Are you an enthusiastic collector of ironstone? The simplicity and utilitarian quality of gleaming white ironstone makes it a favorite collectable. Sometimes known as “the little black dress” of pottery, white ironstone mixes beautifully with antique, traditional, farmhouse, French country or contemporary interiors. Ironstone pieces are survivors, their resilience tells their story, minor discoloration only seems to add to their patina and beauty.

This month my column on Antique Collecting for Romantic Homes Magazine is all about the wonders of beautiful ironstone. Be sure to get a copy, it’s filled with beautiful interior inspiration!




What is ironstone?

Originally potted in England in the early 1800’s, ironstone blanks were decorated with transfer patterns or hand painting to imitate Chinese porcelain. An immediate success in England, ironstone is not porcelain, it’s a porous earthenware, made of clay mixed with feldspar. Patented in 1813 by Charles James Mason in Staffordshire, England, there is no iron in ironstone. Many believe Mason used this name to imply that iron and china created a durable and almost indestructible pottery.




Many Staffordshire potteries had similar products known by a variety of names: English porcelain, semi porcelain, new stone, and stone china. Mason’s patent lapsed in 1827, and other Staffordshire factories adopted the name ironstone.




In the 1840’s, undecorated white stoneware was shipped to the colonies. Durable and affordable, ironstone was popular with rural American families and settlers. With names such as graniteware, stoneware, pearl china, or feldspar china, these pieces are all considered ironstone. In the 1870’s and 1880’s American potters began to manufacture their own white ware, under
the name graniteware.



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What to look for:
1. Weight: Ironstone is thick and heavy.
2. Maker’s Mark: Most, but not all, ironstone is marked with a backstamp on the bottom that is printed, impressed, or both.
3. Color: Early English pieces made for export will have a blue or grey tint. Pieces that remained in England are creamier white, as are American ironstone pieces.
4. Shape: Date early ironstone by looking at patterns and shapes.





1830’s-1840’s: Gothic early pieces are hexagonal or octagonal in shape. 1850’s: Leaves were popular embellishments.
1860’s–1880’s: More rounded forms , harvest patterns with fruit, berries, nuts, grain or sheaves of wheat.
1880’s: Return to simpler forms, plain decoration only on the handles or finials.




5. Condition: Crackling or crazing in the clear overglaze is not uncommon in old pieces, it’s considered acceptable, even desirable to some collectors. Edges should be free of chips if possible.




Care: Hand wash ironstone and dry with a soft towel.
Never use bleach. Bleach penetrates the glaze, can dissolve the glaze and eventually cause the clay to crumble and disintegrate.
Remove silverware marks with a soft cloth and a gentle rubbing of toothpaste, rinse and dry.




Start a Collection: You can choose a pattern, or focus on a certain shape. Once very affordable, ironstone is now highly collectible and coveted by collectors. You can expect to pay 350.00 for a teapot, over 1000.00 for a rare pedestal or cake stand, and 200.00 for a soap dish in exceptional condition.




Beautiful as well as practical, ironstone adds personality to your French Country home. Gather a grouping in your hutch, march a variety of pitchers down your dining table, or fill a tureen with flowers for an effortless centerpiece.




Once you have bought one piece of ironstone, you’ll want to join the rest of us in our white-on-white craze, collecting is highly addictive. {We sell a variety of French, English and Amercian Ironstone on FrenchGardenHouse , but they tend to sell fast. } Happy hunting!




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