Rosemary Pemberton’s recent very knowledgeable, fascinating, talk to Volunteers about the museum’s ceramics collection started with a good question – what is the difference between china and crockery? It had us thinking. It is the kind of thing where you know the difference but articulating it is rather more difficult. There is a good attempt to do so on an internet blog:
“…”crockery” is a generic functional word for the mugs, cups, plates and saucers – that I eat from and drink out of.
On the other hand “china” carries for me a definite connotation of “delicate and expensive”. I’d say, for example:
“Don’t put your best china in the dishwasher” or
“The removal men broke a lot of our china” (where “china” could include decorative pieces such as ornaments).”
I think most of us would agree with that. But what about the differences between pottery, earthenware, porcelain, and china and bone china? This is more technical.
Dictionary definitions generally suggest pots, dishes, and other articles made of fired clay are generally called pottery and can be broadly divided into earthenware, porcelain, and stoneware. Earthenware is not fired so hot and so chips fairly easily. Porcelain is fired at very hot temperatures (vitrified so that it is glass like) while stoneware has, as its name suggests, some stone in the clay which makes it stronger.
Verwood pottery – earthenware – in the Salisbury Museum ceramics gallery.
So, your best ‘china’ is probably porcelain. Some of that crockery might be stoneware…
Bone china (white) has, as you might guess, bone ash in it. It is a type of soft-paste porcelain, typical of English manufacturers since about 1800. Hard paste porcelain was originally made from a compound of the feldspathic rock petuntse and kaolin fired at very high temperature, usually around 1400°C (thank you Wikipedia!). It was first made in China around the 7th or 8th century, and has remained the most common type of Chinese porcelain.
Bone china with the characteristic shiny white finish (painted or with transfers)
No one in Europe could copy imported Chinese porcelain until the early 18th century. Much was imported which hit the home-grown industries hard. Fine china (from China) was decorated for the European market which led to some oddly hand-painted scenes on some items and encouraged surviving British chinaware factories in turn to copy Chinese patterns (think Willow pattern plates).
The rest is history as they say. And with very few young couples interested anymore in ‘fine china’, what does the future hold?