Collecting English Bone China

Taking afternoon tea is a great English tradition, and the quality and beauty of a great many tea service sets produced in England has made bone china highly collectible  Staffordshire and the potteries were at the heart of the industry, and so in this guide, we’re taking a look at collecting fine china produced in England, and how it has set a gold standard for quality to this day.

Afternoon Tea

The tradition of afternoon tea is thought to have been started by the aristocratic Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford. Reputed to have become peckish in the afternoons whilst waiting for a late dinner, she asked to be served a selection of sandwiches, cake and tea. The tea was served in fine porcelain cups, and guests enjoyed the dainty sandwiches and cake, eating with gloved hands. Such was her appeal as a society lady, her friends soon followed suit. By the late 1800’s, afternoon tea was as much a part of upper class life as attending a ball. The later development of bone china cups from which to drink the tea, made tea sets affordable for the middle classes, firmly establishing afternoon tea and English fine bone china as an uniquely British institution.

A History of English China

Porcelain was originally developed by the Chinese thousands of years ago, but the Europeans were desperately trying to create a similar product from around the year 1600. Finally, in 1748, Thomas Frye invented a porcelain made from bone ash and minerals, an idea which was developed further a few years later by Josiah Spode in Stoke On Trent. Spode’s technique perfected the formula, by mixing bone ash with china stone and clay to create fine bone china and a recipe for quality English china, which led to Staffordshire becoming the center of the pottery industry and one of the envies of the world.

Buying Bone China Today

Sadly, the demise of manufacturing in the UK in favor of imports, saw the death of many of the Staffordshire potteries. In recent years, however, the quality of English bone china has once more been recognized  Companies are resuming the tradition of creating bone china, making it possible to buy new English fine bone china once more.

Collectible Pieces

Collecting bone china tea sets can be a fun hobby. To identify bone china, hold it up to the light to find a transparent quality. You should just be able to see your fingers through it. Prices vary according to their condition and whether the set is complete or not – chips and cracks in the porcelain will undermine the value, as will missing pieces.

The maker’s marks are normally stamped on the bottom, so there can be no mistaking the manufacturer. Some notable English potteries manufacturers to look out for include:

  • Royal Worcester
  • Aynsley
  • Spode
  • Royal Albert
  • Paragon
  • Shelley

Remember that some patterns are rarer than others, so a limited edition set is likely to be worth much more than those that were produced in their many thousands. You should also beware of imitations – Wedgewood in particular has been greatly copied.

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