Working in earth makes me easy-minded. – Staffordshire men
White Ironstone has an intriguing history. It began with the English’s love for imported China tea served in the fine translucent ware imported from the Far East. These cups were not only beautiful and ornate, but were also expensive. Potters in Germany then in England were attempting to recreate a porcelain similar to the Oriental wares. Potters began to compete and to hold close their formulas for creating their versions of china, which included their special mixes of clay with sand, methods of firing at high temperatures.
‘A great period of creativity began in the Staffordshire area.’ The district of Staffordshire is located in western England near the port of Liverpool. Intrigue occurred in the attempted secrecy in methods and improvements made to creating their wares. To the extent that certain potters only employed those whom they assumed were ‘dull-witted‘. Two young potters worked “undercover” for several years to learn the potter’s secrets.
Methods, Molds, Design and Glazes
How dishes were formed using molds, the advent of the discovery of the Cornish stone called “growan“, the use of salt cast into hot kilns combined with the efforts to continue to imitate the Oriental designs contributed to the increased improvements in the porcelain pottery. Other improvement and changes included: the use of calcined flint, decoration by transfer-printing, creating canals to to deliver the product from the Staffordshire area to the ports, improvement in machinery, marketing methods and increased tariffs which began to discourage the import of Oriental porcelain.
Mason’s Patent Ironstone China
It was Miles Mason who mastered the process similar to some of his competitors, Richard Champion, William and John Turner, Josiah Spode II and potters Davenport and Hicks & Meigh and named his creation, ‘Patent Ironstone China’. Not only a master potter, Mason was also a master salesman. His savvy marketing targeted the housewives on the Continent (America) who were eager for this pretty, sturdy ware.
The Early American Home
Marketing pottery became very important to the potters in Staffordshire. Early supplies included the blue and white Transferware and Spongeware. Early American rural life came with its trials. The colonists were ‘so busy wresting a living from the land and clearing their acres that there was little time for concern about elegant tableware’. The potters began to export affordable tableware that appealed to the American housewife. ‘Even the poorest rural families gladly put away their wooden trenchers and redware to set their tables in spotless white’.
It is presumed that the potter James Edwards was the first to introduce all white serviceware to homemakers in the 1840’s. Several other potters such as John Ridgeway & Co, J. Wedgewood, the Mayer Brothers also began to offer all-white shapely dishes to their customers in quite a number of shapes and styles.
The Anatomy of Ironstone Pieces.
Do you love Ironstone? Are you interested in learning more about what you love to collect? You can find several reference and history books.
Interesting facts compiled by Jean Weatherbee in her book, ‘White Ironstone A Collector’s Guide’:
- Early in the 1840’s Staffordshire potters first offered all-white Ironstone dishes to American consumers
- Interest increased with more detail added – details, contours, finials and color transfer
- Popularity surged with the Octagon Shape in 1851 by T. & R. Boote and Sydenham Shape in 1853
- Staffordshire pricing lists from the mid-1850’s reveal that white Ironstone sold for the same price as the one-colored transfer-decorated patterns on Ironstone
- Copper was added as trim to some white Ironstone in 1850
- less creative, rounder, plainer shaped bodies were introduced in the 1870’s.
- by 1900 the age of white Ironstone popularity had waned with the exception of hotel and restaurant wares.
White Ironstone: A Collector’s Guide by Jean Weatherbee
English Pottery and Porcelain – An Historical Survey by Paul Atterbury
White Ironstone A survey of its Many Forms by Dawn Stoltzfus and Jeffrey B. Snyder
Whether ornate or plain my love and appreciation for Ironstone continues to grow. I will continue to search for pieces – regardless of their patina. What once was highly prized by early American and Canadian homemakers now makes a return in interest – White Ironstone continues to add beauty to our home’s decor.