Ironstone 101

by | Sep 15, 2010 | Antiques, Favorite Finds, Ironstone, Popular | 81 comments

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!

81 Comments

  1. AntiqueChase

    I just started my collection a year or so ago. I have found a few pieces at Salvation Army and Goodwill, but not much. I don't like to pay a lot for my pieces since I live in Earthquake Country.

    I love your grandmother's tureen!

    Great post.. off to look at the link you provided.

    Reply
  2. Stacy

    what a beautiful tureen!

    i also have several pieces from my grandmother. i have had her set for years, with several plates hanging on my wall, and never realized it was ironstone until packing it up for our recent move.

    i didn't know there were pieces with blue, thanks for the lesson!

    Reply
  3. Cheryl

    wow, thanks for all the info. Like you I have fallen in love with ironstone since I saw some in a magazine that was showcasing a beautiful house. Sadly though I don't have any pieces. i would love to collect it though. Now I am armed with all kinds of info. So, when I am out I can keep an eye out for the markings or not that you suggested.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  4. Karena

    I agree, you can find some pieces so reasonably!! They are beautiful I adore the creamy white.

    I have a New Giveaway from the French Basketeer and I think you will love it!

    Karena
    Art by Karena

    Reply
  5. coryshay

    Ironstone apparently doesn't exist at garage sales in Utah…can I come thrift in your neck of the woods sometime?

    The commentary on '70s decor made me chuckle…

    Reply
  6. Stephanie

    Perfecting timing on the post. Now I know what to look for. I have recently decided to collect ironstone. But first I need to find a really big beautiful hutch to put them in. I have only been looking for 4 years. Wish you lived closer so you I could get one from you…don't think greyhound will ship that big of an item!

    Reply
  7. Tardevil

    So glad to see this post….you must have read my mind. ;O) Sometimes, I find pieces w/ no markings @ all, but like you say, they are heavier than the 'made in China' newer stuff. How lucky were you to find that tureen? It seems it's not that easy to find it anymore now that everyone seems to be collecting it!

    Reply
  8. Anita @ GoingALittleCoastal

    I have fallen for it too! I love the thrill of finding some too. I have always loved your small pitcher with the us army medical on it. I have a bowl and haven't found more since. Thanks for the link, I'll be sure to check it out.

    Reply
  9. Michelle

    I love the ironstone you show on your blog and have wondered "what it was" and how to tell that it really is ironstone. Now that I have an idea I will be watching for it as I go to yard sales and the local trift stores. Thanks

    Reply
  10. Allison

    This was very helpful. I've been curious about Ironstone and now I know more of what to look for. I love your pieces. Glad you have educated us about it. Thank you!

    Reply
  11. Cheryl

    A subject very close to my heart…I too love old ironstone! Just happens to be one of my favorite things to collect! So charming and simple at the same time, but as an ironstone collection grows and you display it all together, it makes a huge statement! Come by for a visit and check out my collection. I enjoyed your post. I am a new follower. Have a lovely day!
    Cheryl

    Reply
  12. SueAnn

    Thank you for sharing tips on ironstone. I had no idea! I have always admired it but never purchased it. Now I feel like maybe I can make some intelligent decisions and start hunting for some on my own. Ha!
    Hugs
    SueAnn

    Reply
  13. Shell

    Thanks for continually educating me on things out of my realm. Love your collection.

    Reply
  14. Leah

    So pretty but my husband would probably not like another glassware collection maybe I could sneek them in slowly and he wouldn't know.

    Reply
  15. Toni

    Thanks for that information. It was helpful for me.

    Reply
  16. Linda (Nina's Nest)

    Marian, that last piece (from your grandmother's attic) looks like Red Cliff. I wonder if it is? Linda

    Reply
  17. Polly

    I am madly in love with ironstone, and I just get giddy when I find a piece along my travels!! I sell some in my booth, but generally, I end up keeping most of it. I'm like you…..chipped, crazed and stained!!

    Reply
  18. mary beth

    The Grandma's treasures are the best! That piece is so beautiful, but the fact that it was from your Grandma makes it so wonderful for you…thanks for sharing your collection with us!

