Assortment of Delft drug jars
Delftware drug jars

Delftware is a generic name for tin-glazed earthenware that was made by Italian immigrants in Antwerp, Belgium as early as 1512, but it wasn’t until after 1540 that delftware manufacture there became a well-established industry. After the mid-17th century, its production spread throughout the Low Countries. It is from the large manufacture town, Delft, in the Netherlands, that the ware type received the name Delft (with a capital D) if made in Holland, or delft (with a lowercase d) if made in England.

In 1567, two Antwerp potters, Jasper Andies and Jacob Jansen, established a pothouse in Norwich, England to make tiles and apothecary (drug) jars. Jansen, with other immigrant potters from the Low Countries, set up an additional pothouse in London in the 1570s which continued until 1615. Traditional Low Country forms and motifs were produced in English delft pothouses until the second quarter of the 17th century. During this period, sources of clays for the fabric and tin for glazing delftware made in the Low Countries and England were often the same. Thus, it is difficult to identify the manufacture location of delftware dating to this period. For this reason, this ware type from James Fort archaeological contexts is referred to as Anglo-Netherlandish delftware.


Fabric: The fabric of the early 17th century Anglo-Nederlandish delftware from James Fort is soft, chalky, and porous. The fired clay varies from buff to light salmon-pink and dark salmon-pink. The fabric contains numerous quartz sand and red to black hematite inclusions, which are sometimes quite large. A blend of buff and iron-stained red clays is visible in some vessels, and in section and on unglazed surfaces resembles agateware.

Glaze: Apothecary jars from James Fort are covered with a thick, sometimes bubbly, lead glaze containing tin and cobalt oxides that appear grayish- blue flecked with small dark blue spots. Glaze covers the jars except for the base exteriors, and is thin and spotty on the rims. 

From a c. 1608-1610 James Fort context, the flanged rim dish described above is covered with a thick lead glaze containing tin except on the base of the footring.  The interior glaze is thick and smooth, and appears pale grayish-white. Less tin was added to the exterior glaze, and it is rough and appears a dark grayish-white.

Decoration: Drug jars are hand painted on the exterior in cobalt blue with simple motifs that sometimes include the addition of manganese purple, iron orange, and antimony yellow. Decorations generally include multiple cobalt blue horizontal lines below the rim and above the base. Although mid-girth designs are generally simple and contain hastily painted motifs such as chevrons, Xs, and graduated lines, a few include more well executed floral swags.

The c. 1608-1610 James Fort dish is decorated on the interior surface with cobalt blue concentric circles below the rim and encircling the base. Iron orange concentric circles encircle the central base, as well. The hand painted polychrome marly motif includes arches and leaves in copper green, antimony yellow, and cobalt blue. A cobalt blue and antimony yellow pinwheel flower ornaments the central base.

Form: Apothecary jars are among the most abundant ceramic objects recovered from the early James Fort features. These were shipped with the colonists in large numbers, and were filled with provisions such as medicines, ointments, salves, jellies, and condiments. When empty, their convenient sizes and shapes made them suitable for reuse. Although their heights and widths vary greatly, they are generally cylindrical in form, pinched below the down-tooled rim and above their base. The bases of drug jars are v-tooled on the exterior edge, and are concave on the exterior.

Very few plates or small, shallow dishes have been recovered from James Fort features. These are the type sometimes classified as maiolica because of the low tin oxide content on their exteriors (Black 2001). One example from a c. 1608-1610 feature has an upturned marly which is grooved on the interior just below an out-turned rim. The bouge is almost indiscernible. Applied to the exterior base, the footring was sharply knife trimmed on the bottom and v-tooled on the exterior edge. The footring was perforated for hanging.

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