Original article can be found at https://nspirement.com/2023/12/10/6-essential-tips-decoding-bone-china.html
You’ve inherited a box of fine bone china from your grandmother. The cups and saucers are very pretty, but you don’t know how to care for them or if they’re valuable.
Before using them for afternoon tea, you should learn to spot and care for this valuable china. Read this article to become an expert in relishing and preserving your bone china.
What is bone china?
This china is a ceramic made from kaolin, feldspathic material, and bone ash. Typically, it contains at least 25-35 percent bone ash, made from cattle bones that have been calcined (burned) at high heat. The bone ash is mixed with kaolin, white clay, and feldspathic material like quartz or feldspar. This combination results in its signature fine, white, and translucent quality.
The quality of bone china
Bone china can command a high price tag due to the cost of its raw materials and the intensive manufacturing process. While regular porcelain and stoneware are also made from feldspar and quartz, the addition of bone ash gives bone china a distinctive warm glow and delicacy.
The bone ash, which is 50 percent phosphate, also strengthens the material and prevents crazing. These qualities, prestige, and history have cemented bone china as a wealth, status, and refinement symbol.
Bone china can command a high price tag due to the cost of its raw materials and the intensive manufacturing process. (Image: Vic-d via Dreamstime)
How to identify bone china
This china can often be identified in many ways, including:
1. Is it translucent?
Hold the piece to a strong light source like a lamp or window. If it’s bone china, the light should illuminate the piece, and you may be able to see shadows and shapes through it.
Remember, opaque china will not transmit much light, if any. The clarity comes from the bone ash content, which creates a lighter and more porous material. In other words, the higher the bone ash content, the more translucent the china.
2. Locate the stamp on the bottom
Most bone china will feature a stamp indicating the manufacturer, pattern name, and sometimes a date code. With that, turn your piece of china upside down. Look for a maker’s mark, typically composed of letters, numbers, symbols, or a logo.
Prominent English makers like Royal Worcester, Spode, Wedgwood, and Royal Doulton will feature their names prominently. Smaller letters or numbers around the edge of the stamp may indicate a pattern name or number.
Note that the stamp on bone china can provide many clues to help determine its age and increase its value to collectors. Some companies changed their marks over the years, so the style of lettering or inclusion of a royal coat of arms can indicate an era.
3. Determine the pattern
Figuring out the pattern on your bone china piece can help define its origin and age. Patterns are decorative designs that have been painted, transferred, or engraved onto the china.
Some clues to look for in picking the pattern are:
- Floral designs were popular and often featured roses, chrysanthemums, or cherry blossoms. English bone china prominently featured floral patterns in the 18th and 19th centuries.
- Scenic or landscape patterns depicted pastoral scenes, gardens, or exotic Chinese vignettes. These were common in English bone china in the early to mid-19th century.
- Geometric or abstracted patterns incorporated lines, swirls, and dots. These simpler patterns were more typical of 20th-century versions.
A basic set of 4 to 6-place settings can start around US$200-$500 for a lesser-known brand. But, it can climb up to US$5,000-$10,000 or more for a high-end set from a prestigious maker like Wedgwood or Royal Doulton. (Image: via Public Domain)
4. What is its country of origin
The first successful formula for bone china came from the potter Josiah Spode in Stoke-on-Trent, England. Most high-quality bone china is still produced there and it is now considered the capital of fine china. Lesser quality china from other countries may appear similar, but it lacks the distinguishing characteristics of a fine English version.
5. Listen to the sound it makes
When deciding if you have an authentic piece of bone china, listen carefully as you gently tap the edge of a plate or cup. The real thing will produce a distinctive ringing, bell-like tone that resonates for a few seconds. In other words, the sound is crisp and clear.
On the other, imitation porcelain or stoneware will sound dull in comparison. They do not sustain the ring and fade quickly.
6. Consider its cost
Bone china can be quite expensive, depending on the brand and quality. When buying it, consider your budget and how much you’re willing to spend on a set. A basic set of 4 to 6-place settings can start around US$200-$500 for a lesser-known brand. But, it can climb up to US$5,000-$10,000 or more for a high-end set from a prestigious maker like Wedgwood or Royal Doulton.
Preserving exquisite bone china
Beautiful yet durable, this china is an investment that can become a treasured heirloom passed down for generations. With some knowledge of hallmarks, condition, and craftsmanship, you’ll be able to find bone china that matches your style and budget.