    Reply
  19. Susan deGeneres

    Thanks for sharing your tips and treasures. I have a few pieces of ironstone that belonged to my great-grandmother and I cherish them. I've been wanting to try frog tape on a couple of projects, so please enter me in drawing.

    Have a great fall day!
    Susan

    Reply
  20. robyn from whimages

    Your entire collection is so SWOON-WORTHY! I am in love with your grandmother's tureen as well, and what a wonderful story it has to tell! If you have a moment, I have a give away over at whimages.

    Reply
  21. wichiepoo

    Ever since I started reading your blog, I have fallen in love with Ironstone. I have only found one reasonably priced plate, as around here, yard sales are for people to make money and not get rid of stuff! ARGH!

    Our Goodwill has been closed for almost a month, will be reopening this week and I can't wait, I am in withdrawal!!!! Hope I find more pieces, I love the ones that have a little character and are a little cracked (like me tee hee).

    Thanks for the info, and if there are some with blue, even better!!!!
    Actually, it is true that you love blue and white, I should send you a pic of my beautiful oil lamp that I stole, no, borrowed,from my Daddy, I think you will just drool…

    Reply
  22. designchic

    I adore your Grandmother's tureen-so beautiful. Thanks for the wealth of information on this lovely china!!

    Reply
  23. Traci

    After looking at your blog, I too want to put ironstone on my "to collect" list. I have never been much of a kitchen/plate person except my Nan owned a restaurant and I loved the heavy bowls and coffee mugs with the green trim, they always bring back fond memories.

    Reply
  24. vintage girl at heart

    love me some ironstone.
    my current fave is displayed in our bathroom.
    blessings~

    Reply
  25. Sue

    Thanks for all the ironstone info!

    Reply
  26. Lydia

    I LOVE ironstone and am wanting to start collecting pieces. I found some at Salvation Army the other day but they were $20 each for dessert plates and I just couldn't swing it:( Thanks for the post!!!

    Reply
  27. Amanda

    Such an interesting article as I live in Stoke-on Trent, although you know more than me! You would love our local museum Gladstone, it even has a section dedicated to the pottery we all use, toilets!

    Johnson Bros are still going in Tunsatll, Stoke, they specialise in floor and wall tiles there, nice to hear as plenty of companies close down.

    Thanks for a great post.

    Reply
  28. Cindy

    I have always admired Ironstone, but have never known anything about it. This was very informative, thanks.
    I love that old tureen that was your grandmothers, what a delight it must have been to see it for the first time.
    Hugs, Cindy

    Reply
  29. Elizabeth and Gary

    How lovely and special your tureen is! I think our Grandmothers had beautiful serving wear,it was a different way of life then. Cooking and setting a table showed what kind of homemaker they were and the wealth of their family..
    I learned a lot today from your post on ironstone.
    A great post!
    Have a very sweet day, Hugs~Elizabeth

    Reply
  30. Jeannine

    I love the look of white. So easy to mix and match. And the heaviness is wonderful. Makes you feel like you have something solid and durable. Thanks for giving some hints and tips.

    Reply
  31. Nancy H.

    I am trying to start an Ironstone collection for myself, but I have not been able to find any pieces at the local thrift stores in my area.

    Reply
  32. Nutbird

    Not anything pretty in home decor in the 70s? This is the problem with magazines. The magazines highlight the weirdest, most current trends. Ads usually only show one type of product. If you looked at magazines from the 1950's you would think that everyone had Danish modern furniture and sputnik type lamps. What you forget is that everyone's home often reflects furniture and styles from the previous thirty to fifty years. No one can afford to buy all new furniture. Especially in the sixties and seventies.
    Trends you might not have hated in the 70's: Bentwood chairs. Breuer chairs. Conran furniture. Geometric patterns from David Hicks. The start of beautiful affordable colored and patterned sheets. Affordable chintz from P,Kaufman, and maybe Robert Allen. Popularity of dark painted rooms. Durrie rugs, some morrocan influences, greek flokati rugs, really interesting ginger jar type lamps. Slipper chairs, some painted furniture with the Brighton Pavilion influence, fat rounded sofas. My every day china was reissued by Adams, a blue transfer patterned ironstone. Blue and white asian china was big, Pierre Deux was all the rage in New York. Real American Folk Art was just starting to grow in New York, so the best of those antiques were coming out of the woodwork. The borders were not closed at that time, so a lot of country French accessories and fabrics were available. Marimekko was also a big influence in the US. Bloomingdales and even Macy's had the best in home decor design from all over the world and the US. There were no Targets and Walmarts and Sears and KMarts had pretty dismal stuff. I lived in four different places in the 70's and had no problem decorating to my heart's content in a fairly sophisticated style. Ann

