Thursday, December 16, 2010

Surmising Saggars

Saggar. Courtesy, National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown Collection 
Another fascinating aspect of the William Rogers kiln site were the saggars used for firing mugs and tankards (and possibly bowls and teapots). My title is intended to imply that none of this is indefinite or proven, and any comments or additional information is always appreciated! I say that saggars were used for firing mugs and tankards because that seems to be what the archaeological evidence shows (at least at this site, and for this moment until I research more and reconsider). The saggars varied in height and size, but seemed to correspond with most of the tankard and mug sizes. All of the saggars were wheel thrown, circular in shape, with a heavy rounded rim. There are also several saggars which I did not get to examine in this go around which have tankards adhered to the interior floor of the saggar.  I've included some photos I took at the Potteries Museum in Stoke on Trent, England which shows this unfortunate, but somewhat humbling, result.

Tankard adhered to interior floor of saggar. Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke on Trent, England.

Teapots adhered to interior floor of saggar. Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke on Trent, England.
I would basically argue that saggars held more refined wares which may not have stacked well or would have been more vulnerable to the environment in the kiln. Saggars were used to hold groupings of smaller objects so as to maximize kiln space. This also allowed for better stacking of objects in the kilns because, in general, kiln shelves were not used.

Interior of kiln in Stoke on Trent, England, showing how saggars were stacked on top of one another. Gladstone Pottery Museum, Stoke on Trent, England.
It would appear that the saggars were also designed to accomodate the handles of tankards. Or, to accomodate lowering the tankard or any other vessel into the saggar. An opening, usually about 2 inches across was cut into most of the smaller saggars which may have only accomodated one or two pieces. I could be completely wrong about this idea.
Large opening cut into one side of the saggar. Most of the openings went all the way to the base of the saggar. Courtesy, National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown Collection 

Another large opening cut into a saggar, different size than most of the others, and the opening did not go to the base of the saggar. Courtesy, National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown Collection 
Holes were also cut into the saggars to allow the salt to enter the saggar and cover the ware. Most of these holes were teardrop-shaped, but there were also a few which had triangular holes cut into them.

Teardrop-shaped opening on saggar. Courtesy, National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown Collection 

Triangular-shaped opening on saggar. Courtesy, National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown Collection 
There were also these pieces, which in the archaeological catalog were called "saggar lids." While many of these did correspond with the tops of the saggars, it would also appear that these basically acted as large pads between saggars and other pieces, to shore up heights and level out the stacking.  The archaeological report for the William Rogers site says that the lids were only used on the uppermost saggar after the saggars were stacked one on top of the other in a column (similar to the photo of the Gladstone kiln above). However, because many of these "lids" had other "lids" or bits attached to the tops of them, I wonder if that was really the case. The edges of these "lids" were beveled, and it appeared that one side was consistently used as the top and one as the bottom. This is because one side of each "lid" had much more salt and wear than the other. The bottom part of the "lid" which would have sat on the saggar was the wider part. The bevel likely kept the salt from catching and collecting on the saggars.
"Lid" for saggar. Courtesy, National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown Collection 

"Lid" for saggar. Note the beveled edge. Courtesy, National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown Collection 

Saggar "lid" showing that the pieces were not directly stacked one on top of the other. Courtesy, National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown Collection 

1 comment:

kurt said...

I am glad to see the focus on kiln furniture particularly from an experienced potter who understands the intricacies of manufacture. In briefly comparing your examples with later kiln furniture and saggers from several nineteenth-century pottery kilns in the Valley it is clear that there is an evolution in the configuration and use of saggars through time and between stoneware and earthenware manufacturing sites. Documenting and exploring these differences, as you know, provides an important component to our understanding of the changing technology employed in the manufacture of Virginia ceramics. I hope you can expand the research to look at later sites as well. Good Luck, Kurt C. Russ