“May the ‘PORCElain’ Be With You” Porcelain History

By Suzanne Skwarski, Plank Road Questers #236

Porcelain is a ceramic material made of a variety of kaolin, ash, and other clays heated to an extreme kiln temperature of over 2000 degrees. This vitrification process turns the solid clay into a liquid glass product that after cooling is imperious to water and achieves a highly polished white surface.

Originally from China, porcelains were imported to Europe and became highly prized as both utilitarian and decorative works. Porcelain production grew in Europe as the rising middle class demanded plumbing, electrical, building tile, and also household goods. Virtually every European country fostered porcelain and fine china production facilities such as Bavarian, Limoges, Doulton, Spode, Delft, Dresden, and Royal Copenhagen. The 1800’s bolstered the porcelain industry with the addition of cattle and bison bone to the kaolin clay mixture. The American Bison, nearly hunted to extinction, provided a massive supply of cheap bone product at $15.00 an imported ton. As technology improved, more delicate products flooded the market and became highly prized for their artistry and creativity. Figurines were highly sought after from Denmark and England, and commanded high prices to grace the homes of the 1940’s to 1970’s. However, as in fashion, style changes and tastes change and likewise the demand for fussy “dust catchers” has waned for the past 20 years. The once highly marketable and costly figurines and hand painted porcelain ware is no longer valued by the general public. Items that commandeered high selling prices now sit with little to no interest or market share. Porcelain dinnerware is still produced, but today’s pieces are completely dishwasher and microwave safe, plus they are very minimalist in design. Production of modern porcelain has come full circle, since the majority is again produced in China, the historical birthplace and common called ceramic products. Like the pay phone and telephone operator, decorative porcelain goods have seen their day and are soon to be mere curiosities.

(Sources available upon request)