The History of English Bone China

Written by misty barton
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The History of English Bone China
Bone china was intended to mimic Chinese import porcelain. (porcelain cup image by Fatman73 from Fotolia.com)

Bone china is a kind of porcelain specific to Europe and made from a combination of clay and bone-ash. The most famous and most expensive bone china was produced in England. This china was coveted for its white-translucent finish, and its hard chip-resistant surface. It was first produced during the 1700s and is still produced and sought after today.

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First Attempts

The first bone china produced in England was a "soft-paste." It was made by Thomas Briand in his Chelsea factory and presented to the English Royal Society in 1742. It is believed that he based his recipe on bone china from Saint-Cloud. Shortly after this, his rival, Thomas Frye, at Bow began producing his own bone china in 1748. In 1749 he patented his recipe, which was about 45 per cent bone. Though Bow continued producing bone china until 1776, it never became a commercial success.

Creation of a Standard

In 1797 Josiah Spode introduced a new form of bone china. The recipe he introduced was six parts bone-ash to four parts china stone, to 3 1/2 parts china clay. This mixture is still the standard for bone china production today. Spode's china was fired twice and resulted in a porcelain that was much harder than those made with glass. It was very white, let light pass through it, and was in every way considered equal in artistry with the porcelain imported from China.

Demand for Bone China

At the time that bone china was patented in England, the import duties on products from China were at an all-time high. In 1799 Chinese porcelain products were taxed at a rate of 108 per cent. Also, the shipping cost was extremely expensive because most ships were dedicated to naval service at this time. This made the bone china much more affordable for members of the merchant and professional classes, which were rapidly growing. Bone china even gained popularity with the upper class after gaining the endorsement of the Prince of Wales.

Growing Production

The popularity of English bone china rapidly increased for several reasons. Local craftsmen moved toward bone china because of the money it would save them. Bone china could be fired at a lower temperature than traditional porcelains, and so could be fired in the kilns that potters were already using for earthenware. Also the hardness of the bone china meant that less china was lost in the firing, and that the resulting product was more tolerant of abuse. By 1757 at least seven factories were regularly producing bone china.

Modern Market

Today antique bone china is highly coveted and avidly collected. New bone china is also regularly produced. Bone china is still produced primarily in England and, though the process has become more mechanised the basic formula and firing methods developed by Spode remain in use today.

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