Porcelain is a variety of dense, highly vitrified and translucent white-bodied ceramic produced from specialized white clays that can withstand firing temperatures over 1300° C. There are three types of porcelain: hard paste, soft paste and bone china ftn1 (See Tables 1 and 2 below for identification pointers). Each type will be discussed in separate sections. These essays are meant to be basic overviews; there are many excellent source books and other materials that explore porcelain in depth.
The Chinese were the first to create porcelain, and kept the technique for making this delicate pottery secret for hundreds of years. Imports of Chinese porcelains became available to the Western world through the trade networks of the Portuguese and Dutch in the 16th and 17th centuries. European and English potters imitated the popular blue and white Chinese wares when manufacturing their tin-glazed and white-bodied earthenware and stoneware. By the 18th century, hard paste and soft paste porcelains were made in Europe and England. Bone china production began in England at the beginning of the 19th century and in the United States by the turn of the 20th century (Venable et al. 2003:140).
Table 1: Porcelain Identification Hints. (click on link to view)
Table 2: Decorations on Porcelain (click on link to view)
Porcelain Paste Comparisons (click on link to view)
ftn1 This list on this website is not comprehensive. As examples illustrating other motifs discussed in Madsen and White (2011) are found in the collections, these motifs will be added.