The three types of porcelain are hard paste, soft paste, and bone china. Although English potters make all three types, England is primarily known for its exquisite bone china. To collect English porcelain, you will need to learn how to identify and evaluate various pieces and also how to display them safely and beautifully.
Hard paste was first made centuries ago in ancient China from kaolin clay glazed with a solution made from feldspar. Dishes of hard paste are cold to touch. They rarely have scratches or food stains but are very easily broken or chipped. English potters began making hard paste porcelain in 1770.
European potters created soft paste porcelain around 1700 in an attempt to replicate hard paste porcelain imports from China. This type of porcelain is made from various combinations of white clay and pulverized glass. These pieces scratch easily and are warmer to the touch than hard paste.
Bone china was developed around 1800 by Josiah Spode II in Staffordshire, England, and it quickly became the porcelain most identified with England. Bone china is made with white clay, feldspar, and burned cattle bones. It does not break or chip as easily as the other types of porcelain. The easiest way to distinguish bone china from any other type is its translucent nature, and if it is held over a bright light, the light will shine through it.
The value of any piece of English porcelain depends on many factors, including its rarity and condition. Most porcelain features a potter’s mark. A collector can use that mark to learn who made the piece and the time period it was made. This information, along with various qualities such as the shape and decoration, help determine a piece’s age and rarity.
English porcelain is available in many places, such as antique shops, specialized dealers, and online databases, but collectors should always personally inspect every piece before buying. Defects, such as chips and age cracks, lower the value. Some pieces have been repaired using rivets, cement, or china filler. Although defects and repairs decrease the value, some collectors view them as signs of a piece’s history.
For many collectors, displaying their English porcelain in a safe manner is the primary purpose of collecting. A china cabinet is the most obvious choice. Having an entire collection together in one place can be a very powerful display, especially if the cabinet is properly lighted. A china cabinet’s glass doors protect china from dust, which is especially important for expensive pieces. Less common display techniques include placing the English porcelain on a wall, on top of cabinets, using as a candy dish on a coffee table, or displaying over an entryway.