Lusterware is a type of pottery or porcelain with a metallic glaze that gives the effect of iridescence, produced by metallic oxides in an overglaze finish, which is given a second firing at a lower temperature in a reduction kiln.
Lustreware was invented by glass painters in Egypt in the seventh or eighth century and applied to ceramic glazes on Iraq by the Arabian chemist Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber) in the 8th century during the Abbasid caliphate, and the technique soon became popular in Persia from the 9th century. Lusterware was later produced in Egypt during the Fatimid caliphate in the 10th-12th centuries. While the production of lusterware continued in the Middle East, it spread to Europe—first to Al-Andalus, notably at Malaga, and then to Italy, where it was used to enhance maiolica. In the sixteenth century lustred maiolica was a specialty of Gubbio, noted for a rich ruby red, at Deruta.
The technique became popular in England during the 19th century, where it was used by Josiah Wedgwood and Josiah Spode in the Midlands, and at Sunderland in the North East. Wedgwood's lusterware made in the 1820s spawned the production of mass quantities of copper and silver lustreware in England and Wales. Cream pitchers with detailed spouts and meticulously applied handles were most common, and often featured stylized decorative bands in dark blue, cream yellow, pink, and, most rare, dark green and purple. Raised, multicolored patterns depticting pastoral scenes were also created, and sand was sometimes incorporated into the glaze to add texture. Mini and larger pitchers were spun off from cream pitchers, as well as small coffeepots and teapots. Sets came a bit later, usually featuring creamers, sugars, and bowls.
Large pitchers with transfer printed commemorative scenes appear to have arrived around the middle of the 19th century. These were purely decorative and today command high prices because of their historical connections. Delicate lustre imitating mother-of-pearl was produced by Wedgwood and at Beleek in the mid-century, derived from bismuth nitrate.
In the United States, copper lusterware became popular precisely because of its lustrousness. Apparently, as gaslights became available to the rich, the fad was to place groupings of lusterware on mirror platforms to be used as centerpieces for dinner parties. Gaslights accentuated their lustrousness.