ANTIQUES, FINE & DECORATIVE ART…..
PORCELAIN; A HISTORY

By Sarah McCullom

          What is there about porcelain that makes us love it so much?Along with silver we take it out for company and dress our table with it. We use our special china at holidays – perhaps the fancy china that was our grandmother’s or mother’s.We wash it by hand to insure it doesn’t break – or because the gold decoration can not stand up to the harsh treatment of the dishwasher.It has a special place in our homes.It is one of the things that makes memories – can you not remember using it on special occasions at your grandmother’s?

          So what is porcelain, and where did it come from?Porcelain was first made in China, possibly as long ago as the Tang dynasty (618-907) – thus the name china.It is characterized by whiteness, delicacy and translucence.Porcelain is different from other ceramics by the process to make it. Earthenware and stoneware are made from single natural clay and then fired.Neither are white, or translucent.

          Porcelain is made from two ingredients, kaolin and petuntse.The ground up mixture is fired at very high temperatures (2280F to 2640F) At this temperature the petuntse melts, forms a nonporous glass, but the kaolin does not, and holds the item’s shape. There are basically three types of porcelain: hard paste; soft paste and bone china.

          Hard paste porcelain is the type described above, first made in China.The hot temperatures used to fire it cause the body and the glaze to become one.When it is broken, it is impossible to distinguish the body from the glaze.

          Soft paste porcelain was developed in Europe to try to imitate Chinese hard paste.It is a mixture of fine clay and glass.They are fired at a lower temperature than hard paste, so it remains somewhat porous. When it is broken, there is a grainy body covered by a glassy layer of glaze.

          Bone china is made by adding bone ash to kaolin and petuntse, and was developed by English porcelain makers in 1750.Most bone china is still made in England.It is not as hard as hard paste, but more durable than soft paste.In addition, the bone ash greatly increases the translucence of the porcelain.

          As was mentioned above, China was the first to make porcelain.As trade was developed between the Orient and Europe, porcelain became popular with the public.While European manufacturers tried to make it themselves, an increasing amount was imported into Europe from China.By 1800, it is estimated that more than 60 million pieces had been exported to Europe.

          Soft paste porcelain was first produced in Vincennes, France in 1738.By 1756 the factory was moved to the town of Sevres.Its famous soft paste porcelain came to be known by the same name.Sevres porcelain is very valuable and collectible today. By 1771, a hard paste porcelain industry was developed near Limoge. Limoge is still a center for porcelain making. David Haviland, an American, is a well known maker who opened a factory at Limoge in 1842, and made tableware for the American market.Haviland china is still available today in many patterns.

          In Germany, hard paste porcelain was first made in 1709 in a factory near Meissen, a small town near Dresden.There are many factories in and around Dresden, the most famous of course is the Meissen factory.For nearly a century the porcelain made in this location was the finest in Europe.

          England is best known for the development of bone china.Worcester porcelain, first made in 1751, is one of the oldest and best English porcelains.In 1800 Josiah Spode developed bone china paste that became the standard for English bone china.It should be pointed out that Wedgewood ware is not porcelain, but earthenware or stoneware.

          Today, modern techniques allow us to make porcelain in large quantities.Extensive porcelain making is done is the U.S., Europe and Japan.Today’s examples include Lenox, Rosenthall and Noritake.

 

 

 

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