At first glance, this small object appears to be a fairly simple silver teapot. On closer inspection, however, this little teapot reveals its place in a craft history that spans over a thousand years: lusterware pottery. This teapot is not shaped from sterling silver as it appears, but is instead a molded ceramic vessel that has been coated with a “lustre” glaze made from metal oxides to create a shiny silver finish.  The object was created in Staffordshire, England by the pottery company, Fieldings Crown Devon, in the early 20th century although the tradition of lustre glazing dates back much further.
The earliest known examples of lustre appear on ancient Egyptian glassware. The invention of lustre decoration offered an inexpensive alternative to gilded ornamentation . While these early glass pieces date back to the third and fourth centuries, lustre fired earthenware did not make an appearance until the eleventh century in Egypt . Early Egyptian lustreware was very opulent, with a range of colors and motifs including animals and scenes of daily life including fishing in the Nile and working in the fields .
The popularity of lustreware ceramics in Mesopotamia in the 13th century caused many to believe that the technique of lustre firing ceramics originated in Persia. Many of the pieces that survive today have designs and inscriptions that suggest Persian makers, even those objects that were discovered in Egypt . Despite the presence of these apparently Persian ceramics, a traveler’s diary from the 11th century led ceramic scholars to the conclusion that the home of the ornate glazing technique was, in fact, Cairo. Nâsir-i-Khusrau was a well-known Persian traveler and writer visited Old Cairo (then known as Fustât) in 1047 A.D and described his first experience seeing lustre decoration on ceramics. He compared the appearance ornate decoration to a type of Egyptian silk fabric called bukalimun, or “chameleon fabric” which is called that because it “changes every hour of the day” . The fact that a well-traveled Persian writer had never seen lustreware suggests that this technique was not yet practiced by Persian artisans. This account, combined with the presence of a ceramics school in Cairo led scholars to believe that Persian students later traveled the school in Cairo to learn the trade .
From Egypt and Persia, lustreware moved to Spain where it was adopted by the Moors, and Italy, where the technique was further developed by sixteenth century artisan, Maestro Giorgio Andreoli at Gubbio . Giorgio mastered a technique called maiolica, also known as tin-glazed pottery, where he used an extra layer of glaze in order to enrich the colors of a detailed painted scene with red or gold metallic lustre .
All of the potters that had utilized the technique up to this point had used it for ornamentation and not to glaze an object in its entirety. This changed somewhat when lustreware became popular in England during the late 18th century. While the tradition of using lustre techniques to embellish and combine multiple colors and patterns still existed, the British artisans also used it to create faux-silver pieces. Ceramic artisans began using traditional silversmith molds to create objects, specifically teapots and sugar bowls that could be lustre-fired completely to look like silver . The teapot in the Nichols House Museum’s collection falls into that category, having been designed to look like a Georgian period silver teapot.
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Butler, A. J. “The Origin of Lustre Ware.
”The Buckingham Collection of Old English Lustre.” Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago (1907-1951) 16.1 (1922): 2-5. JSTOR. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.
”National Gallery of Art.” Andreoli of Gubbio, Giorgio, Maestro. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.
”The Buckingham Collection of Old English Lustre.”
By Emma Welty, Curatorial and Administrative Specialist