Setting the Table in 2024

Setting the Table in 2024

With Easter only a week or so away, getting together with family and friends involves planning the meal and setting the table. If you like to entertain, it’s a great time to get out the ‘good’ dishes and make your guests feel special. Or nervous, if the ‘good’ china is really good! In today’s world, many of us use one set of good, everyday dishes. If you are inheriting your mother’s or grandmother’s ‘good’ collection, you may want to understand a bit more of what it is you are setting on your table. 

First, there is some terminology confusion. Ceramics refers to all dishes made from bone china, porcelain and stoneware. Ceramic material is non-metallic, clay based, molded or formed and then fired at high heat. It is the material content and firing temperatures that separate the various types of ceramics.

Bone china is the most delicate of the ceramics, literally made from bone ash, kaolin (soft white clay), and feldspathic (feldspar is a type of mineral) material. Developed in England in the 1700’s, bone ash was added to the soft-paste material to firm up the finished products. Spode dinnerware manufacturers further refined the process in the late 1700’s, by adding kaolin to make a more durable product, and set a high standard for quality. British manufacturers such as Spode, Royal Doulton, Worcester, and Wedgewood, dominated the market for the next 200 years with their bone china dinnerware. Bone china is light, strong, chip resistant and translucent.

Porcelain is the most popular and classic of the ceramics. It is made from kaolin and petuntse (china stone), and was developed in ancient China. It presents as glossy white, smooth, and durable, after firing at very high temperatures between 1200-1400 Celsius. It takes patterns well so the finished dinnerware can be colourful or muted. It is less costly to produce than bone china which makes it more affordable. 

Then there is stoneware, a heavier ceramic using unrefined clay and requiring slightly lower firing temperatures. The finished results are less refined than porcelain or bone china, more rustic in appeal. Stoneware often has speckles in the clay, simple patterns or designs, and is heavier per item. It costs less to produce but is the most likely to break or chip. Like bone china and porcelain, stoneware is vitreous (glass-like) which makes it non-absorbent. You definitely want non-absorbent dinnerware.

While the materials used to make dinnerware haven’t changed much in 200 years, the design of modern dinnerware has trended to simpler or no patterns, flatter plates and fewer accessory pieces. Modern dinnerware appeals to those who want good, everyday dinnerware. However you set your table, enjoy the family and friends that gather to eat from your ‘ceramics’. 

Did you know? Feldspathic porcelain was used to make false teeth, from as early as 1724. 


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