I get asked a lot of questions about ironstone and you can read about the basics in my Ironstone 101 post. In that post, I answer questions like, “Is all ironstone white?”, “What is ironstone?” and “How do you identify it when it’s unmarked?” In this post, I’ll get into more details about price, identifying the age of pieces, as well as use and care.
What’s a fair price for ironstone?
This is such a tough question to answer, because, like any antique, it depends on rarity, age, desirability, size, condition, aesthetic, etc. So, a sugar bowl, for example, could be priced too high at $20 if it was made in the 1970s, has a big crack in it, and is missing a lid and it could be an amazing bargain if it’s mid-1800’s in a beautiful pattern. Do you see my dilemma? I want to answer the question, so I’m going to give a range of what I will pay and charge for a white ironstone piece. The low end of the range is for a piece in fair condition, newer, etc. and the higher end is for an old, beautiful piece in nice condition. I am not including the high-end stuff like rare patterns and really old pieces that are in mint condition, etc. And these are JUST my opinion, so it’s okay if you think I’m off base.
- Sugar Jars: $5.00 -$48.00
- Creamers & Small Pitchers – $5.00 – $42.00
- Large drink/milk Pitchers – $15.00 – $65.00
- Wash Pitchers – $35.00 – $75.00
- Vegetable Casseroles – $15.00 – $65.00
- Tureens – $20.00 – $150.00 (depending on complete set, pattern, age, condition, etc.)
- Gravy Boat – (I’m not as into these) $5.00 – $24.00
- Compote – $35.00 – $125.00
- Punch Bowl – $65.00 – $125.00
- Brush Box – $20.00 – $65.00
- Covered Butter Dish – $15.00 – $55.00
- Dinner Plate – $1.00 – $12.00
- Berry Bowl – $1.00 – $8.00
- Soup Bowl – $1.00 – $12.00
- Butter Pat – $.50 – $3.00
- Platters – $5.00 – $40.00
- Handleless Mugs – $1.00 – $10.00
- Coffee/Tea Pots – $15.00 – $65.00
- Molds – $10.00 – $48.00
- Serving Bowls – $8.00 – $45.00
- Soap Dishes – $5.00 – $35.00
- Chamber Pots – $5.00 – $35.00
- Cake Stands – $250.00 – $550.00
Let me know if I’m missing anything obvious! Again, this is just my opinion, but I do buy and sell a lot of ironstone, so this is a typical range that includes my buying and selling prices.
How do you know when a piece of ironstone was made?
As far as dating a piece of ironstone, you can get pretty exact with hallmarks and using collector’s guide books, but you may be surprised to know that I don’t own any of those! I just buy pieces I like and don’t worry too much about whether it’s a “collector’s item” or not. There are some makers I have more of than others… Johnson, Meakin, and Adams to name a few.
Here are some general guidelines to date a piece based on the styling. This is obviously general and isn’t going to apply to all pieces.
The 1830s to 1840s – these older pieces have more of a bluish cast to them, tend to be thicker, and are octagonal or hexagonal in shape. They look “chunky” and a bit more gothic and masculine. I love these oldies.
The 1850s – Things get a little frillier with leaves.
The 1860s – The leaves from the 1850’s evolved into the popular wheat pattern and other harvest-related themes like fruit (strawberries, grapes), grains, and nuts.
1860 – 1880 – White Ironstone patterns start to get more elaborate and feminine.
Sometimes looking at the style alone isn’t enough to date a piece. I’ve learned to spot some indicators of older pieces vs. more recent reproductions…
…the hallmarks are often muted and blurry and sometimes raised and stamped. Some have no markings at all, which confuses the matter even more!
…are often thicker and heavier than their modern counterparts
…more imperfections in the glazing and coloration
…have more of a gray or bluish cast. The whites and creams have more depth and luster to them than modern pieces
…hallmarks are clearer and tend to have more of a “manufactured” look, if that makes any sense at all!
…tend to have a more uniform white or cream color, smoother glaze and less crazing
…the depth of the color and warmth of the glazing just looks newer (that one’s hard to describe!)
…are still heavy, but aren’t quite as thick or “chunky”
I usually don’t buy really new ironstone, but I do like some of the vintage stuff (1970’s – 80’s era), because it’s dishwasher safe and easier to find in large sets. For that reason, I love using those pieces for my everyday dishes.
I will say, though, it’s the really old stuff that stirs my soul.
Is ironstone safe to actually use and eat off of?
I didn’t want to answer this question on my own, since I’m not an expert and have wondered the same thing. Lisa Braeman of Smithsonian.com shared this response from Siobhan DeLancey, an FDA press officer, answering the question if it’s safe to eat off of vintage china:
“First, as a bit of background, FDA established and began enforcing limits on leachable lead in tableware 40 years ago. Obviously, any ware, Fiestaware or otherwise, manufactured prior to that era was not subject to FDA limits, because they didn’t exist. This doesn’t necessarily mean that old ware is unsafe, but consumers who are concerned about such a possibility can use home lead test kits (available in hardware stores) to screen old ware to determine whether it may leach high levels of lead into food.
We do not recommend not using old ware unless it shows signs of deterioration such as cracking or pitting of the glaze. This could be a sign that the glaze is disintegrating and could allow lead to leach into food. In addition to using a home test kit, consumers who want to be cautious might choose to avoid storing foods in older holloware (bowls), consuming hot and acidic liquid beverages such as coffee or tea out of cups, and heating bowls, cups and plates in the microwave. Again, these are qualified recommendations; the ware is not necessarily unsafe because it is old, but it may not comply with current FDA standards.”
So, there it is. It may be safe, it may not be safe, but it’s on you to decide.
There are some pieces in my collections that I have concerns about, so I don’t use them to serve food. I don’t serve drinks out of my antique ironstone pitchers, but use them for flowers and herbs instead. I will put my everyday white ironstone in the microwave and dishwasher, but I wouldn’t do that with older pieces.
If there’s a doubt, don’t use it or test it.
If you do decide to use your ironstone, here are some additional tips to care for it…
Hand wash it – As I said above, I put a lot of my ironstone in the dishwasher and it’s just fine. The being said, I have heard that it can cause crazing. I would never put the really old pieces in the dishwasher. Just gently wash those by hand.
Never bleach white ironstone – If you want to lighten stains, use hydrogen peroxide, not bleach! It will penetrate the glaze and dissolve it.
Buff away marks caused by silverware with a little white toothpaste.
I hope this Ironstone 201 post gives some more information to budding collectors, those who are starting to sell it or others who are just curious. Even though I’ve bought and sold a lot of ironstone, I’m far from being an expert. As I’ve shared before, I glaze over when hardcore collectors start rattling off pattern names and such. I just love white ironstone and buy what I like.
The fact that I don’t mind chips, crazing, discolorations, missing lids and broken handles has been a real benefit. I’m able to find pieces that others overlooked because they are not perfect. To me, those imperfections make the piece even more endearing. Who keeps a sugar jar with broken handles and no lid unless they really loved it? Right? To me, pieces like that sometimes have greater value than the pristine piece that lived a life behind a glass china cabinet door. Not that I’ll turn my nose at those, but I appreciate the used and forlorn.
I hope this post answers some of your ironstone FAQ’s!