Last week, you got a peek into my armoire and saw my ironstone china collection. As you well know, my philosophy is that ideally, something should be both beautiful to look at as well as functional!
The appellation “Ironstone China” embodies this idea. Charles James Mason patented his “Ironstone China” in 1813 in Britain. It is a pure marketing ploy that this name came about: It isn’t from the East, it is not made of porcelain, and iron oxide content is only about a half percent! It is a porous, glazed earthenware made from a mixture of clay, iron slag, and feldspar, with a small amount of cobalt (which can sometimes give it a bluish tint). Ironstone China was likely named because it is extremely durable, can withstand high temperatures, and due to popularity of chinoiserie at the time. Chinese designs and baroque decorative patterns are most commonly found in England.
Even though the wares in my collection are antiques, I can use them as if they were brand new from Williams-Sonoma! They are oven-safe (perfect for pies), and if you are lucky enough to be a guest at my dinner table, you will most certainly see them! My set is White Ironstone, a type that is very rarely found in Europe, but was popular in the U.S. after the 1840s, since the Colonists tended to prefer elegant but unfussy tableware. You can find your own ironstone in auctions, antique shops, and some retail stores. There is even an organization dedicated to Ironstone ware: http://www.whiteironstonechina.com/index.htm