Ironstone 101

I have received a lot of questions lately about ironstone, what it is, and how to identify it. I am certainly not an expert, but I have been collecting ironstone for about ten years now and I have a pretty large collection (I’ve lost count), so I know it when I see it.

Heirloom-10 (528x800)
I remember reading a magazine years ago, drooling over the ironstone collections in some of the featured homes.  I loved how beautiful and simple it was and immediately added it to my “to collect” list right away.  I found a pitcher several months later and the collection has grown from there.  I’ve been fickle about other things I hunt for when shopping, but never about ironstone.  It’s been a constant over the years.

Pieces of ironstone can be found for only a few dollars (or a dime, like this past weekend), but pieces that are very old and in perfect condition can fetch hundreds (like the illusive cake pedestals…sigh.)  I usually go for the super cheap, “scratch and dent”, clearance ironstone.  That’s just how I roll.  It’s not an investment for me, though, I just love it.  I also love pieces that show their age through crazing, stains, chips and cracks.

What is ironstone?
Ironstone china is a glaze-covered earthenware. It was first patented by Charles James Mason in 1813 and other manufacturers followed suit.  At one point, there were almost 200 makers of ironstone china and they made everything from plates and bowls to tureens, covered casseroles, and gravy boats.  Even chamber pots.  Its popularity has come in waves and was apparently wildly popular in the 1970s.  I was not aware that there was anything pretty in home decor during the 70′s, but that decade gets a thumbs up from me for liking ironstone.

What do hallmarks look like?  Will there always be a hallmark?
The hallmark is the manufacturers marking on the bottom or back of a piece, so the look of the hallmark depends on who made it and when.  Sometimes it will tell you the piece is ironstone, but not always.  I have some pieces that read “stoneware” or display the mark of a hotel the piece was made for.  I also have some pieces that have no markings at all or just some blurry initials.  I love it when a piece has a clear mark, but you can’t rely solely on markings when ironstone shopping.  You have to learn what it looks and feels like.

How can you identify ironstone if it’s unmarked?
The best way for you to learn to spot ironstone is by studying a piece of ironstone.  The most noticeable thing is the weight.  A piece of ironstone will always feels heavier than it looks.  It has a wonderful luster about it, as well, that can be easily recognized if you know what you’re looking for.  It just looks different than any other china.  If the piece has a handle, hold it by the handle and flick the body of the piece.  It will make a lovely “ring” if it is free of chips or cracks. It can be bright white or a dark cream, almost beige.

Is all ironstone white?
No.  Ironstone pieces can have “transferware” patterns in all colors printed on them or a painted blurry blue design called “Flow Blue.”  My favorite to collect, though, is plain white.

 

There is a load of useful information about the care and cleaning of ironstone from an expert here.
My favorite piece in my collection is this ironstone tureen that I found in my grandmother’s attic.  I just about passed out with excitement when I pulled it out of a bug-eaten box.
Happy hunting!


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Comments

  1. Oh, I so LOVE ironstone too! The more crazing the better I like it! I stick to the old cheap chipped pieces too!

    Lou Cinda :)

    Love that tureen!

  2. I just bought my first piece of what I think is Ironstone this week. It is a mulberry transferware plate. I got it for a steal because it has a small chip on the back that was fixed. I just love it. I will be in the lookout for more pieces.

  3. Gina, Well, "ironstone" refers to what the china is made of, so even if it doesn't look like traditional ironstone, it still is. It's not what I want to collect, but it still counts. :)

  4. BTW-
    I love that photo of the little kids in the costume! Is that something you will have for sale?

  5. I started collecting ironstone about a year ago. Like you I don't go for the pricey pieces. I look for the slightly flawed but beautiful ones. I especially like the ironstone platters and tureens. The one you found in the attic is wonderful!
    Hugs, Sherry

  6. my husband and i went to an auction on saturday and bought a pitcher/basin combo for $2.50!!! it's beautiful. thanks for the information – i would have never known what to look for without this post from you!

    [we had gone early to look over the items and i LOVED the set...we arrived a bit late and they had already sold it in a pile of items. i was SO disappointed, but realized that the person who won that bid might not be interested in the ironstone. i figured out who she was, got up the guts to ask, and she practically gave it to me!]

    thanks again.

  7. I love cream pottery. Ever since I read this post, I have been looking for ironstone! I found some this month, and linked to this post today.
    Thank you for the information (and inspiration).

