Porcelain was first brought to Europe by Marco Polo and
every body from Potter to Prince tried to jump on the bandwagon
and produce a fine white-bodied product. The problem was the clay.
Until kaolin was found in Europe, all the alchemists could do was
experiment with clays and glass and ground rock and finally they
managed to produce what was called soft porcelain. This product
melts at the high Porcelain temperatures and is therefore fired
at a lower temperature. This results in a grainy body that is creamier
in colour than Hard Porcelain and is slightly porous causing the
glazes and the colours to be softer. When kaolin was discovered
in Saxony in 1707 the great era of European Porcelain began. The
factory at Meissen, under the protection of the Prince of Saxony,
managed to keep the secret formula for 60 years until another accidental
discovery of Kaolin near Sevres, France allowed the information
England soon had its own factories and with the decline in the
trade from China both for political and fashion reasons, the demand
for porcelain or “China” as it was often called, skyrocketed.
In 1796 Josiah Spode perfected his formula for “English
China” which was made up of the Kaolin and Pentuse (from Cornwall)
and almost 50% calcined bone. The resultant product was harder,
whiter, more translucent and cheaper to produce than Hard Porcelain.
English Bone China became the world standard for dinnerware.
Meanwhile, with the growth of the middle classes there was a
great demand for serviceable tableware that resembled the upper
class services but at a middleclass price. Earthenware was
too heavy, too fragile and did not compare.
Potters taking advantage of the higher temperatures of the Porcelain
Kilns experimented with a variety of clays until they could produce
a clay that would become vitreous (glassy) and retain its shape.
Since the resultant product resembled stone in its hardness it was
called Stoneware. Invented in China at the same time as Porcelain,
it was not realizable in Europe until the invention of the higher
Stoneware was inexpensive, used all the existing earthenware
skills and techniques, easier to decorate since the fired surface
is not porous. And was much harder to chip.
Although the fineness of porcelain dinner ware could not be
obtained, practical, colourful, and inexpensive china could grace
any housewife’s table.
If you go into a store (or your China Cabinet) and pick up a
cup and it has no marking on the bottom, what is it?
If it is too light for earthenware, and too heavy (thick) for
porcelain and not marked ‘bone china’ then it is either
a very good stoneware or what is called ‘Fine China’
Fine China is very similar to bone china but less expensive
aluminum silicates (sands) are used instead of the bone ash. It
does not have as white a body, tends to be grey and therefore does
not have quite the beauty (or cost) of bone china.
The joy of collecting things made of clay is that the collection
can fit any pocketbook. From Wade miniatures found in Tea, to Medalta
Crocks to Distinctive teacups From Royal Doulton to Limoges to Meissen
the choices are unlimited, every piece has its story and its charm.