A Guide to Antique Ironstone [History & Values]

[This is a complete update of a 2015 post]
Hi there! Today I’m going to talk about antique ironstone. While I’ve sold many pieces over the years, I also have a rather extensive personal collection. I corner cupboard in my kitchen is filled to the brim with a variety of ironstone in different shapes and sizes.

I know I’m not the only one who loves ironstone in all of its luscious white glory. The ever-popular farmhouse style of decorating relies heavily on ironstone to fill cupboards, hold flowers, and serve as a backdrop for more colorful decorative pieces.

I have found that larger pieces, like pitchers and serving pieces in very good condition, sell extremely well at competitive prices. As do pieces in not such good condition, but whose prices reflect those condition issues. Whether you decorate with ironstone and/or sell it, it’s good to have a strong understanding of this revered collectible.

Related posts: Vintage & Antique Ironstone Price Guide, Clean & Care for Antique Ironstone, Stenciling Ironstone Platters

ironstone w/hydrangea: A guide to vintage & antique ironstone pottery

Before getting started, you may be interested in taking a peek at this short video on a piece of Elsmore & Forster ironstone that I found at a garage sale:

 

History of Antique Ironstone

Mason's Pottery mark

Many attribute the creation of ironstone to Mason’s pottery in Staffordshire, England. But in actual fact, they merely patented the term Ironstone China in 1813. Thirteen years prior the Turner pottery (1756-1829), also of Staffordshire, developed the recipe and process for manufacturing it.

Companies had for years experimented with formulas, trying to create a pottery to compete with pure white porcelain pieces imported from China. Europeans love this pottery but only the richer classes could afford it.

Turner’s invention meant that the English middle classes could now enjoy a bright white (and sturdy) dishware. And buy it they did. 

What is Ironstone Pottery?

Ironstone is a type stoneware, a vitreous (impermeable to water) pottery, known for its durability and strength. It also tends to be heavier than the other types of pottery: earthenware and porcelain.

Contrary to what you might think based on its name, it does not contain iron. Masons manufactured their ironstone out of Cornwall clay and cobalt blue coloring baked at very high temperatures, producing a dense, sturdy pottery.

How to Identify Antique English Ironstone

  1. True antique English ironstone is quite heavy, similar to other pieces of stoneware but with a smooth protective glaze.
  2. In color, it tends to have a blueish or gray cast, as opposed to much American ironstone (and newer English ironstone), which has a creamier, almost yellow cast.
  3. It is often crazed, meaning it has fine crackled lines on all or part of its body. Sometimes those lines have turned brown, which many collectors favor. (Read about how to reduce brown lines HERE.)

Antique  English Ironstone Pottery & Values

Shelf filled with vintage and antique ironstone pottery

When the Mason’s patent ended in 1827, over 100 potteries began producing ironstone in the city of Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire.

Some used the Mason’s term of art Ironstone China, while others came up with their own terms: White Granite, Stone China, Imperial China, and…

George Jones & Sons Royal Patent Ironstone mark

…Royal Patent Ironstone used by the George Jones & Sons pottery (1873-1907) on its china, including the chocolate pot (seen in the center of the previous photo). In perfect condition, I would value it at about $100. 

Note that marks with a lion and a unicorn on either side of a shield indicate that the manufacturer had received a “royal warrant” to produce its goods for the royal family.

Not all companies who used the mark actually had been granted the warrant, and in fact many American companies adopted it for themselves, t00. 

White ironstone soup tureen next to the Elsmore & Forster mark

If perfect, this gorgeous “Ceres” shape with soup tureen (with embossed wheat) by the Elsmore & Forster pottery (1853-71) would be worth over $100.

The mark to the right, which appears on its bottom, reads: Warranted Ironstone China in the banner above the lion and the unicorn & Elsmore & Forster below.

white vegetable dish with powell & bishop mark next to itI would value this lovely “Washington” shape vegetable dish with the nicely molded pomegranate(?) finial made by Powell & Bishop (1867-78) at $50-75. The fact that it has survived all these decades with that finial intact amazes me!

The mark reads: Ironstone China, over a lion/shield/unicorn and Powell & Bishop underneath.

Square white butter pat: royal ironstone china alfred meakin england

It took several years of collecting to finally stumble upon my first ironstone butter pat. Now, I have quite a stack that includes this square example by Alfred Meakin with the royal warrant, signed Royal Ironstone China, Alfred Meakin, England.” It’s worth $5-10.

antique brown transferware ironstone

The English made white ironstone primarily for the American market as we preferred the simplicity of the white. English buyers, on the other hand preferred patterned pieces, like the brown transferware ironstone you see here.

American decorators have become more and more fond of this brown ironstone, which can typically be picked up for very reasonable prices–slightly lower than white ironstone.

