The Difference between Fine China and Dinnerware

Earthenware

Difference between Porcelain, Fine China, Bone China, Earthenware, Stoneware, & Ironstone

Good-quality ceramics will last forever; just think of the ancient Greek pottery you see in museums, still intact and brightly-glazed after thousands of years. It might seem extravagant to buy delicate bone china when a $2 Simpsons mug will hold your coffee just as well, but when a piece will last the rest of your life, it makes sense to get the best you can afford. It is an investment, like buying jewellery. Unless the pieces are smashed, you will be able to pass your tableware onto your children and grandchildren.

 

All ceramics have the same basic composition – some type of clay for shape, mixed with some type of ground stone for strength. The same basic ratio produces porcelain, fine china, bone china, stoneware, ironware, earthenware…a huge variety of products, from dainty gilt-edged teacups to terracotta house bricks. So what’s the difference between the different types or ceramic?

 

The term porcelain simply refers to any type of ceramic which uses waterproof kaolin clay as its base.Fine china(named after its country of origin) is a type of porcelain which is fired at a lower temperature than usual, which makes it easier to work into delicate shapes, but also slightly less durable.
Bone China was actually invented as an alternative to Chinese porcelain, after England imposed high taxes on Chinese imports in the 1790s. As the name suggests, it contains cow bone ash, which makes it incredibly strong and thin. Bone china is so fine that it’s slightly translucent: if you hold a piece up to the light, you should be able to see the outline of your hand through it. Both bone china and fine china can be moulded into delicate patterns, and the only easily noticeable difference between the two is that fine china crockery is a little thicker, and tends to be pure blue-white rather than creamy-coloured.

 

Boneware is slightly stronger than fine china once glazed and finished, but it is more likely to shatter during firing. This is why bone china is so valuable. When purchasing bone china, be aware that the levels of bone ash vary between manufacturers, from less than 5% up to 50%. The higher the percentage, the better the quality.   When it comes to basic everyday crockery, there are two choices – stoneware or earthenware.

 

Stoneware is made from about 50% clay and 50% ground stone (such as flint or granite) This makes it incredibly tough and chip-resistant, able to withstand the heat of ovens or microwaves. Depending on the exact composition of minerals used, its colour varies from brown to blue-grey. Any glaze is purely decorative, because even unglazed stoneware is waterproof and impermeable. It’s also heavy, and too thick to work into delicate shapes. This means it’s usually used for cookware or mugs.

 

Ironstone is a type of stoneware which contains small amounts of iron slag; it is daintier than stoneware but less expensive than porcelain.   Last comes earthenware, the cheapest and most common variety of ceramic. The term earthenware is often associated with terracotta, but the name simply refers to ceramics made from rough clay (as opposed to the finely-milled kaolin clay used for porcelain).

 

Traditionally-made earthenware is red or brown, but today most crockery is made from modern grey-white ceramic. It is less strong than fine china and cannot be worked into such elaborate shapes, but it is available in a wider array of colours as it takes glazes better. Crockery made from earthenware is thick and durable, and can be washed in the dishwasher or heated in the oven. Earthenware is highly porous and needs to be glazed to make it waterproof; if the glaze is chipped or cracked, the exposed earthenware underneath absorbs water and dirt and quickly becomes unsanitary to use. This means that earthenware, however well it is made, will never be an heirloom piece.

PORCELAIN

Porcelain DinnerwareHigh quality, translucent white ceramic including white kaolin clay. Fired in a kiln to temperatures between 1,200 and 1,400’C (2,200 – 2,600’F). Exceptionally durable and chip resistant. Deriving from China in the 600’s, dinnerware produced using this method has become popularly known as ‘fine china’, although the original fine china was generally fired at lower temperatures.

FINE CHINA

Fine China Fine china (named after its country of origin) is a type of porcelain which is fired at a lower temperature than usual, which makes it easier to work into delicate shapes, but also slightly less durable.

BONE CHINA

Bone China Bone china was actually invented as an alternative to Chinese porcelain, after England imposed high taxes on Chinese imports in the 1790s. As the name suggests, it contains cow bone ash, which makes it incredibly strong and thin. When purchasing bone china, be aware that the levels of bone ash vary between manufacturers, from less than 5% up to 50%. The higher the percentage, the better the quality.

STONEWARE

Stoneware Stoneware is made from about 50% clay and 50% ground stone (such as flint or granite) This makes it incredibly tough and chip-resistant, able to withstand the heat of ovens or microwaves. This non-porous dense pottery is fired at high temperature (1100’C-1300’C), and is well suited to everyday use.

IRONSTONE

Ironstone Ironstone is a type of earthenware which contains small amounts of iron slag; it is daintier than stoneware but less expensive than porcelain.

EARTHENWARE

Earthenware The term earthenware is often associated with terracotta, but the name simply refers to ceramics made from rough clay (as opposed to the finely-milled kaolin clay used for porcelain). The porous clay based ceramic is fired at low temperature. It is less strong than fine china and cannot be worked into such elaborate shapes, but it is available in a wider array of colours as it takes glazes better.

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