of many late 18th and early 19th-century English housewives. They kept these spotted bovines sitting on top of their dining room dressers, ready to use on special occasions.
These pottery cow creamers are usually about six inches long and four to five inches high. Housewives would pour fresh cream through a hole in the cow’s back, then seal up the whole with a cover. Unfortunately, many a cow creamer today is missing its cover. The cow’s curved tail served as the handle while its mouth served as the spout.
The first cow creamer came from the Whieldon Pottery, which imitated the silver cow jugs made in 1755 by John Schuppe. The most well-known of these had a mottled brown tortoise shell-type glaze. Others had brown and yellow spots, black with a criscrossed yellow pattern, and even light blue with yellow circles.
It seems every potter added his touch of whimsy. In fact, there are almost as many different decorations as there are creamers.
Staffordshire potters also crafted these unique little jugs, essentially copying from the earlier Whieldon design. None of these have markings on the bottom. The Welsh potters added their own creative touches to their cow creamers. Many decorated them freehand or applied transfer designs of rustic farm scenes. After 1850, the Scots developed a love affair with the cow creamer. Scottish potters experimented with sponged decoration and brightly colored glazes.
After the American Revolution and into the early 19th century, imported English pottery became too expensive, so the United States Pottery in Bennington, Vermont, began making its own version of the cow creamer. Each cow had crescent-shaped nostrils, open eyes, folds in the neck, and visible ribs. I guess the American cows weren’t as well fed as their English, Scottish, and Welsh cousins. After Bennington closed in 1858, its potters sought work at potteries in Ohio, Maryland, and New Jersey, taking their skill at making cow creamers with them.