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What Is Bone China?

Yard sales may feature bone china for a reasonable price.
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  • Written By: A Kaminsky
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2014
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Whether it is used seldom or often, the "good china" is usually a home's favored treasure store. "Good china" is usually bone china, meaning that bone ash is used in the manufacture. In the United States, all china must have at least 25% bone ash to carry the name. Most has about 50% bone ash, along with 25% china stone and 25% kaolin clay.

Lenox, Inc. is the only manufacturer of bone china in the U.S., but this material is made all over the world. Some china is true porcelain, but bone china has the advantage of being lighter and stronger than porcelain. It is also more expensive.

Making bone china involves several steps. The clays and bone ash must be mixed together with water, then the slurry is formed into large cylinders that are sliced and formed with plaster molds into dishes, bowls, cups and other pieces. The pieces are taken from the molds, given a rough cleaning to remove the excess clay and any lumps or other imperfections, then fired in a kiln at about 2,300°F (1,260°C).

After being fired, the pieces are polished, re-heated, glazed, then fired again to set the glaze. Glazed pieces are then decorated, either by a machine or by hand. They are then re-fired to set the decorations and inspected. Imperfect pieces may be destroyed or sold as "seconds." The pieces are then packaged and sent to retail stores.

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Bone china comes in a variety of designs, so the homeowner has an array of choices. Almost every decoration imaginable is applied to it, and some designs may include flowers, fruit, geometric designs, lacy swirls, animals, or even holiday motifs. Many homeowners purchase this china deliberately to match with their kitchen or dining room decor, while some prefer the classic look of the plain white piece with a ring of gold or platinum at the edge.

Because creating bone china is a labor-intensive process, the products are not inexpensive. Depending on where it is purchased and what pattern it is in, prices can run from $20-$100 US Dollars or more for a single dinner plate. The china is available in retail stores, online from the manufacturer, or from online dealers. It can occasionally be picked up at a yard sale for much less.

A homeowner should care for this china by using soft cloths and mild detergents to clean it, preferably by hand. If the china is dishwasher safe, it should be washed on the gentle cycle and carefully loaded so that the pieces will not clink against each other. Bone china is beautiful, surprisingly sturdy and made to be enjoyed for many, many years.

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anon122946
Post 6

Pig or cattle bone is usually used for bone china.

anon122944
Post 5

The bone ash is completely sealed in by the flux melting to form a glass, so it is impossible to get bone dust fragments from fired bone china.

Planch
Post 4

So I know that bone china cups and tableware have to be at least 25% bone, but does that apply for bone china figurines too? A lot of them are sold very cheaply, so it seems to me that that might not be the case.

Do you have any idea?

galen84basc
Post 3

I recently bought a bone china teapot, and it seems to put off a lot of white dust when I use it to make tea. Is this because of the clay, do you think, or is it bone dust fragments? Now I'm kind of scared to use it until I find out!

StreamFinder
Post 2

What an interesting article -- I have an antique bone china mug that is my favorite tea mug, but I never knew the process that went into making those things.

I always thought that the "bone" just referred to the coloring, since many bone china pieces are white. I wonder who first got the idea of actually putting bone together with clay to make china? And who had enough bone dust around to experiment?

I guess that kind of takes the edge off those fancy Wedgwood bone china tableware sets -- I think it's harder to respect them now that I know it's just bone dust.

anon28026
Post 1

What kind of animal bone used to make bone china?

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