Monday, June 21, 2010

Beautiful Antique Ironstone

It occurred to me as I was packing for shipment the last of my collection of antique English ironstone at my shop (below), how much I adore this simple "poor man's china."

It also occurred to me how little is known about the history of this beautiful, simple, utilitarian and very old china. Whether you use it as decoration or with a purpose in mind, its white, plain, simple design makes it the perfect accent to any decor.

In the center of a farm table, this ironstone bowl adds white texture and a vintage touch to this kitchen nook (by Atlanta Bartlett)

Ironstone brings beauty to any setting -- not just the kitchen. I adore how Atlanta Bartlett used ironstone in the bedroom to hold knick knacks such as scarfs or jewelry.

But before I get too carried away with the beauty and uses of this wonderful antique, let me offer you a brief history of it.

According to the White Ironstone China Association, "[i]ronstone china as we know it was first patented in 1813 by Charles James Mason in Staffordshire, England. It was an improved china harder than earthenware and stronger than porcelain.
Mason's patent lasted only fourteen years, and by 1827 a number of other potters had already experimented with his formulas. All of these wares were decorated with transfer patterns or brush-stroke designs. Occasionally an undecorated piece would find its way out of the factory, possibly because it was flawed in some way.

In the 1840's, England began exporting the undecorated wares to the American and Canadian markets. The English potters discovered that the "Colonies" preferred the unfussy plain and durable china. Specifically, it was 1842 when James Edwards marketed the first white ironstone china in America.

Late in the 1850's and into the 1860's huge quantities of china were sold to the agricultural communities and called "thrashers' ware." These dinner, tea and chamber sets were embossed with wheat, prairie flowers and corn in order to appeal to the farmers, who had to feed all the people that helped with the harvest.

Little of this plain embossed white ironstone could be found in England until just recently, when a staff member of the City Museum and Art Gallery of Stoke-on-Trent visited the U.S. He purchased several pieces which now reside in the Museum.

This is obviously an oversimplification of the history of English white ironstone in America. There is also the advent of American ironstone manufacture but that's another story."

Today, original ironstone china are collector's items and can command high prices. Still, I adore white antique ironstone and, as the following photos show, I find it to be a beautiful way to add texture, color and age to any corner or focal point of a room or wall.

Ironstones are perfect to display in cabinets and armoires. Who wants an armoire closed when it can look this lovely open?

These ironstone platters and plates of all shapes and sizes add an artistic element to any wall.

The more, the merrier.

But even one in the corner of a kitchen counter is enough.

Against the back wall.

In kitchen shelves.

Some are still being used for their practicality. Feel free to mix and match as a full set of ironstone plates or platter or bowls are very hard to come by. But I just adore mixing sizes and shapes together. (photo courtesy of Bountiful Home).

OMG!!! Look at those pitchers!!!

A backdrop of white ironstone is so pleasing to the eye in this otherwise simple and minimalistic dining room.

The cake platters can be used for just about anything, including a place for utensils or napkins at a dinner party. (photo courtesy of Bountiful Home).

At Agape on Boulevard Raspail in Paris, ironstone is mixed with industrial and primitive pieces (below).

photos courtesy of Paris Parfait.

Even Architectural Digest Magazine featured on its cover a living room whose focal point was nothing other than antique ironstone pitchers.

So go out and save these beautiful pieces of antiquity and history. Find a place in your home in which to display them proudly. But I must warn you, once you start with one, you'll be hooked.


  1. Hi Karina - A fellow blogger sent me to your blog. I'm on a serious table hunt (have blogged about it a bit lately) and love the table in your first two images. Is there a place/way for me to find out more?

  2. I adore the ironstone I got from you. We use it every single day! And to the post above this one....I have seen that table in person and it's magnificent, very substantial and so charming!

  3. Thanks, Steph. I thought about your ironstone plates when I was writing this post.

    Linsey, as you know, you can find me at or email me at And, yes, we will find your dream table.


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