Antique American Ironstone 

In the late 1800’s, American potteries, particularly in Ohio and the Trenton (NJ) areas, began to produce their own version of ironstone. It tends to be lighter in weight and creamier in color.

antique HOmer Laughlin ironstone toothbrush holder with mark

This toothbrush holder would have been part of a larger toiletry set that would have included a water pitcher and bowl, a cup, and other assorted pieces. It’s worth $15-25.

The mark shows an American eagle atop a British lion with the word “Laughlin” under it, representing the Homer Laughlin Company (1874-present), which operates out of East Liverpool, Ohio.

The mark dates to the late 1800’s and reflected their believe that American pottery could compete (and win) against British pottery. The company in fact won an award at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876 for its “white ware.”

antique ironstone platter with mark: K, T & K for Knowles, Taylor & Knowles

Knowles, Taylor, & Knowles (1854-1931), another East Liverpool pottery that manufactured ironstone in the States, also created its own unique mark depicting an eagle and its initials (K.T. & K.), rather than adopting the British “warranted” mark with the lion and unicorn.

The platter, as you can see, is quite crazed and shows a good amount of browning as well. Underneath it all, you can also tell that it’s less blueish in tone than English examples. It’s worth $15-25.

Restaurant Ware

In the very late 1800’s, right through to present day, many of the early American ironstone manufacturers slowly transitioned into making restaurant ware

Restaurant ware refers to specialized dinnerware manufactured for the restaurant industry. Highly chip-resistant, quite heavy,  lacking in molded decoration, but bright white and glossy, restaurant ware can be found in plain white or with decoration, usually around the edges.

Some of the better known companies include Syracuse China, Buffalo China, and Homer Laughlin. Many English companies hopped on the band wagon as well, including Maddock pottery.

Universities, Railroads, airlines, and men’s clubs ordered restaurant ware with their name and/or logo imprinted on it. I’m sure its sturdiness was of great benefit on trains and airplanes especially. 

small restaurantware pottery creamer

This little guy, though unsigned, is one of my favorite pieces. At just about 3″ it has a lovely floral and ribbon decoration that I just love. He’s worth about $5-$10.

white bowl on blue background next to Syracuse China mark

Syracuse China (1871-2009) manufactured this lovely bowl with a simple blue stripe. Underneath you see the American Legion logo. It was likely used in a restaurant inside the Legion hall. It too is worth about $5-10.

O.P.Co. refers to Onondaga Pottery Company, the pottery’s original name. It became Syracuse China later on and was known for producing both fine china as well as restaurant ware. By 1970, however, their production consisted primarily of the latter.

When I first moved to Albany back in 1984 to attend law school, Syracuse China had an outlet nearby where I bought all kinds of seconds. I used them for years and remember them fondly πŸ™‚

small white pitcher next to Homer Laughlin mark

To come full circle on Homer Laughlin, they began to produce restaurant ware in the 1960’s–later than some of the other companies. Pieces with simple designs like this undecorated pitcher fit in nicely with older ironstone collections. It’s worth $5-8.

Vintage & Antique Ironstone Values

You can learn more about vintage and antique ironstone values in my Ironstone Price Guide. You’ll find a large assortment of pieces from a variety of different makers that should help you get started with valuing your own purchases.

What Antique Ironstone Should You Buy & Where?

No matter where I’m shopping, be it a garage or estate sale, thrift store, or flea market, I’m always on the look out for ironstone. Truly, I have found pieces in all sorts of locations over the years, even a dumpster!

However, I have found the pieces that sell the best for me–higher end, perfect condition pieces–are most often found at estate sales. Truth be told, I have not sold a huge number of pieces since I have my own collection to grow, LOL.

But I have sold several quality pieces, like tureens, pitchers, and even a beautiful chamber pot, from my antique booth here in Upstate New York. I tend to avoid selling breakables online, though ironstone is very sturdy (as discussed above), so I probably shouldn’t be afraid.

I also avoid simpler, more common pieces like dinner plates and oval platters with no embossed decoration since they do not sell well for me.

The same goes for newer, lighter pieces made in Japan, as well as those by Johnson Bros., both made in the 1970’s. I also recommend avoiding Pfaltzgraff’s version of ironstone, too.

