Why China and not France or England?
The Chinese were the first to make the type of dinnerware we call “china” today (though technically it is porcelain). Up until the fifteenth century, Europeans were eating off of wooden trenchers and large slabs of bread. It was not until the early 1700’s that they started to manufacture china in Europe.
In addition to china, there is also “bone china.” While regular china is just made with clay, bone china is made with clay and bone ash to strengthen the porcelain. Most of the bone ash is made from cattle bones. True fine china is hard and will produce a ringing sound when tapped.
What is the difference between china and everyday dinnerware?
Because of daily use, everyday dinnerware is usually made of stronger materials such as stoneware, earthen ware, and iron stone. One of the more valuable types of everyday dinnerware is transfer ware (Blue Willow is a popular and valuable pattern). Transfer ware is made by inking a metal plate with a design and then transferring that design to paper. The paper is then applied to the dish and when the ink is set the paper is removed. Blue and white are the most common colors, but many other colors are used, including black and brown.
These dishes can be quite valuable. Look for plates marked Staffordshire, Spod, and Wedgewood. One of my favorite types of transfer ware is “Flow Blue” (see image to the left) which originated around 1830 in England. Manufacturers discovered that by letting the blue ink spread (flow), they could cover defects in the printing and seams. It also added a sort of Romantic element and became very popular in its day.
Every Day Dinnerware Patterns
1. England, Antique Pieces: Pieces from England are made from either ironstone or stoneware. Common manufacturers include Davenport, Hicks, Johnson Brothers, Masons, Meight, Spode. Many pieces are marked “Staffordshire,” which is a part of England, but not a manufacturer.
2. England, Contemporary Pieces: Manufacturers include Denby and Port Merion.
3. France produces Quimper, which is a very high end brand of pottery favored by collectors.
4. United States: There are many American companies that specialize in casual dinnerware. Some of the older pieces are from Homer Laughlin, Blue Ridge, Franciscan, Iroquois, Syracuse, Russell Wright, and Hall and California Pottery.
Common China Patterns
1. England: Look for Coalport, Minton, Royal Dolton, Royal Worcester, Spode, and Wedgewood.
2. France: Look for older china marked “Limoges.” This is not a pattern name, but a region in France. Different companies manufactured “Limoges” china, such as Havilland, Sevres, and Vincennes.
3. Ireland: Belleek is Ireland’s great porcelain maker and though they are most famous for their ornaments, figurines, and decorative dishes, they also made dinnerware.
4. Germany: Germany is famous for Meissen and Dresden china, as well as Konnigsvelt Bayer (KB) and Rosenthal.
5. Japan: Look for Noritake, Mikasa, and Blue Danube. You will often receive pieces marked “Nippon,” which is not a china manufacturer, but “Japan” in Japanese. The “Nippon” stamp had been used to mark the country of origin, but this practice ended in 1921.
6. United States: The U.S. makes some great china. Lenox is a favorite of First Ladies and new brides. Other manufacturers of dinnerware tend to fall into the casual/ everyday category.