Six different examples of British undecorated ironstone china were recovered from the Jacksonville “Blue China” wreck site: three molded dinner plates such as the sample featured here, 15 bowls, one fluted bowl, five chamber pots, four wash basins, and 11 salve jars with five lids. None of the examples bear identifiable tally or maker’s marks.
A heavy, thick-bodied, utilitarian ceramic ware, white ironstone was mass-produced for the American market by England’s Staffordshire potters. By the mid-19th this ware had become quite popular among both commercial and domestic consumers across the country and was the least expensive ceramic product of the period.
Also known as English porcelain, opaque porcelain, stone china, and white granite, ironstone china was first introduced by Staffordshire potters in the early 19th century, in large part to emulate the popular Chinese-style porcelain dinner services, yet without the cost of these finer wares and with the added advantage of great strength and durability. William Turner of the Lane End potteries at Longton, Stoke-on-Trent, is said to have achieved the first successful manufacture of stone china and obtained a patent in 1800. Others soon followed, including Josiah Spode’s stone china introduced c. 1813, who also called his bluish gray wares ‘new stone’, as well as the stone china produced by John Davenport’s Longport pottery c. 1815 or before. However, the more common term ‘ironstone’ applied to these hard white stonewares derived from the products that Charles James Mason marketed as ‘Mason’s Patent Ironstone China’, from 1813.
Evidence suggests that the early ironstone chinas produced by these potters were originally intended to replace the Chinese porcelain that the British East India Company stopped importing in 1791. By 1799 a customs duty of over 100% was placed on the importation of Chinese porcelain into England, providing the incentive and opportunity to successfully introduce the cheaper stonewares, including ‘Mason’s Patent Ironstone China’. Most of the English stone china and the ironstone-type wares manufactured prior to the 1830s in fact were highly decorated, often in a Chinese style and were produced to imitate the popular Chinese export-market porcelains in both design and shape.
The later ironstone and granite wares introduced after 1830 were typically more heavily potted, undecorated utilitarian vessels mass produced by a host of Staffordshire manufacturers in large part for the export markets. English potters had discovered that the inhabitants of the ‘colonies’ greatly preferred this modestly priced, plain and durable china to more expensive, exotic wares. The name ironstone china, in particular, was especially fitting because it was immediately identifiable, implied high quality, and yet was dense, hard and very durable.
Also accounting for ironstone china’s mass appeal was its physical similarity to white porcelain, yet economically it undercut the popular white French porcelains produced by Haviland and other Limoges and Paris makers. White granite, in effect, was a cheap substitute for French china. It offered a similarity that “could be consumed by a section of American society that, whilst unable to aspire to owning French china still sought to imitate trends identified with the more affluent.”