What is Fine Bone China?

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Fine bone china is a type of soft-paste porcelain that is made from a mix of bone ash, minerals, and clay. Bone china is the strongest of all types of china or porcelain. That shows in it also being the most white, translucent, and chip-resistant of all. As such, bone china has a reputation for being high quality and lasting. It often appears in legacy collectibles, such as heirloom china sets. Because bone china is a labor intensive process, it is more expensive than alternative chinas. 

Is Fine Bone China Really Bone?

It’s all in the name. Bone china is not named for its color. It’s named for its distinguishing component. While different bone china has various formulas that include different types of bone and various percentages, bone is the defining element. Bone allows it to be both thin and strong. That combination imparts a translucence. You actually see through the quality.

To qualify as bone china, china must get 30% of its mineral phosphate content from bone. 

Bone ash is made by heating bone (calcining), then cooling and grinding it into a fine powder. Cow bone is the most commonly used bone since it is lower in iron content. However, other bones, like sheep bone, can also be used. 

The History of Bone China

Despite the name, bone china was developed in the United Kingdom, which was the exclusive place of manufacture for nearly 200 years. Historically, in the mid-18th century, cattle bones were stripped of mean using larvae by bone cleaners and hard labor. The marrow is removed in the heating process. Once cleaned of meat and marrow, the bone ash was mixed in at up to 50% at the potteries.

In the mid-18th century, Thomas Frye pioneered bone china at his Bow porcelain factory in East London. Frye was a celebrated artist best known for portraiture. 

Although the introduction of bone ash into china happened over 40 years earlier, Josiah Spode perfected the formulation for manufacturing in the late 18th century. 

To qualify as bone china, china must get 30% of its mineral phosphate content from bone. 

Bone ash is made by heating bone (calcining), then cooling and grinding it into a fine powder. Cow bone is the most commonly used bone since it is lower in iron content. However, other bones, like sheep bone, can also be used. 

How to Tell China is Really Bone China

There are a number of ways you can verify the authenticity of bone china. Here are the various methods used to check bone china:

  • Like crystal has a different tone than glass, bone china has a unique sound that sets it apart from other materials. A practiced ear can flick the edge of a plate or cup and hear the difference. 
  • Hold a piece of china up to the light. Place your hand behind it. You should be able to see the fingers through the china. 
  • Most bone china is registered. Each piece should have its number, trademark, and pattern name on its underside. 

While the trademark and identification should be easiest, they often wear off over time. Use verified bone china to practice identifying the should and translucency of other bone china. 

Learn about other types of china including Aynsley china and English bone china.

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