NOTE: If you are buying for yourself, buy whatever makes your heart sing! My collection, which you’ll see below, is comprised of pieces from all eras, some made in England, others in Germany or America. I have several pieces of restaurant ware that I’ve also collected, along with a few pieces that are chipped and/or crazed. I love it all πŸ™‚

How to Clean Your Vintage & Antique Ironstone Pottery

I’ve written an entire blog post about how to clean ironstone that has gray marks, brown crazing, and brown splotches. Learn how to clean your special ironstone pieces here and get a FREE printable cheat sheet in my Member Library when you subscribe here.

vintage ironstone lid

Its clean lines and wonderful cool white tones make ironstone almost universally appealing. It has certainly  experienced a revival in the past couple of decades. We see it gracing tables and cupboards galore on Pinterest and in blog posts.

a cupboard filled with vintage and antique ironstone

Here you see most of my personal ironstone collection. Whenever I purchase a new piece now, I either sell it or “trade” it out for a piece in my cupboard, which as you can see, is quite full, LOL.

antique wooden sieve turned wreath on door of ironstone cupboard

All that white provides a perfect backdrop for various seasonal wreaths, like this sieve-turned-wreath, and never fails to bring a smile to my face.

Thanks for stopping by–
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Bye for now,

Diana

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Pinterest image of vintage ironstone with overlay: learn all about antique ironstone

 

Learn all about collecting vintage and antique ironstone

Additional Resources

The Collector’s Guide to Antique Ironstone Pottery

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52 Comments

  1. I have some white pieces that I’ve gotten over the years. Never thought of them as ironstone. I guess I should investigate further.

  2. Your ironstone collection looks lovely the way you’ve displayed it in your corner cabinet. Visiting from Share Your Cup.

  3. Great stuff! Question, how do you know if something’s a chocolate pot? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that. I have lots of ironstone, some real and valuable and some that just looks like it! I’m jealous that you got the wreath!
    xoKathleen

    1. Hot chocolate, and ceramic pots to serve them in, were very popular during the Victorian era. From that same era, I believe, you would most likely find coffee pots made of metal. More modern ceramic coffee pots from the 30s and 40s would likely be electric-type percolators with metal inserts and plugs. Then in the 50s and 60s, many dinner sets came with modern-style ceramic coffee pots. Perhaps other readers have some thoughts on this topic and can help us out πŸ™‚

  4. What a lovely collection and so beautifully displayed.

    My favorite is the tiny pitcher with the black detail. I like that it is mixed with all the pure white piece.

  5. You have so many beautiful pieces and I love how they are displayed too. You know I love white pitchers so they are my favorites ( wink). thank you for sharing at the Thursday Favorite Things blog hop. Watch for your feature on Monday xo

    1. Thanks so much Katie! What a lovely way to start the week πŸ™‚ Love your party; thanks so much for sponsoring it week after week.

  6. Your ironstone collection looks so lovely in that beautiful corner cabinet. I’m admiring the pretty mold, I had two and sold both of them in my booth. Wish I had kept one at least.

    1. Thanks Sharon! White molds aren’t that common in America, but you seem to have good luck finding them–I bet you’ll find a third one before you know it πŸ™‚

  7. Hi Diana! πŸ™‚
    I love your ironstone collection. It is so sad that someone would leave that chocolate pot in a dumpster…but I am happy that you rescued it! It’s beautiful!
    I love how you have them all displayed, so pretty!
    If you could see my cupboard where I keep my ironstone and milk glass then you would know that you have much more room left to keep collecting! πŸ˜‰

  8. I lovey your collection! The display is beautiful with the pop of red in the back ground. I have a very small collection. I scored a box full of odds and ends at a thrift for $20. Would love to find a pitcher. Thanks for sharing with SYC.
    hugs,
    Jann

    1. Thanks Jann! That’s a pretty amazing find–$20 for a whole box-full. Here’s hoping you find a pitcher soon πŸ™‚

  9. I had to laugh at your comment about restaurant ware being the poor descendants of ironstone! I only have a couple pieces of true ironstone, but more of the restaurant ware because there was a factory just outside of my town that manufactured it. My uncle actually owned the company for awhile before it closed, so I’ve always seen “value” in them….I just never realized I liked to decorate with ironstone until recently. My favorite is also the little creamer with the black design. You’ve got a really lovely collection! (And I’m so jealous over the 70% off wreath…I love when things go on super cheap clearance at Hobby Lobby!)

  10. Beautiful – you know I love Ironstone! I will be featuring your post in this week’s Home and Garden Thursday,
    Kathy

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  12. Oh my! What a beautiful collection you have, Diana. I love your cabinet too, the dark background makes your Ironstone pop. Thanks for sharing your collection at Vintage Inspiration Party.

  13. Gorgeous Diana. I just recently started picking up a piece here and there. Now to start a display would be awesome. Yours is absolutely wonderful – love it. Thank you for sharing at Share It One More Time. Cathy

  14. Diana, just wanted to stop by to let you know you are being featured at the Share It One More Time Party tomorrow. Love this post – thank you for linking up with us each week – hope to see you next week. Cathy

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  19. I came across your web page and noticed that you also have a love of white ironstone.