    Reply
  33. Linden Townhouse

    I love ironstone too! It seems there are a lot of others who feel the same. Last year I bought a service for eight (marked "Made in England, Johnson Brothers") plus serving pieces for $60 on craigslist! Yes, the 70's were not all bad! I was there. American country style was up and coming with designers like Mary Emmerling, and I remember getting the first issues of "Country Living" in the late 70's. My first apartment was a studio room in a large Victorian home. I painted the walls yellow and the wide woodwork white–very cheerful! Antique golden oak furniture was hot, and I still love that stuff!

    Reply
  34. scrappydarling

    Ironstone…..what's not to love about it!

    Reply
  35. hadassah

    thanks for the info – I bought some canisters lately that I'm not sure about (if they're ironstone or not), so I'll have to check it out. Love that tureen!

    Reply
  36. Anonymous

    Great post! I love my ironstone and currently have some pieces in a friend's shop, as well. Your tureen is lovely!

    Reply
  37. cleverpenguin

    Whoops, don't know why my name isn't showing up. I'm not a nonny mouse, I promise!

    Reply
  38. Miss Mustard Seed

    Good to know, Ann (Nutbird.) I always love your comments. They are encouraging, challenging, and informative. I really appreciate them. 🙂

    Reply
  39. Miss Mustard Seed

    Good to know, Ann (Nutbird.) I always love your comments. They are encouraging, challenging, and informative. I really appreciate them. 🙂

    Reply
  40. Marysol

    Well, you've hit upon a passion of mine—white ironstone—and I had to come out of lurkdom.

    Not lucky enough to inherit ironstone, I began picking up some pieces, here and there, at auctions and such, about 6-7 yrs. ago.
    Completely unaware that I was gradually building a collection.
    I noticed my addiction leaned toward white ironstone pitchers. I do have a small bounty of platters, soup tureens, etc.
    But I can't walk past an ironstone pitcher without coming to a screeching halt.

    In much the same way I stumbled onto your wonderful blog about a month ago.

    Reply
  41. Karen

    Marian,

    Thank you, thank you! I've printed this piece so that I can begin a collection—I'm in California so it may be more of a challenge but the hunt is half the fun, right?

    Karen @ Garden, Home and Party

    Reply
  42. Sherry

    Thank you for sharing this information about ironstone. I have been looking at pitchers lately but do not know a lot about what I am looking at. I have always been drawn to Johnson Bros. dishes and have a set of plates and bowls in cream that I really like. I am going to start looking for pitchers from now on.

    Reply
  43. Little Vintage Cottage

    Thanks for that GREAT Ironstone 101 post! I was one of the (sounds like many) people who asked you about ironstone. This is the reason I was asking: http://www.etsy.com/listing/56474527/two-vintage-ironstone-restaurant-ware

    This is my Etsy shop, I am calling these ironstone, but they are not marked. They are quite heavy for their size like you said, what do you think? Think I'm right? If not, I'll revise my listing… I don't want to mislead anyone!

    Thanks!

    Tania

    Reply
  44. Nutbird

    Ladies, one is nice; two is a pair; three is a collection! Don't forget ebay. You can get lots of bargains. Ebay is cheaper than etsy, and I believe the sellers are more knowledgable about collectibles. Except for Eddie Ross. If it's white and you like it, buy it. You can always recycle your purchases. I have bought hundreds of things on ebay the past five years and am now starting to release my extras back into the wild. As my daughter says; "I have caught, now I must release." No ironstone though. Ann

    Reply
  45. Holly Lefevre

    It is so beautiful. I just picked up a couple of plates – just because I liked them – turned them over and they say ironstone…I am doing some research on them – they have a pattern on them. Thanks for the info!

