What Is Fine Bone China?

Written by laurie williams
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What Is Fine Bone China?
Fine bone china (china porcelain image by araraadt from Fotolia.com)

Manufacturers of fine bone china make dinnerware and decorative pieces out of porcelain clay. They add bone ash to achieve a delicate translucence---you should be able to see light through a piece of fine bone china, and if you tap it gently, you should hear a chiming note. Fine bone china is the pinnacle of the ceramicist's craft and thus is very expensive.

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Chinese China

Porcelain art from China began appearing in Europe in the 13th century, according to Toffsworld.com. It took European craftsmen centuries to figure out how to make it. The secret was the high temperature at which the Chinese artisans fired the clay--up to 1,300 degrees Celsius. In 1710, German artisans began producing high-quality porcelain.

English China

Thomas Briand of Chelsea developed soft-paste porcelain in 1742. Thomas Frye patented porcelain containing bone ash in 1749 and Josiah Spode perfected the recipe for fine bone china, according to the potteries.org. The standard English formula is 25 per cent china clay, 25 per cent Cornish stone and 50 per cent bone ash.

The Bones

Material from animal bones makes up about 50 per cent of the substance of fine bone china, according to thepotteries.org. Manufacturers process the bones to remove meat and glue, and heat them to about 1,000 degrees Celsius. This sterilises the bones and turns them to ash. They grind the ash finely with water before mixing it with the other materials. Porcelain china without bone ash is strong but chips easily, according to the potteries.org. It usually has a blue or grey tinge. Bone china, which does not chip easily, is white.

The Potteries

China aficionados hail an area of North Staffordshire known as "The Potteries" as the original source of fine bone china, according to chrystallia.com. Burslem, Fenton, Hanley, Longton, Stoke-upon-Trent and Tunstall had been the centre of England's pottery industry since the middle 1700s, and joined forces as one city, Stoke-on-Trent, in 1910. More than 1,500 china manufacturers have operated in the area, some for more than 200 years.

Josiah Spode

The most famous figure in the history of fine bone china is Josiah Spode, born in 1733 in Staffordshire. He apprenticed with Thomas Whieldon, one of the best potters in the area. He founded his own pottery in 1767 and owned it outright by 1776, according to thepotteries.com. Three generations of Spode's family worked in the business, and Spode Works in Stoke-on-Trent flourished for nearly 250 years. Spode still sells fine bone china today, despite financial troubles that have shut down most manufacturing.

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