Antique blue sponge ware bowl.

It’s colorful, a bit primitive and can be expensive. That is a brief description of the pottery known variously as spatterware, stick spatter and sponge pottery. Originally known as “spattering” in 18th-century England, by the mid-19th century it was also made in Scotland, Wales, France and America. Most was made by the English Staffordshire potteries. It was a staple for housewives’ kitchens and dinner tables. They filled their cupboards with it and why not, when a colorful plate cost 9 cents?

It was largely forgotten by the end of the 19th century. It was rediscovered by collectors in the 1960s as part of the collecting craze for anything that resembled Pennsylvania Dutch items. This once-humble pottery, with its hand-painted and spattered or sponge-painted folk motifs, rose in price from a few dollars a plate to $25. These days, depending on the age, rarity and condition, antique examples can range in price from $25 to over $1,000.

Spatter ware, stick spatter ware and sponge spatter ware may be much alike in designs, but there’s a world of difference in designs and prices.

Though spatterware was popular with Pennsylvania housewives, it wasn’t made there.


Antique spatter ware bowl with Adams Rose motif.

The earliest spatter ware was made by dipping a small sponge into a color and dabbing it on the edge or surface of the cup or bowl. This was often used for a design outlined in black. The center of the plate was painted in a crude “folk art” style. Popular subjects varied from birds and schoolhouses to flowers or whatever struck the artists’ fancy.

Less expensive are pieces decorated with stick-spatter. Transfer prints were used either for borders or the center. Small pieces of sponge were then cut into floral, leaf and geometric shapes. Next, they were fastened to the end of a stick and dipped into paint.

“Sponge blue” spatter ware was made in quantity for kitchen storage and utility pieces, around the 1880s, in Ohio and New Jersey. It tends to chip easily. The white earthenware was sponged, usually heavily with a single color or a combination of such colors as blue and green, or blue, tan or brown.

Unlike the other variations of spatter, sponge ware looks as if the design was sponged on.

Like many antique objects, the most popular designs have been reproduced. In the 1940s, teapots, cups and saucer were sold in the dime stores. The famous “Adams rose” made in the early Adams pottery has been reproduced along with the schoolhouse and peafowl designs.

How can you tell if a piece is a reproduction or an antique? As with most antiques, the way it was made offers clues. Early spatter ware pottery and sponge ware was stacked in piles for drying after being decorated and dried. Thin triangular platforms were placed on the bottom of every dish to separate the pieces. This created three, unglazed dots the size of a pinhead on all the flatware pieces. They are called “spur marks.” Another clue would be an incised mark on the bottom showing country of origin. After 1870, pieces for import to America had to show country of origin.


Anne Gilbert is a private consultant doing antiques appraisals for a fee. She can be reached at 1811 Renaissance Commons Blvd., Unit 2310, Boynton Beach, FL 33426.