Collecting 101: Ironstone

I love Ironstone and am an avid collector of it.  To me, it has the durability of china with the casual lines that fit my lifestyle.  The pieces are always versatile and I tend to mix and match them together.  Ironstone china, a name of which well describes this hardy ware, was originally designed as an inexpensive substitute for the costly and fragile bone china.  Miles Mason is credited as being the founder of this wonderful ware, who had been a china dealer in London. In 1780 he took over the Lane Delph pottery in Staffordshire and started making earthenware transfer-decorated dishes with designs in the Chinese manner known as "British Nankin."

These were popular and sold well, but Mason is best remembered for his ironstone china for which he and his son, Charles, obtained a patent in 1813. The body of this ware was of white clay with generous quantities of pulverized flint and slag from iron-smelting added to the mix. As a result it was very strong and not easily chipped. Though heavier than real porcelain, it was very popular in England and America for a half-century and still is. As soon as the Mason patent expired or even before, most of the other Staffordshire potters were making china of about the same formula which they marked "ironstone" or some similar descriptive term.

From about 1835 to 1860, octagon-shaped dishes were especially popular in table ware and much of the ironstone china was produced in that form by the various Staffordshire potters, including Wedgwood and Spode. The Mason family retired in 1851, selling their pottery to a corporation headed by a member of the Ridgway family. Ironstone china popular with Americans included transfer-decorated dishes in the Willow pattern, some American blue and white historic and scenic designs, usually done in deep blue, and even copperlustre ware patterns. Generally most ironstone bears a marking, a diamond-shape with circle above enclosing a Roman numeral.  It is by these numerals and letters with which the date of dish can be told. The potter's mark is impressed in an area below.

Most ironstone china bears the mark of its maker and, from 1842 on, a design registry may be present if the piece is of a special shape or pattern. When unmarked, weight and feel of a piece identify it as the lovely, heirloom it is.

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