A type of stoneware introduced in England early in the
nineteenth century by the Staffordshire potters who looked
for a substitute for porcelain that could be mass-produced
for the cheaper market. The result of their experiments was
a dense, hard, durable stoneware that came to be known by
several names e.g.: semi porcelain, opaque porcelain,
English porcelain, stone china, new stone, - all of which
were used to describe essentially the same product.
The first successful manufacture of ironstone was achieved
in 1800 by William Turner of the Lane End potteries at
Longton, Stoke-on-Trent. In 1805 Turner sold his patent to
Josiah Spode who called his bluish gray wares stone china
and new stone.
A patent was granted to Charles James Mason, Lane Delph, in
1813 for the manufacture of "English porcelain," a white
ware that he marketed as Mason's Ironstone China. Job and
George Ridgway also produced a similar product under the
name stone china.
Most early ironstone was made in the Staffordshire district
of England because of the abundance of clay and the
proximity of a seaport to ship the finished wares to
America and Europe. During the seventeenth century, several
Staffordshire potteries produced a ceramic ware that they
called "stone china." This dinner ware was hand painted to
resemble the more expensive porcelain that was imported
from China. In 1753, a less expensive method of applying
decoration was introduced, whereby designs were first
engraved on copper plates and then transferred to dishes
before glazing and firing.
The resulting "transfer ware" was imported to Europe and
North America. The most popular designs were historic
English and American scenes and oriental designs; blue was
the favorite color. Although transfer ware was much less
expensive than imported dinner ware, the dishes lacked the
delicacy of the Chinese porcelain. Transfer designs covered
the entire surface of each item to mask the flaws in the
thick, heavy "stone china" beneath.
In 1813, Charles James Mason, of Lane Delph in
Staffordshire, introduced "Patent Ironstone China." Mason
used a mixture of Cornwall clay, ironstone slag, flint and
blue oxide of cobalt to produce a hard, opaque, bluish
white pottery that had a smooth, glossy finish after
glazing and firing. The earliest ironstone items were
decorated, many with hand painted oriental designs or blue
transfer patterns. Soon other potteries were experimenting
with this new process, and by the time that Mason's patent
expired in 1827, many other potters had perfected their
individual formulas to get similar results.
Because items made of ironstone were thick and heavy, the
shape of the dishes became important. In the 1840s, James
Edwards, John Ridgway and the Mayer Brothers introduced all
white, beautifully glazed dinner ware with angular shapes
that deviated from the gentle curves that had been
traditionally used. In 1844, John Ridgway & Co. patented a
design called "Classic Gothic," a hexagonal shape with
crown finials and scrolled arches. Other potteries offered
variations on the "gothic" design during the 1840s.
Utilitarian items made of undecorated white ironstone have
been used, admired and collected since their introduction
in the 1840s. Most ironstone was manufactured in England
and exported to North America where it was prized for its
attractive shapes as well as its durability. Because it was
made in large quantities for a long period of time, this
sturdy ceramic ware is readily available to modern
collectors who enjoy it for the same reasons that led to
its immense popularity in an earlier time.