    Reply
  46. Gina

    I too love ironstone and just started collecting about a year and a half ago. Your grandmother's tereen is fabulous. What a treasure! Just wondering, do you consider the Homer Laughlin restaurant ware or other restaurant ware ironstone? I've seen some labeled as ironstone but I didn't exactly consider it ironstone.

    Reply
  47. Lou Cinda @ Tattered Hydrangeas

    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!

    Reply
  48. Cari Skuse

    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.

    Reply
  49. Miss Mustard Seed

    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. 🙂

    Reply
  50. Cari Skuse

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

    Reply
  51. Sherry @ No Minimalist Here

    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

    Reply
  52. Tara

    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.

    Reply
  53. Shannon at madiganmade

    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).

    Reply
  54. Sam @ The Junk House

    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!

    Reply
  55. Sheryl

    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.

    Reply
  56. Claudine

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

    Reply
  57. tracy

    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!!!

    Reply
  58. Dee

    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

    Reply
  59. Marilyn

    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!

    Reply
  60. Jane O

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

    Reply
  61. Sally Geething

    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

    Reply
  62. Terry Sjotvedt

    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.

    Reply
  63. Carolyn

    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!

    Reply
  64. Karen

    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.

    Reply
  65. Jane

    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

    Reply
  66. Danielle

    Great tips, Marian!

    Reply
  67. Andrea

    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!

    Reply
    • Elisabeth

      Andrea , I agree! I’d love to know what colours are on the dressing table beneath Eulalie’s painting, please? I’m just about to order some milk paint and would love to do something similar. Marian, is the a hope you could tell us?

      Reply
  68. teri

    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 ♥

    Reply
  69. Pam

    Dear Marion!
    Hope I’m not being a pest, but I’m still interested in the green velvet French chairs,
    Is shipping still an issue?
    Just wanted to keep in touch, and get with you on a possible solution.
    Again many thanks for your time and of course your blog.
    Pam Phillips
    Alabama

    Reply
  70. Becky

    I became smitten with ironstone after reading your blog. I finally was able to get my first piece in the last month and it has the same hallmark as one of your pieces. It is in mint condition. I call it a casserole but after reading this post perhaps a brush box except it is not real narrow. I gave $8.00 for it and have passed up quite expensive pieces. Thank you for the information and getting me hooked!

    Reply
  71. Felicia

    Hi Marion, I am hooked on ironstone ware! most of the pieces that I’ve bought so fare have this wonderful bell-like ring when tapped but, recently I bought 2 tureens on line with french stamps on the underside that do not have that wonderful ring. They were very expensive. Did I get taken?

    Reply
    • marian

      Yes, that ring is a beautiful thing, isn’t it! That means there are no cracks or imperfections in the ironstone. I don’t own any French ironstone tureens, but I have handled them and they are thinner than American and English ironstone. I’m much more familiar with American and English ironstone, so I’m not sure if French ironstone is actually ironstone or if they used a different formula or if it’s actually a creamware that people just call ironstone, because it’s popular.

      They French tureens are gorgeous, though, so I wouldn’t worry about it either way!

      Reply
  72. Bea

    I have a partial set of my Great Grandmother Bachman’s ironstone Tea Leaf dishes. I keep the pitcher out on display in my living room at all times. I feel so fortunate to have this set. I will start looking for more ironstone as your information and collection has piqued my interest.

    Reply
  73. Julie | Home On The Hill

    Marian, I have admired your ironstone for a while, but could never really find much in a similar style here in Australia – until today!

    After your weekly roundup email drawing my attention to this post – I went searching again & just bought my first piece of vintage ironstone off Etsy. 🙂 🙂 😀 I know you get it that I’m doing a happy dance inside!

    I hope it was a good buy & it arrives intact! It’s a wide oval tureen (no lid) with a pretty ribbon & bow design in white on the side & the handles are really curvy – I love it. It has a lion & unicorn crest stamped on the base with ‘STONE CHINA, E&C Challinor, FENTON’ on the base, I looked this up online & it is apparently a stamp that dates to pre 1891. Even better!

    Reply
  74. Deb

    I’m pretty sure all the ironstone “from England” I’ve purchased off ebay is fake. It’s not heavy like you have explained. I’ve checked all our antique stores around here and no ironstone to be found (Idaho). It’s popularity has really driven up the prices online. Sigh………..

    Reply

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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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