Design trends come and go, but one thing that will remain a constant in my home is vintage ironstone. Beautiful and simple, it fits well in any décor and it works with any room color. You don’t need a “set” of anything, because a variety of pieces are united by color.
Ironstone is eye-catching displayed in groups or in small vignettes. Use a single piece to display fresh flowers or apples. It also lends itself to seasonal tablescapes or mantel displays.
Ironstone is glaze-covered earthenware dating back to the early 1800s in England. It was made as a cheaper, more durable alternative to porcelain. The name and its formula, containing the mineral feldspar, were patented by Charles James Mason in Staffordshire, England in 1813. This patent expired in 1827, by which time competitors with similar products were already under way.
Ironstone decorated with colorful transfer patterns was an immediate success in England, but virtually all of the white-glazed variety was made for export to Europe, Australia and the United States. Enterprising potters recognized a potential market among rural American families. They put together white ironstone services, predicting that its simplicity and affordability would appeal to the no-frills American country life.
Most all ironstone in the United States was imported until the late 19th century. Potteries in the U.S. (New Jersey and Ohio) began producing ironstone in the late 1800s.
I would be considered a casual collector of ironstone. I don’t pay a lot for my pieces; I find most at flea markets and yard sales. And I don’t discriminate; imperfect pieces are lovely to me - I don’t mind chips or cracks, crazing (a fine hairline crackle in the glaze) or discoloration from age. Any of the aforementioned conditions may lower the value of a piece, so a serious collector may want to pass.
Should you find a discolored piece, to clean it you will need a plastic container with lid, and 3% hydrogen peroxide. Pour the peroxide in the plastic container, submerge the ironstone and place the lid on the container. Soak for about 2 days. Remove the ironstone piece and let it sit in the sun for a day or two. Another method is to dissolve 3 denture cleaning tablets in hot water, let the water cool a bit, and submerge the piece for about an hour.
If you are interested in starting a collection of vintage ironstone, train your eye to recognize it. Ironstone is usually creamy white and has more heftiness than porcelain or earthenware. You might wish to limit your collection to a certain piece, such as platters, or pitchers. Some pieces have hallmarks (manufacturer mark) on the underside. Keep in mind, though, that some very early pieces are unmarked. Knowledge is power. Buy a good book on the subject. You can also find visuals of the common hallmarks online.
Vintage ironstone pieces can be found at yard sales, thrift stores, auctions, antique shops, or internet marketplaces such as eBay and Etsy.
So go on out there and find a great ironstone piece. But I must warn you – one piece will lead to another…..and another….
You can email Melissa at firstname.lastname@example.org