Pottery Cup

Late 16th Century Pottery Cup

by Lady Amie Sparrow
Kingdom Arts & Sciences Festival
Persona Pentathlon Competition
March 7, 2009

Object Description
This object is a reproduction late 16th century pottery cup. The owner’s persona is a working-class Elizabethan woman who has an embroidery business and lives in London.

Extant Cups
There are countless mugs available in museum collections of London. The smaller “cup” is somewhat more rare. The examples that I tried to imitate are shown below.

“In the 16th century, the most common pottery was still earthenware. This was generally clear or brown-glazed redware in East Anglia, whilst other regions such as the north-west and the south produced yellow and green-glazed whitewares.” (http://www.spoilheap.co.uk/medpoti.htm#medp)

This is borne out in the examples above, the first being a redware cup with a clear glaze (which is the glaze that I tried to reproduce), and the second and third examples being covered in a yellow glaze.

Materials & Firing
I used commercially available Virginia red clay from my local pottery shop. The glaze is a commercially available glaze. The cup was fired in the shop’s professional electric kiln.

The cup was formed on an wheel surrounded by a plastic tray – although I still needed to wear an apron. I took a lump of clay, threw it into the center of my wheel and turned the on. I centered the clay and opened the middle of the lump with my thumbs. From there, I thinned the walls of the cup and then removed it from the wheel to add the handle.

After the cup was left to dry under a piece of plastic for a week. The plastic ensures that the cup dries slowly and does not crack. When the cup was leather hard, I glazed it and left it to dry before firing.

My method differs from the historic method because my wheel is electric and it also has a tray. Traditional wheels had no electricity and no tray. Also, my bench was low and I formed my cup in a bent over the wheel position whereas 16th century wheels where bench-high turntables as shown below, left. The turntable was kicked to speed using a flywheel.

From the Eastern Mediterranean world into Europe the potters wheel developed into a bench high turntable with a large heavy flywheel at foot level, as illustrated in a book on pottery making techniques from 16th century Italy.” (Bryant, Victor. The Origins of the Potter’s Wheel. Ceramics Today. 1994. http://www.ceramicstoday.com/articles/potters_wheel2.htm)

The Learning Process
Creating this cup took 8 weeks of attempts. It is easier to make a bigger cup than it is to make a smaller one. A smaller cup is more delicate and requires a greater amount of control, especially with curved sides. The photo on the next page shows the progression of cups that I made before I was able to turn out the cup on the front cover of this documentation.

Historic Context
The potter’s wheel has been around since about 2500 BC. However, since my persona would have bought a piece of pottery made in the 16th century, it seems more appropriate to show evidence of a potter’s wheel during that era.

It is important to note that there is evidence at the Longmarket excavation of pre-16th century trade pottery including pots from Germany, North France, Saintonge, Spain, North Africa and the Middle East. (Macpherson-Grant, Nigel. Longmarket Pottery http://www.hillside.co.uk/arch/longmarket/pottery.html) In this 16th century, there was an increase in the amount of pottery drinking vessels available and they were often imported German stoneware but also glazed earthenwares. (http://www.spoilheap.co.uk/medpoti.htm#medp)
For some historic images, see these listed at http://www.larsdatter.com:

  1. Karkinos, father of Agathocles, De casibus (BNF Fr. 235, fol. 158v), first half of the 15th century
  2. A card from a deck of playing-cards (“Hof�mterspiel”), c. 1455
  3. Chants royaux sur la conception, France (Paris), 1500
  4. Paris, BnF, departement des Manuscrits, Francais 1537, fol. 100
  5. The Potter, Das St�ndebuch, 1568


  1. Bryant, Victor. The Origins of the Potter’s Wheel. Ceramics Today. 1994.
  2. http://www.ceramicstoday.com/articles/potters_wheel2.htm
  3. Macpherson-Grant, Nigel. Longmarket Pottery http://www.hillside.co.uk/arch/longmarket/pottery.html


  1. http://www.ashmolean.org/PotWeb/PotChron5-06.html, 16th century ceramics.
  2. http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/ceramics/pages/subcategory.asp?subcat_id=706&subcat_name=Surrey%2FHampshire+border+ware
  3. http://www.hillside.co.uk/arch/longmarket/pottery91.html
  4. http://www.hillside.co.uk/arch/longmarket/pottery.html
  5. http://www.spoilheap.co.uk/medpoti.htm#medp

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