I wrote a post a couple of years ago about ironstone, but I thought I would write an updated post. I’ve been showing a lot of my recent finds and selling some in my online shop and that has brought out a lot of questions about ironstone.
What is ironstone?
I answered this question in my first ironstone 101 post, so I’ll quote myself. “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.”
Why do you collect ironstone?
Like all collectors, I collect the things that speak to me and ironstone calls my name any time I see it! I bought my first piece of ironstone about 13 years ago at an antique mall in Florida. It was a pitcher for $25. I remember clutching it in my arms as I side-stepped through dusty aisles cluttered with stacks of records, magazines, newspapers and junk. After that, I would buy pieces here and there at antique malls and from eBay, but I didn’t start to really collect ironstone until about eight years ago.
What do you look for in an ironstone piece?
I am an avid ironstone collector, but not a serious one. I once got into a conversation with a serious collector and it’s like he was speaking a foreign language..spouting out dates, makers, patterns, pieces. I glazed over. I just buy what I like. I’m picky, but not about the condition or the maker’s mark or the pattern. I look for shape, the luster of the finish, the potential function and beauty of the piece itself. I specifically look for sugar jars, pitchers (especially milk pitchers), tureens, casseroles, compotes, soap dishes, plates, platters, handless mugs and bowls. The pieces you’re drawn to might be different, though, and you may be pickier about condition or find that you like a specific maker. You can make your own rules when it comes to collecting ironstone.
How can you tell ironstone from white china?
Most of the time, the giveaway is the thickness and weight. Ironstone tends to be thicker and heavier than other types of china, but not always. You can find some dainty ironstone pieces. Another giveaway is the luster of the finish. It’s just different than anything else and I’ve gotten to the point where I can spot most ironstone across an antique store. I’ve also collected it long enough that I recognize specific patterns. Every once in a while an unmarked piece has me guessing, but usually I’m pretty confident. The best thing you can do to learn is to handle ironstone to get a feel for it.
Does ironstone always have a hallmark or maker’s mark?
Again, I’ll quote myself. “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.” It’s not uncommon to find pieces that aren’t marked at all, so just because it isn’t marked doesn’t mean it’s not ironstone.
Where do you get all of your ironstone?
I am very fortunate to live in an area where ironstone seems to be plentiful. I’ve found platters at yard sales for $.10/each. That’s a dime each. It felt like robbery, but I kept a game face on and waited to giggle until I got in the car. I also have gotten familiar with antique vendors who buy and sell ironstone and several of them will tip me off when they have a good stash to sell. If you don’t live in an area where ironstone is easy to find, I would suggest looking online.
Hopefully this answers your questions and maybe even gets you started on a collection of your own!
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Disclosure: This is a paid featured post. My eBay Collections were curated as part of my collaboration with eBay #followitfindit and Style Coalition.