    I wanted to let you know that you are far from alone; the White Ironstone China Association, an educational association centered around white ironstone china, has a presence both online and off.

    We have members from all over North America, many of whom gather at our yearly convention. We have speakers from around the world who give presentations regarding this shared obsession.

    We have a web page and a face book page, and if you ever have questions regarding marks, makers, items, etc., we have many knowledgeable members and resources available.

    https://www.whiteironstonechina.com

    https://www.facebook.com/WhiteIronstoneChinaAssociation

  20. I headed over to IG to see some of your photos from a barn sale and OMG i am IN LOVE with the splatterware / enamelware / graniteware blue/white swirl bowls you found with wood handles! I always look for those at the ones we go to here in NW NJ. I would love to come visit your space at the antique shop one day – I don’t know how far you are from West Milford, NJ, but I love your booth and have similar tastes.

  21. Your collection is beautiful. I hope you use the cupboard underneath the shelves for more! Having the one in, one out rule is great. I often use a similar rule with my milk glass vs. other china or glass. MG wins almost every time!

  22. I had to revisit this post when I got a Maddock vegetable bowl with lid for $3 at Fairfield Antiques Mall on 1/1/21 (annual sale); it had been $6 and very dusty! Found a similar one on eBay and am pleased with myself; will price it less than that! If you lived nearby, it would have shown up as a Christmas gift for sure!

  23. I found a bunch of Brown MASON’s Patent Ironstone plates ,cups vases, etc. the back states England not Vista England
    Is it worth anything and who would want to buy it all?

    1. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell the worth of something without seeing it. My suggestion would be to take the dishes to a reputable auction house and discuss the value with them, along with what you might expect to make if you sold them through one of their auctions. Good luck!

  24. I just purchased an ironstone bread tray from the Goodwill. I’m curious about its value, but I can’t seem to find anything on the internet. I did see an image of one that I believe is a match, but it did not show a photo of the markings. It was on Worth.com and I’m not interested in paying for a subscription to their website. The tray is oval with a rim and embossed letters. It reads β€œGive us this day our daily bread”. It also some some other details flanking the handles on each side. The making on the back is of a bird with his wings spread. It reads Trademark above the bird. Below the bird it reads Ironstone China and some initials that I believe are C&R, but it might be C&K. This piece is in pristine condition. I would appreciate any information that you might have on it. Thank you!

  25. Hello Diana, I recently acquired a box of the red/pink Mason’s ironstone vista England dinnerware….about 100 assorted pieces, including ashtrays, serving platters, and vegetable bowls. Can you give me any idea of how old they are, and/or where to find good information about them?
    Thank you in advance for any help.
    Sincerely, Susan L.

  26. Hi I was wondering I have a number of pieces of Royal Mail fine staffordshire ironstone and wondered what year these were made and how many pieces were in the collection

  27. I found just a piece of a white dish which according to your article, is made by K, T and K. It shows the word Warranted with part of the crown. Found in Montana.

  28. Hi. I just found your site. I have J&R Godwin “improved ironstone china”. I’m not seeing that brand. They are tiny saucers (two styles)and handleless tea cups, almost like a sake cup. Any thoughts on these? Thanks!

  29. Hi Diana,

    Thank you for a great article on ironstone. I, too, love ironstone although I do not have many pieces. I have a question, though. Are there ironstone pieces made in Italy? I have a piece that is marked Made in Italy, but it does not say Ironstone on it, and I am unsure that it is ironstone although it was sold to me as ironstone. I would attach a photo for you, but I see no way to do so.

    Thanks.

    1. I’m not aware of any ironstone being made in Italy, but that said, most European potteries made a variety of different types of pottery over the years, so it’s possible. If it meets the characteristics I described in the article, then I’d say it’s possibly ironstone.

  30. Diana, Thank you for this wonderful primer on Ironstone. I’ve redone my kitchen and thought it would be a wonderful hobby to collect and display some ironstone in my glass front cabinets. Your collection is absolutely beautiful! If you ever decide you’d like to sell some, I’m in!

    I purchased a large white bowl and pitcher about 40 years ago. After reading your article, I checked it and there was the English Lion and Unicorn with the Royal Patent Ironstone under the name of Richard Alcock /Burslem England. So exciting. Thank you for helping me learn some of the history. The pitcher has a leaf motif on the top and bottom of the handle and what looks to be a seam down the middle. Were these produced in two pieces?

    1. I’m so glad you found my article helpful Nancy πŸ™‚ I do sell my overstock of ironstone, both in my antique booth and my Etsy shop. I have a couple of pieces listed at the moment. My shop is adirondacgirlatheart (no “k” in adirondack). Your pitcher and bowl set sounds lovely, and yes, pitchers were typically molded in two pieces.

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