Let’s start 2016 with a favorite: white ironstone. For those unfamiliar, read on. Just a warning: this white-on-white craze is highly addictive…..take it from this China boy!
What is ironstone? It is a type of heavy pottery or earthenware with exceptional strength, hence the iron in the name. The all-white glazed form became known as white ironstone.
This durable china was first produced in England during the early 1800s. Without complex color schemes, it became easy and inexpensive to manufacture. Soon other European nations started churning out these humble dishes meant for everyday use. Think of them as the Tupperware of the 19th century. England was the top producer with much of it shipped as ballast to the Americas; they coined it “cheap china for the colonies!” Finally in the late 1800s, the Americans created their own versions.
Nearly all the English export came from the potters in Staffordshire County. Their wares were clearly marked, and have a distinctive bluish tinge to the glaze. Most that remained in Europe are creamier. If starting a collection, decide which you’d like to focus on as the various shades can clash. Some buying and handling tips:
-Inspect for damages such as chips, cracks and repairs (usually at handle joints, finials, highpoints, spouts, etc.).
-Learn the difference between cracks vs crazing. The latter is a glaze defect with a network of allover crackling.
-Expect to pay between $15 – $1,500 for an item in good condition.
-Wash with lukewarm water; avoid extreme temperature fluctuations to prevent cracks.
-Never put in dishwasher or microwave.
-Try not to pick up heavy pieces by the handle(s) alone; also support the base.
Most importantly, use and enjoy your pieces. They are not precious finery meant to collect dust in the vitrine cabinet. Footed bowls elevate boring veggies to new heights. Cakestands are for more than cakes; cheese, hors d’oeuvres, pies and cookies presented on cakestands become irresistible. Even common carnations in pitchers look like heirloom flowers fresh from the garden. By the way, tureen bases, in addition for food, make charming vessels for floral or fruit centerpieces. With a bit of care, these dishes that once graced early tables can be a part of daily life once again.
How to start a collection? Pick a pattern such as the wheat shown above. Or, focus on a particular shape like these angular ones.
Perhaps start a group of pitchers? They are extremely popular for flowers, and understandably so. Their simple form allows any arrangement to shine. Look how pretty the pink peonies, carnations and roses are in this classic-shaped ewer – so effortless, too!
Shifting to Continental European pieces, notice the color is creamier on this unusual watering can with stainless steel trim. Compare it to the Staffordshire leaf dish (made for relish). Also the tall jug, banded bath and graduated compotes (below) are all a warmer white.
Instead of the expected books in this Swedish Gustavian secretary from the 1790s, I’ve tossed in jugs, tureens and vessels for a casual look that’s less predictable. Notice the china is unified by their rounded form. White ironstone mixes beautifully with Swedish antiques.
Another rarity: a Belgian inkwell made by Boch. It sits on Swedish chest with a drop-top first drawer fitted with mini drawers for jewelry. Next to the chest is a curvilinear clock from Mora, Sweden.
Our home is graced with a formal dining room complete with 10′ ceiling and an oversized fireplace. But, with a set of slipcovered chairs, whitewashed table, stripped pine cupboard, sisal rug and grouping of ironstone, that room went from serious to summery.
A gathering of white ironstone fills our Ca. 1790s pine corner cabinet with casual charm. Note the scarce toddy bowl (center of bottom shelf) made for hot toddy – a drink with boiling water, liquor, honey as well as spices. Toddy bowls resemble punch bowls, except the former have lids to keep the beverages toasty plus handles for safely transporting such hot contents.
All lined up for their seasonal cleaning. Next to the toddy bowl is a showy covered slop jar that was once part of a chamber set.
Speaking of a chamber set, an English Regency washstand in our guestbath holds an ewer and basin, also from such a set. The pattern is Fuchsia. More from Maine very soon.
Below is a banded footbath that sold at our shop. Footbaths make fabulous cachepots for plants as well as holders for magazines, etc.