The name ironstone dates to 1813 from Charles James Mason’s “Patent Ironstone China”. His patent was for an improved, durable, opaque china, harder than earthenware and stronger than porcelain. The earliest ironstone was decorated with transfer printing in a variety of colors. By the 1840s undecorated white ironstone with embossed design details was produced in England and largely exported to the American market. It has been produced, used and collected ever since.
Dinnerware (plates, bowls, serving pieces, etc.), coffee/tea sets and toiletware/chamber sets were produced in large quantities and in a variety of patterns/shapes. In the 1840s and 1850s, the designs were simple with paneled and geometric lines. By the 1860s and 1870s patterns with grains, flowers and foliage were introduced. By the 1880s and until the end of the century designs became much plainer with less embossing.
Most white ironstone made in the 19th century was marked with either a black stamped or impressed maker’s mark. Beginning in the 1840s, stamped or impressed registry marks were also sometimes used indicating when the pattern/shape had been recorded at the Public Records Office. There were over 100 manufacturers of white ironstone in England, mostly located in the Staffordshire pottery district.
By the 1870s manufacturers in both the United States and Canada began producing white ironstone. Much of this North American white ironstone was simpler and plainer in design than earlier English pieces.
Some pattern/shape names were given by the potters at the time of manufacture. A few of the more well-known of these include Sydenham Shape, Ceres Shape, New York Shape, President Shape and Victory Shape. In addition, other descriptive pattern names have been assigned by collectors of white ironstone over the years to identify and categorize the embossed designs found on white ironstone. Some of these names include Wheat and Hops, Scalloped Decagon, Paneled Grape, Fuchsia and Full Ribbed. In all, there are hundreds of patterns/shapes of white ironstone that have been identified.
Jean Wetherbee, who was from Canajoharie, NY, was the first to publish books exclusively on white ironstone. Starting with her first self-published 100-page booklet titled simply White Ironstone she went on to author three more books with the last being White Ironstone: A Collector’s Guide published in 1996.
In 1994 the White Ironstone China Association (WICA) was formed by a group of collectors and dealers from New York and New England to find new and interesting ways to further the knowledge and enjoyment of white ironstone. Continuing as a resource for white ironstone enthusiasts today, the Association has held a yearly convention since 1994 and produces a newsletter (White Ironstone Notes) four times a year. Their web site is www.whiteironstonechina.com and they can also be found on Facebook under White Ironstone China Association. In 2011, thanks to the extensive work of Ernie and Bev Dieringer, the Association published the most current/up-to-date white ironstone reference book titled The Illustrated Guide of White Ironstone China from A to Z.