Spongeware used to be considered cheap and cheerful and, especially in the 19th century some potteries did not want it known that they were producing anything so common. Spongeware was often a lifesaver when the potteries were short of orders and this filled the gap nicely. It became somewhat of a cottage industry carried out by women and children working at the kitchen table. They would pick up the blanks from the pottery and once the sponging was complete they would return the pieces to the pottery for the second firing.
Key potteries making spongeware included Llanelly in South Wales and David Methwen & Sons in Kircaldy in Scotland, as will as George Jones and WM Adams & Co in England. The large majority of the pieces were not marked and therefore quite difficult to identify. Because it was cheap to buy it would be in everyday use in the home and it is therefore quite hard to find pieces without damage. Spongeware would have been used in farmhouses to serve porridge and soup and was often kept on the stove meaning that scorch marks and blackening was not unusual.
Comprehensive collections are rare and even the Victoria and Albert Museum in London has only a small selection of the more refined mid 18th century Staffordshire creamware on show.
There is currently a renewed interest in collecting Spongeware and it is becoming much more difficult to find. Twenty years ago you would have found some at most auctions and antique fairs but it is now much harder to find and, consequently, the prices have gone up. You would expect to pay around £40 now for a mug or small bowl. It is definitely coming back into fashion as is demonstrated by the fact that Emma Bridgewater’s modern spongeware pieces can be found in many a kitchen in town as well as country.
A lot of spongeware that is bought in UK goes to far away places such as Japan, Canada an America and it is interesting to examine what goes where. While the Japanese favour the blue and white patterns, the Americans and Canadians lean more towards the nostalgic animal motifs. Collectors of nurseryware are keen on spongeware as this was often used to feed the children. As the crockery was cheap the odd breakage would hardly have mattered.
While many collectors of china keep their treasures in glass cabinets to be admired, the collectors of spongeware tend to buy it for use as well as display. A collection of spongeware, often a mix of old and new’ looks as good on a kitchen dresser as on the kitchen table for lunch or afternoon tea.
Pricing is rather difficult and it depends on age and condition. If you are after something from the 19th century, large bowls would sell for around £130 – £300. Smaller pieces like mugs, egg cups etc. will go for a lot less. The charm of spongeware is that everything goes with everything else and if you like the country kitchen look you will love this.