I don’t know if everyone is as obsessed with Ironstone as I am, but let me just say, I am so obsessed I would knock over an old lady in a thrift store for a piece of the beautiful stuff.
I came across it probably much like you when I saw an article in a magazine. There was this beautiful display of the white creamy Ironstone in someone’s fantastic kitchen. I read the article and learned a bit of what it was all about but to tell you the truth I gleaned through the article and went straight to the pictures. I was hooked.
I read enough to know kind of what it was, but honestly it was just pretty white china to me. I began to scour the flea markets and thrift stores as well as the online shops just like the article suggested. I soon learned it wasn’t just white dishes. I made many purchases of white ceramic china thinking I had arrived at Ironstone. However, I loved the look of those and kept them in my collections as well.
The above small pitcher is one of my “almost Ironstone finds”. Turns out it was an old imposter. I don’t mind it is beautiful and displays well.
When I learned what it really was all about I become intrigued. Following a definition as found on Wikipedia
Ironstone china, ironstone ware or most commonly just ironstone, is a type of vitreous pottery first made in the United Kingdom in the early 19th century. It is often classed as earthenware although in appearance and properties it is similar to fine stoneware. It was developed in the 19th century by potters in Staffordshire, England as a cheaper, mass-produced alternative for porcelain.
There is no iron in ironstone; its name is derived from its notable strength and durability.
Just imagine this, in the beginning it was a cheaply mass produced item, but as popularity grew it became more beautiful and much more intricuit in design.
In the beginning of my Ironstone journey I thought I just needed white china. At first I had a hard time identifying the real thing from white ceramic counterparts. There are many copies for Ironstone and they are sometimes hard to spot as a counterfeit.
To tell the real stuff from simple ceramics is very difficult, sometimes it is marked a lot times it is not. Not all makers marked their Ironstone. Sometimes because they were small companies that could not mark them due to cost and they only worried about getting them out, sometimes because only the first piece was marked and the rest just mass produced. There were also “lunch time Pieces”, the workers were allowed to make pieces on their lunch hour for them selves or for practice. These were not marked but they were put out. Ironstone does have a unique look and feel and once you get used to it you can spot it.
Ironstone is usually heavier than it looks, it has a glossy luster, and a creaminess. There are really old ironstone pieces that have an almost blueish greyish hue. This is a marker that you have something old and great.
The piece above was the first real piece of real Ironstone that I purchased. It is made by Powel and Bishop in the mid 1800’s and is the pride of my collection. It has that blue/greyish hue. It may not be the most sought after piece of Ironstone but it was my first and my most beloved. That could just be because it was rare and truly old.
Above are some “real” Ironstone pieces and every piece came from thrifting and estate sales. Ironstone is found everywhere you just have to look.
These days the most popular pieces to collect are: Pitchers, tureens, anything pedestal, and large sugar bowls. I love bowls I mean large bowls, mixing type bowls. I use them, I display them. Actually I use all of my plates, cups and dishes. I don’t believe in just hoarding stuff. With that said, I do not use my Powel and Bishop pitcher. That baby is just for show and tell and for bragging rights.
Above are my almost favorites. Ironstone Butter Pats. The pure white are hard to find and are expensive. I just love them though. I don’t mind if they are pure white or a transferware. I cannot get enough.
You will find that the makers of Ironstone changed hands constantly. Meakin, Johnson brothers and several other’s shared molds. They also bought each other out a lot. Some Ironstone like Gibson for instance was still being created into the 70’s as real Ironstone that is. They just changed hands a lot.
Now, I don’t really care how old, who made it or anything like that. If I love it and can afford it I buy it.
This I think is a nice display on the buffet in our dining room. A mix of white and transfer ware Ironstone.
Above are some of my pieces, I use all but the pitcher on my table, not every day but at least a couple times a month.
I love to create little vignettes and display around my home. Here are some examples of how to display.
I think Ironstone is to be loved and treasured. Once made for the masses of England as a cheap alternative to porcelain in a hard economical era. Who knew it would be so popular that even the French and Japanese artisans would copy it. Think Blue Willow and Limoge if you will. They gleaned from England and England from them. Than in 1905 America would enter the Ironstone making business. look to Homer Laughlin, the most sought after maker of restaurant ware and finally the maker of Fiesta Ware.
Ironstone is timeless, beautiful and worthy of collecting. It’s not just the look or design but the appreciation of things old and beautiful, of things lost and found. Find it today. I promise you will not be sorry.
If you enjoyed this post please let me know in comments. If you have pictures of your collection I would really love to see them and share them with other readers.
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Thanks for stopping by, Kathy