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Ironstone China from Staffordshire

Ironstone china, the name of which well describes this hardy ware, was designed as an inexpensive substitute for the costly and fragile bone china. It was originated by Miles Mason who had been a china dealer in London. In 1780 he took over the Lane Delph pottery in Staffordshire and started making earthenware transfer-decorated dishes with designs in the Chinese manner known as "British Nankin."

These were popular and sold well, but Mason is best remembered for his ironstone china for which he and his son, Charles, obtained a patent in 1813. The body of this ware was of white clay with generous quantities of pulverized flint and slag from iron-smelting added. As a result it was very strong and not aasily chipped. Though heavier than real porcelain, it was very popular in England and America for a half-century. As soon as the Mason patent expired or even before, most of the other Staffordshire potters were making china of about the same formula which they marked "ironstone" or some similar descriptive term.

Its originator marked his, "Mason's Patent Ironstone China," printed in black and surmounted by the outline of a crown. Decorations on his dishes ranged from highly colored and gilded all-over patterns to a simple strawberry design in copper lustre.

From about 1835 to 1860, octagon-shaped dishes were especially popular in table ware and much of the ironstone china was produced in that form by the various Staffordshire potters, including Wedgwood and Spode. The Mason family retired in 1851, selling their pottery to a corporation headed by a member of the Ridgway family. Ironstone china popular with Americans included transfer-decorated dishes in the Willow pattern, some American blue and white historic and scenic designs, usually done in deep blue, the copperlustre strawberry pattern already mentioned, and undecorated, like the covered dish in Illustration 60. This dish bears the design registry mark of T.& R. Boote, a firm founded in 1842 by Thomas and Richard Boote in Burslem. The mark, a diamond-shape with circle above enclosing a Roman numeral IV, has numerals and letters by which the date of dish can be told. The potter's mark is impressed in a lozenge below. The platter in the illustration is unmarked and is of the shape so much in favor during the early Victorian years. The irregularly fluted edge, brushed with cobalt, was a popular decorative touch for plates and platters in this ware. Occasionally, a covered dish so decorated is found. This simple design was copied from an earlier Leeds pattern.

Most ironstone china bears the mark of its maker and, from 1842 on, a design registry may be present if the piece is of a special shape or pattern. When unmarked, weight and feel of a piece identify it.

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