You guys, I have a newfound love and surprisingly it doesn't involve the color blue, white chocolate, or Ryan Gosling this time. It involves stoneware, a dense opaque kind to be exact. That's right, say the word "ironstone", and my heart skips a beat. I just recently started collecting a few pieces here and there and and I thought I'd share a few tips I've learned along the way on how to identify authentic vintage ironstone.
Let me preface this by stating I am by no means a professional in ironstone identification. I hate to disappoint you, but you won't be spotting my mug on the "Antique Roadshow" anytime soon!
Through my own research and shopping adventures, these are the tips that have helped me score real ironstone pieces.
First things first, what is ironstone? Ironstone is a type of pottery that was created in England in the the 19th century and was originally developed to be a cheaper alternative to porcelain. Charles James Mason, a British potter, patented ironstone in 1813. Mason, Spode, and Hicks and Meigh, were just a few of the names of major ironstone manufacturers during that time. In the 1840's, the stoneware was exported to North America in droves. It was quite a hit here in the states, particularly with rural American families. By the 1850's, the US was manufacturing its own ironstone. Even today, there is a strong market for these practical pieces. Full ironstone collections can go close to $20,000! The good news for those of us who don't live on a Kayne budget (there's a name I never thought would make it into a vintage stoneware post), you can still find high quality pieces for just a few dollars.
Where can I buy ironstone? Ebay, Etsy, antique shops, flea markets, and thrift stores are all great places to look for ironstone. I've actually been lucky and found my pieces all at Goodwill so far!
Here are some tips on how to identify authentic ironstone:
*Markings: Although a lot of pieces are marked "ironstone" on the bottom, many are not. Also, look for words such as Stone China, Granite Ware, and Staffordshire. Stay away from anything marked "iron ware", those are reproductions. Many of the hallmarks include a crown or an image of the Royal Coat of Arms.
*Keep Google nearby! I always have my phone with me whenever I'm on an ironstone hunt. That way if a piece has a marking but does not include the word "ironstone", I can search the manufacturer as a reference. Keep in mind at one time there were close 200 ironstone manufacturers in the world! Mason, Johnson Brothers, Spode, William Adams and Sons, are just a few popular company names you may spot.
*If it doesn't have a hallmark, look for the luster! Okay, so this is something that will come with time as you gain more experience in seeing and handling real ironstone. Unlike porcelain, ironstone is more opaque. It can be bright white or creamy colored (although earlier colors had more of a bluish tint). It's not uncommon to see some crackling in the glaze in older pieces. This just adds to the charm!
*Pick up the piece. Is it heavier than it looks? Ironstone is no lightweight, it will feel heavier than your typical china and porcelain.
*Flick the piece with your finger, if it's ironstone it should make a ringing sound.
So there you have it, it's like Ironstone 101! As mentioned, it took me a few go-arounds with ironstone to get a gauge on what to look for but I promise once you handle it a few times you'll be able to spot it pretty quickly. Also, don't shy away from little knicks or missing pieces (unless you're looking to really make an investment in your collection). The gravy boat I recently scored at Goodwill, had a small chip on one side but since it faces the back of my hutch , you can't tell!
I'm currently on the hunt for some reasonably priced pitchers, wish me luck!
Do you collect ironstone? Score any great deals?!
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