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Collecting and Decorating with White Ironstone

Design Tips

White ironstone makes a gorgeous collection and can be used for decorating year-round. Learn all about white ironstone with its beautiful simplicity and how to use it in your own home.

I love finding multiple uses for objects and one thing that I can find endless uses for is ironstone.  I found my first piece of white ironstone at an antique fair, and as soon as I saw it, I was hooked!  Not only do the vintage pieces have history and character, but white ironstone can be used with any decorating style and any color scheme.  Win-win!

Ironstone is utilitarian in nature, but more often than not, these days it’s not used for its intended purpose. White ironstone is well…white, without any colorful pattern. It can be completely plain or have relief patterns for a more decorative look. But regardless, ironstone is durable was meant to be used. It’s not one of those things that needs to be put away and saved for special occasions when company comes.

Over the years, I’ve collected many, many pieces of white ironstone. Most is tucked away in my china cabinet for display out of necessity, but there are always other pieces floating around my home, used for something completely random! After all, who needs a vase for flowers when there’s an ironstone pitcher handy?

What is White Ironstone

Ironstone, commonly known as ironstone china,  is a type of ceramic that uses the rock “ironstone” as a component in its manufacturing and was first used in the United Kingdom in the early 19th century.  Ironstone was born out of the desire to find a cheaper, mass-produced alternative to porcelain. The name is slightly misleading in that there is no “iron” in ironstone. Rather, the name refers to the pottery’s durability.

Originally created for transferware, white ironstone was then produced for the American market beginning in the 1840’s, where undecorated pieces were preferred.

Transferware vs White Ironstone

Transferware is transfer-printed designs made to copy Chinese porcelain at a fraction of the price. Usually, transferware is composed one a single color, usually blue, red, green, or brown, against a white backdrop. Typical patterns include landscapes, animals, architecture, and florals.

So, transferware is made of ironstone china and has a colored pattern, wheras white ironstone is completely plain.

How to Identify White Ironstone

If you’re lucky, the piece will be marked on the bottom in either black ink or a raised maker’s stamp as either “ironstone” or “stoneware”. Often times, though, there is no marking. In cases where there isn’t a hallmark on the piece, you’ll need to assess it based on other factors. Ironstone is often heavier than you’d expect if it were some other time of ceramic, so pick up the piece and see if it feels heavy. Also, compared to porcelain, it’s more opaque in color. Older pieces will also often have cracking in the glaze, known as crazing.

Where to Buy White Ironstone

If you are fortunate to live in an area that has antique faires, you can get a great deal of some of these pieces.  But you can also find them at antique stores or even estate sales.  Otherwise, my favorite places to shop for white ironstone are Etsy and eBay

Some pieces can be quite pricey depending on the manufacturer, age, and condition, but you can also find some very affordable pieces.  Ironstone is also prone to staining and crazing and whether you like that look is personal preference. One of the great things about white ironstone is that you can mix in contemporary pieces of white ceramic and create the illusion of a larger collection.

Personally, I buy white ironstone pieces not for the value, but for my love of the shape and/or style. I buy what I like regardless of what I think its value will be!

Creative Uses for White Ironstone

You can of course use the ironstone for its intended purpose, but when not in use as tableware, you can also use it for decorating!

 1. Vases

Tureens make beautiful planters for coffee tables and other accent tables. And can you imaging a tureen filled with flowers as a centerpiece?!

Tidbits&Twine Soup Tureen Vase
{via French Country Cottage}

White ironstone pitchers make great vases and are my usual go-to instead of a traditional vase.

2. Displays/Collections

As you may know, a collection has much more impact when it’s grouped together, and white ironstone is no exception!  There’s no need to hide pieces away in the kitchen cabinets or dining room storage when you can create a beautiful display on open shelves or even on a tabletop.  Use it alone or mix it with other textures for a bit of pop!

via Loi Thai
{via Atchison Home}

3.  Plate Walls

Personally, I’m not a big fan of hanging delicate, fancy plates on the wall, but I do love the simplicity of ironstone plates on the wall!  Whether they are in pristine condition, or stained, crazed, and chipped, they can add interest and character to any wall.

Tidbits&Twine Ironstone Plate Wall
{via Decorating with China and Glass}

4.  Vignettes

Vignettes add so much interest to a space – like little scenes in a play or three-dimensional artwork – and individual pieces of ironstone can be worked into all types of vignettes.

Fall farmhouse kitchen 3 tier tray for fall
Spring vignette with purple flowers, ironstone and feathers

More Decorating Tips

To see more of my favorite pictures of ironstone, you can follow my Pinterest board!

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