OK, so it said “ironstone.” It did, right on the back of my Mason’s pin dish.
But I still thought of it as porcelain.
It was a plate! It looked like porcelain, it felt like porcelain – what did I know, anyway?
But it isn’t porcelain. It’s ironstone.
What’s the big deal, anyway?
For the vintage lover, it is a big deal.
Porcelain, bone china, ironstone, stoneware, earthenware – they’re all ceramics, so they’re all made basically the same way. But there are significant differences that can help you decide their value – and tell if they’re a fake or reproduction.
So it pays to know your stuff before you buy or sell.
Ironstone is, like porcelain, a ceramic.
But in addition to the traditional materials of kaolin, feldspar and quartz, it contains iron slag. Mason’s, Spode and Ridgway were major 18th and 19th Century manufacturers of quality ironstone. Most ironstone items are practical: Plates, jugs, bowls. If you see an ironstone figurine or other decorative item, be suspicious!
Tips for identification and authenticating:
- Ironstone is more opaque than porcelain. You can’t see your hand through it.
- Porcelain rings when you flick it. Ironstone does not.
- The base color is grey or ivory-brown, even if at first glance it appears white.
- Ironstone is heavier than porcelain or bone china
- Look for these marks:
- “Ironstone”: Used by Mason’s, since they patented the term. Ridgway also used this term.
- “Stone China” was often used by Spode
- “Semi-porcelain” is another indicator that a piece is ironstone
- Mason’s items often featured Japanese-inspired designs (as in the pin dish shown above).
- Look for natural wear on the bottom. “Wear” on fakes will look…well, fake.
Stoneware originated in China as early as the Shang Dynasty.
It is more opaque than porcelain, with a grey or brownish cast, and can be vitreous or semi-vitreous.
Here are three of the collectible categories:
1. Rosso Antico: A refinement of redware by Josiah Wedgwood in the 18th Century. It’s reddish and unglazed.
2. American Stoneware (1780-1890): This salt-glazed ware was the most common in American homes. American Stoneware also brings to mind those antique crocks, with their brown or blue decorations.
3. Red Wing (1901-1947): Made by the Red Wing company, most items feature a red wing.
Earthenware: One of the oldest ceramics.
Because it’s porous, it must be glazed in order to hold water. Its base color ranges from white to beige to red. Sometimes it’s as thin as bone china, but it isn’t translucent.
Faience: Brown or beige clay base.
Majolica: uses multiple, brightly colored glazes. It is very decorative and often features molded embellishments in high relief.
Raku: White clay base – a special glazing process
Redware: Red clay base glazed (usually inside only) in clear, yellow or green.
Terra Cotta: Brown/orange clay base, glazed or unglazed
Salt-glazed: Grey clay base with a clear salt-based glaze.
Yellow ware: Yellow clay base typically glazed in yellow.
Tips for collectors:
- Many of the tips listed under ironstone apply to stoneware and earthenware.
- Chips, stains and hairline cracks are common due to the porous nature of earthenware. They indicate age, but may also reduce the value.
- Antique earthenware baking items are very rare, because they were used so much that few intact pieces have survived.
- Some highly collectible names like Bennington Pottery didn’t always use marks. And Minton and Wedgwood marks are often difficult to read. Therefore, a good reference guide is essential to help you build your collection or find out how much your items are worth.
- New Red Wing pieces are being produced, and some are being sold as antiques. Learn how to tell the difference.
If you love learning about antiques as much as I do, follow the blog so you won’t miss the next article. And enjoy the hunt!