Best in Show - A Potted History of Cow Creamers
Nic Saintey writes about cow creamers, covering their introduction in the first
half of the Eighteenth Century through to their fall from grace, implicated in the
cholera epidemics that affected Sunderland and East London from the early 1830s.
A lustrous Cambrian cow creamer from 1810.
For something that purports to have a practical purpose, the pottery cow creamer
possesses a rather cartoonish charm - much like the plastic tomato shaped sauce
dispenser. Its origins lie somewhere back in the first half of the Eighteenth Century
with the Dutch taking the credit for their creation.
An 18th century Dutch delft cow.
A happy cow creamer with attendant milkmaid.
Certainly plenty of, often garishly coloured, Dutch delft cattle existed during
this period though it was probably John Schuppe (a Dutch immigrant
silversmith based in London) who was responsible for the first recognisable cow
creamer. I say 'probably' because Schuppe's prototype appeared around 1755 and almost
immediately (some have suggested perhaps even a year or two earlier) the Staffordshire
potters Ralph Wood and Thomas Whieldon produced ceramic equivalents.
A John Schuppe silver cow creamer replete with flies.
Typically a cow creamer stands four square on a simple base with a curled tail forming
the handle and an open mouth the spout with a hole and simple cover on the back
to allow for filling and to keep flies out – ironic really that Schuppe would often
purposely model a fly on the udders or cover of his creations! Flies or not, the
public didn't mind who had primacy as creamers became a hit with other Staffordshire
potters who jumped on the bovine band wagon, along with pot shops from Glamorgan
to Sunderland and onto Portobello in Scotland, each bringing their local palette
of colours, a subtle modelling nuance or the inclusion of a farmer, milkmaid, dog
and even a lion. However, with the exception of the silver prototype, these were
not 'high end' objects. As far as I am aware, not one porcelain manufacturer thought
they were worthy subject matter.
A simple cow creamer with sponged decoration, circa 1770-80.
Outside of the obvious connection with cream, one has to ask, why cows? From earliest
times man has modelled the beasts around him and one can fully understand why he
might reproduce the horse, his primary mode of transport, even the lion and unicorn
with their royal connotations, but a cow?
A prize winning Yorkshire cow and farmer with his faithful lion, circa 1810.
The answer lies with the Industrial Revolution in that by the closing decades of
the Eighteenth century more of us lived in urban areas. Literally within a generation,
people who once inhabited the countryside now lived amongst 'those dark satanic
mills'. It was little wonder they sentimentalised the rural idyll, the birds and
beasts that were once familiar.
One wonders whether cow creamers were actually used at the table. We have to assume
they were, though it does seem strange that only creamers were given the 'folk art'
treatment. I've yet to see a matching teapot, a silly sugar box and daft cups. Creamers
seem to be standalone conversation pieces, something that spent more time on display.
A pair of Glamorgan pottery cow creamers with transfer printed decoration, circa
Unfortunately, their cleanliness was questioned during the cholera epidemics that
affected Sunderland and East London from the early 1830s. This adverse publicity
caused them unfairly to fall from grace by the 1850s. Before you shed a tear for
the innocent, many had unglazed or partially glazed interiors that made cleaning
difficult, resulting in food poisoning and almost certainly some premature deaths
A century of production has left a good number quietly grazing the kitchen dressers
and mantelpieces of the nation and if you are in the market for one then the prices
range from an affordable £50 for one with damage (commonplace for ears, horns and
tails) and up to £1,000 for a 'best in show' and there is always a premium for a
nice pair. Let's face it, they are certainly more attractive and collectable than
plastic tomatoes, but then as far as I know, nobody has been killed by a sauce dispenser.
- Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood
- Cow Creamers
- Staffordshire Pottery
- Delft Pottery
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About the Author
Ceramics and Glass
Nic Saintey is a Director of Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood, with responsibility for marketing and advertising. He is also Head of the Ceramics and Glass Department.
Nic Saintey's first career was in the Armed Forces where he served both as a military parachutist and paramedic in Europe, North America, East Africa and the Middle East.
He joined Lawrence’s of Crewkerne in early 1995 before moving to their Taunton branch as a general valuer and saleroom manager.
Nic joined Bearne’s in June 2000 to head up the expanding ceramic department, before joining the Board in 2003. His effervescent nature and wide experience has seen him regularly appear as an expert on the BBC’s Bargain Hunt and Flog It programmes.
He undertakes regular talks and contributes articles to both Devon and Cornwall Life magazines. His interests particularly include pottery in general, but especially that produced in Donyatt and North Devon, he is a keen runner and has recently taken up motor sport at a local circuit.
Best in Show - A Potted History of Cow Creamers was written on Tuesday, 10th May 2016.