Collecting English porcelain: how?

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English porcelain comes in three types: hard-paste, soft-paste, and bone china. Bone china is the most well-known and valuable. Collectors should learn to identify and value pieces, and display them safely. Porcelain cabinets are a popular display option.

The three types of porcelain are hard-paste, soft-paste, and bone china. Although English potters produce all three types, England is primarily known for its exquisite bone china. To collect English porcelain, you’ll need to learn how to identify and value the various pieces, and also how to display them safely and beautifully.
Hard clay was first made centuries ago in ancient China from kaolin clay glazed with a feldspar-based solution. Hard pasta dishes are cold to the touch. They rarely have scratches or food stains, but they break or chip very easily. English potters began making hard-paste porcelain in the 1770s.

European potters created soft-paste porcelain around 1700 in an attempt to replicate the imports of hard-paste porcelain 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 dough.

Bone china was developed around 1800 by Josiah Spode II in Staffordshire, England, and quickly became the porcelain most identified with England. Bone china is made with white clay, feldspar and burnt bovine bones. It does not break or chip as easily as other types of porcelain. The easiest way to distinguish bone china from any other type is its translucent nature, and if it is held up to 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 of the porcelain bears 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 shape and decoration, help determine the age and rarity of a piece.

English porcelain is available in many places, such as antique stores, specialty dealers, and online databases, but collectors should always personally inspect each piece before purchasing. Defects, such as age-related chips and cracks, lower the value. Some pieces have been repaired using rivets, cement or porcelain filler. While defects and repairs diminish its value, some collectors see them as markers of a piece’s history.

For many collectors, safely displaying their English porcelain is the primary purpose of collecting. A porcelain cabinet is the obvious choice. Having an entire collection in one place can be a very powerful display, especially if the closet is properly lit. The glass doors of a porcelain cabinet protect the porcelain from dust, which is especially important for expensive pieces. Less common display techniques include placing English china on a wall, atop cabinets, using it as a candy dish on a side table, or displaying it over an entryway.

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