What Is Fine Bone China?

Manufacturers of fine bone china make dinnerware and decorative pieces out of porcelain clay.

Chinese China

Fine bone chinaFine bone china
They add bone ash to achieve a delicate translucence—you should be able to see light through a piece of fine bone china, and if you tap it gently, you should hear a chiming note. Fine bone china is the pinnacle of the ceramicist’s craft and thus is very expensive.

Porcelain art from China began appearing in Europe in the 13th century, according to Toffsworld.com. It took European craftsmen centuries to figure out how to make it. The secret was the high temperature at which the Chinese artisans fired the clay--up to 1,300 degrees Celsius. In 1710, German artisans began producing high-quality porcelain.

English China

Thomas Briand of Chelsea developed soft-paste porcelain in 1742. Thomas Frye patented porcelain containing bone ash in 1749 and Josiah Spode perfected the recipe for fine bone china, according to the potteries.org. The standard English formula is 25 percent china clay, 25 percent Cornish stone and 50 percent bone ash.

The Bones

Material from animal bones makes up about 50 percent of the substance of fine bone china, according to thepotteries.org. Manufacturers process the bones to remove meat and glue, and heat them to about 1,000 degrees Celsius. This sterilizes the bones and turns them to ash. They grind the ash finely with water before mixing it with the other materials. Porcelain china without bone ash is strong but chips easily, according to the potteries.org. It usually has a blue or gray tinge. Bone china, which does not chip easily, is white.

The Potteries

China aficionados hail an area of North Staffordshire known as “The Potteries” as the original source of fine bone china, according to chrystallia.com. Burslem, Fenton, Hanley, Longton, Stoke-upon-Trent and Tunstall had been the center of England’s pottery industry since the middle 1700s, and joined forces as one city, Stoke-on-Trent, in 1910. More than 1,500 china manufacturers have operated in the area, some for more than 200 years.

Josiah Spode

The most famous figure in the history of fine bone china is Josiah Spode, born in 1733 in Staffordshire. He apprenticed with Thomas Whieldon, one of the best potters in the area. He founded his own pottery in 1767 and owned it outright by 1776, according to thepotteries.com. Three generations of Spode’s family worked in the business, and Spode Works in Stoke-on-Trent flourished for nearly 250 years. Spode still sells fine bone china today, despite financial troubles that have shut down most manufacturing.

About the Author

Laurie Williams worked for 16 years as a newspaper reporter and editor at "The Press-Enterprise" and "The Sun," both in Southern California. She also prepares briefs and pleadings as a family law paralegal. Williams holds an Associate of Arts from Riverside Community College.