Slipware is earthenware pottery that has been decorated with a mixture of clay suspended in water, known as slip, with a glaze applied on top, which is normally lead based. Slipware is typically functional, with dinnerware being an especially popular use, while still being decorative as well. Slip is able to create a stronger bond with the glaze than earthenware on its own. Generally it is created by dipping earthenware into pale slip before trailing other colourful slip on top in complicated patterns. While slipware has been around for a long time and has even been documented as being used by some prehistoric cultures, it was very popular in Britain in the seventeenth and eighteenth -century. Slipware is often described as “rustic” and typically has bold designs with earthy colours.
Some of the best examples of English slipware were created in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. At the time there were many notable potters making slipware. Some of the best known are Henry Ilfield and George Richardson who made their pottery in Wrotham, Kent. A specialty of potters from Wrotham at the time was slipware drinking cups with multiple handles. Potters in the area would often leave their initials on their pieces, making them identifiable today. During this time lots of slipware also came from Staffordshire, with ornamental dishes from the area often called Toft ware, referring to the Toft family who made a lot of the pottery in the area. Thomas Toft is the most well-known of the family and Toft slipware is often identifiable by its frequent use of mermaids and unicorns, as well as coats of arms.
Many collectors of slipware find it especially pleasing due to the high level of skill necessary to make the intricate designs. Slip has a very short working time and must be stirred constantly to keep the clay in suspension. As slip hardens almost immediately upon being put on a dry surface, mistakes are often left in designs, adding to the uniqueness of a piece of slipware for collectors. Some slipware also uses the sgraffito method, where slip is scratched off to make a design, rather than added on.