The Difference Between Stoneware & China

11 July 2013



Did you register for china on your wedding registry?

We didn't.  It seemed strange at the time to register for something more extravagant than what our daily lives required.  We tend to be a little more back yard BBQ than formal dinners (in practice anyway...the formal soirees I dream of are an entirely different matter altogether).  However, that didn't mean we didn't want China, it was just that at the time, it didn't suit.

Flash forward five years, and my wonderful mother passed her formal china on to us as an anniversary gift.  I have to say, a soiree or two might be in our near future.  There is something about china that is so different; so much better.  I always knew that a china place setting was not just any old set of dishes, but, oh, to actually hold it in my hands and feel the difference; it is a striking difference. 


So, knowledge junkie that I am, I had to find out what makes it china?  Why have I been addicted to having my afternoon tea in this fancy cup and saucer for the last two weeks?  Why can I not look at our normal plates the same way?

Well, here is what I found out for us (because I know you can't wait to know this either)...



Pottery

Is the umbrella term for all works made from clay, including dinnerware (from basic dried molded clay up to the finest porcelain). It is categorized using several characteristics:

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Color
Strength
Absorption (how much water is absorbs when submerged)
Resonance (how well sound waves move through it)
Translucency (how well light passed through it)

The whiter, the stronger, the least porous, more able to carry sound, and more translucent, the higher the quality, in general.



Earthenware

The oldest form of pottery.  Not used for dishes, but still found in modern decorative works.  Mostly used to describe old, historical pieces of very low fired, or non-fired pottery. 

Stoneware

Stoneware is fired to increase its hardness and make it become more glass-like (also known as 'vitrified').  Most of our modern everyday dishes are in this category.  They are usually fired at lower temperatures than finer pieces and so they absorb more water (before they are glazed), and are generally heavier pieces. Also, you will not be able to see light through stoneware, and it is 'clunkier' (for lack of a better term) than finer pieces.


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China

This term is a little ambiguous, because when it was first used, it literally meant pieces that came from China.  Europeans then copied the techniques used by the Chinese, and so the meaning has been a bit confused.   However, distinguishing factors include the use of Kaolin, a natural mineral used by the Chinese to create the exquisite bright whiteness of fine china that is not found in regular stoneware pieces.  Also, china tends to denote the high quality of the natural clays/materials used in the pieces, versus man-made materials.



Porcelain

The finest grade of china.  When we think of formal china, this is usually what we imagine.  Fine porcelain is noted for its translucence.  When you hold it up to the light, you can see shadows through it (like your finger holding the plate).  Porcelain is very delicate and fired at such high temperatures that the material becomes almost glass-like, even without the use of glazes. 

Bone China

This literally refers to ground bone ash (usually ox bone) in the composite material making up the piece. It is usually more translucent and whiter than china (more of a pure snow white, than the slightly gray white of fine china).

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So there is just a brief scratching of the surface for you curious minds out there.  I can tell you that the beauty of the fine white and translucent porcelain far surpasses the every day stoneware dishes we bought from Target...as it should. 

Fine china seems to be something that is slipping away in our society, like all things refined and sophisticated.  We are losing some of man's greatest achievements in artistry, craftsmanship, knowledge, behavior, speech, writing, etc., all in the name of casualness and convenience.  We are losing sight of these things because they are not necessary.  But participating in things that are not necessary is the hallmark of civilization.  Of course it is not necessary, but we are so advanced as a people that we are able to do it anyway! 

So if you are able to register for china or purchase it for yourself, by all means, relish in the finer things (especially now that you know what makes them so fine).
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