  8. I just found my first piece of ironstone! I squealed and did a little jump. I'm sure the other people at Goodwill thought I was a weirdo. But this weirdo has an ironstone bowl! ha! Thanks for sharing all this information!

  9. Thanks for the informative post…as always! I can just imagine you finding that turrine!

  10. Sheryl says:

    I inherited my Aunts ironstone dinner set. Some of the pieces are very warn and love from being used. I am hoping to add to this collection. But it seems to be very hard to find, as I really wanted to add the same style. As I look at your collection I discovered you are mixing and matching, as long as it is white. I will have to think about that. I do watch e-bay, and such but haven’t purchased anything yet. Thanks for your post.

  11. Thanks, Marian!
    I am now “armed” with information to go Ironstone hunting!

  12. tracy says:

    Hi:) I have a couple pieces of this brand I found in a old abandoned house & love the look & was also wondering what if anything it is worth? I prefer to keep the 3 pieces I have but would like a little info please if you could help :) I have a coup size bowl maybe bigger , a salad plate, & a small shallow bowl that have what I believe to be wheat and leaves along the borders. On the bottoms there is a crown? the word IRONSTONE, below that is a pic and a ribbon that says royal staffordshire pottery, then under that is wildinson ltd england. I’d like to know the time period too please. Thank-You very much!!!

  13. Absolutely stunning post – I love crockery – plates, tureens, cake stands the lot … We are fortunate to live nearish to the famous potteries at Stoke on Trent & there tends to be a lot of interesting patterns about the local shops, markets & even the thrift (charity) shop.

    I collect blue & white … my blog post …

    http://deeatthecarlton.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/traditional-blue-crockery.html

    Dee at the Carlton

  14. Marilyn says:

    I realize I’m a year late for this conversation, but can anyone tell me if you can actually use Ironstone for food? Or, is it just for decoration? I’m asking because the ones I’ve seen in antique stores look so discolored that I’m not sure it’s safe to put food in them. Thanks!

  15. Jane O says:

    Thanks for this post, it answered a lot of my questions!

  16. Sally Geething says:

    I jusy purchased a square yet ribbed piece of ironstone (bowl) It is VERY dark stained. I have heard you can use “Babo” old fashioned toliet bowl cleaner…true? or what? to clean it up with . Thanks love your ironstone I believe now I shall make a display on top of my computer console with thee several footed compote covered ones I have. Thanks again Sally

  17. Like you, ironstone is my weakness. I have a large collection and I never tire of searching for more. My favorite piece is a pedestal cake plate that friend gave me for helping her clean out her mother’s estate. She said, “you want that old thing?” Sometime the mark will be impressed into the bottom (no color printed), it is my understanding that stamped pieces are pre-1890s.

  18. Carolyn says:

    I love ironstone as well. I saw quite a few cake pedestals at Brimfield but the prices were so high. One of these days I’ll figure out how to purchase one!

  19. Karen says:

    You just read my mind…With all your posts lately about ironstone, I was wondering if I really knew what it was, and if it was just plain white…

    Thanks Marion for sharing your knowledge with us.

  20. I love this post! Thank you so much! I have loved ironstone for years also, it is still my favorite! Recently, I have been lucky and found a number of pieces at my local thrift store It is a thrill each time I come across a piece! Your collection is beautiful! Keep enjoying.

    Jane
    Flora Doora

  21. Great tips, Marian!

  22. Thank you Marian! I am actually interested in the beautiful piece of furniture beneath the ironstone. do you have a bog post or tutorial that talks about the painting of that?
    thank you so much!

  23. Sally -Using bleach or strong cleaners on old china is a bad idea. The bleach gets under the glaze through the tiny cracks and after a while lifts the glaze and you are left with crumbling unglazed china. I have a huge Victorian meat platter I was given by someone who had ruined it. The brown stains add to the character I think ♥

Trackbacks

  1. [...] blankets.  Total = $107 Side tables = $10 for the pair Piano bench = $5.00 All of the ironstone in the room = about $80 collected over time Misc. Accessories = $25 Paint (walls, trim, [...]

  2. [...] (If you’d like to know more about Ironstone, you can check out my post, Ironstone 101.) [...]

  3. [...] out Ironstone 101 for more information about what ironstone is and how to spot [...]

  4. […] wrote a post a couple of years ago about ironstone, but I thought I would write an updated post.  I’ve […]

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