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Collector’s Notes: Antique Plates

Useful basics to understand when collecting antique plates and ceramics from European porcelains to folksy Staffordshire and Chinese export to transferware.

Collector's Notes: Antique Plates graphic in pink and green

Collector's Notes series - the basics of antique plates, dishes, china - flat lay of antique plates

If you are a lover of china or collector of antique ceramics, your china cabinet or kitchen cupboards probably hold one or more of these ceramics:

No. 1 Porcelain

Commonly referred to as “china” because it was first produced by the Chinese in the late Tang dynasty over 1000 years ago. This form of hard-paste ceramic is made with kaolin – a sought after material of decomposed feldspar with granite and petuntse that has to be ground down into a fine white powder then mixed with water to form a clay. Kaolin is the fundamental element of hard-paste porcelain that gives it the durable body, luster, and translucence.

The first European manufacturer to accurately re-create porcelain was Meissen in the early 1700s. Once the “secret” to hard-paste porcelain became known other European manufacturers began producing their own versions.

Popular types or brands of European porcelains include: Meissen, Rosenthal, Limoges, Haviland, Mottahedeh, Chelsea, Sèvres, Herend. Read more about Chinese export porcelains here.

Key characteristics include:

  • Translucence to the body, meaning you can see through the piece when held up to light.
  • Resonance – ringing sound when struck
  • Non-porous – water tight even when unglazed
  • White, grey or creamy when unpainted or glazed

Group of porcelain plates including Meissen, Old Paris, and reproduction Sevres

No. 2 Soft-Paste Porcelain

Commonly referred to as “bone china” or “semiporcelain” it developed in efforts by potters to create Chinese porcelain. There were a variety of different mixtures and materials used from glass, flint, quartz and or bone all to try and re-create the durable body and luster that kaolin gave hard-paste porcelain.

Some important soft-paste porcelain manufacturers to know: Bow, Spode, Wedgwood, Worcester, and Minton.

No. 3 Earthenware

A type of pottery made from clay that remains porous even after firing. A slip or a glaze must be applied for the vessel to be water tight. This is the oldest type of ceramic dating back to the Neolithic era.

Depending on the type of slip or glaze used, you will see earthenware also referred to as creamware, tin-enameled or tin-glazed.

Important antique earthenware plates to collect are Staffordshire, Wedgwood, Delft, Faience, and Majolica.

Antique Majolica Asparagus Plate in blue, white, green

No. 4 Stoneware

A type of pottery that has been fired at a high temperature until vitrified and is, thus, impervious to water. Glazes are mainly decorative and generally only 3 types are used: lead glaze, salt glaze, and feldspathic glaze.

Popular types of antique plates made from stoneware are Ironstone, Jasperware, Basalt, and Celadon.

Key characteristics include:

  • Heavier
  • Opaque
  • Non-porous

stoneware Chinoiserie pagoda plate

Shop available plates on Pender & Peony here!

Now that we’ve reviewed and clarified the different types of ceramic plates, let’s look at some specific terminology used to talk about and identify antique plates.

Understanding Collector’s Lingo Regarding Antique Plates

Regional Designation

It is often a point of confusion for beginning collectors when experts refer to a type or brand of plate by the region or city of manufacturing not the factory or brand name. For example, Limoges is not a manufacturer but a region in France where lots of porcelain makers sprang up in the late 1700s because kaolin was found there. These regional designations are largely useful because manufacturers in those areas shared common techniques and similarities in design. 

Other important regions of production to know:

  • Dresden, Germany
  • Staffordshire, England
  • Canton, China
  • Sevres, France
  • Nippon – means Japan

Shop this oyster plate here.

Technical Terms

Lip – the outer flat raised width on the plate.

Aynsley Pembroke plate showing details on lip of plate

Well – the interior flat section where food is placed.

Rim – the outer most edge of the plate, often with gilt band.

Base or Foot – bottom or underneath side of the plate.

Glaze – a glossy or glassy film that is fused to the ceramic body during firing. It is usually formed from powdered minerals added to water and washed or painted over the object. A glaze can be shiny or matte. It is usually for decoration or protection, and most glazes can be considered specialized forms of glass. There are various types of glazes depending on the materials used the the effect achieved after firing.

Overglaze Decoration – layer of decoration added on top of the glaze. Example – Rose Medallion porcelains

Underglaze Decoration – layer of decoration applied to un-fired or un-glazed piece and then glazed on top of decoration. Example – blue and white porcelains

Reticulated – pierced lattice like design through the rim or edge of a plate.

Sprigging – applied molded or stamped decoration adhered to surface of a piece. Example – Wedgwood Jasperware

Wedgwood Queensware plate showing sprigging design

Gilt – thin layer of gold decoration painted in design on ceramic body. Process is called gilding.

Transferware – common design technique developed in the 18th century using printing techniques to apply decoration to a ceramic body.

Antique Plates’ Marks

A significant portion of valuable antique plates are marked with a manufacturer’s emblem or logo on the bottom, but not all particularly pre-19th century mass production. Manufacuters’ marks often evolved over time either in design, color, or style, so they can be important in dating a piece as well as identifying who made it.

If the name of a country appears below the mark, it was likely produced after 1891. If it says “Made in…country name” then it was likely produced after 1914 due to import export laws established around this time.

Made in China mark on a Rose Medallion plate

You may even notice several different marks on the bottom of a plate:

  • Manufacturer’s mark
  • Artist’s mark – hand painted
  • Date mark – coded number and letter series to identify when produced
  • Seller mark – imported porcelain in the U.S.A was often also stamped with the department store name where it was sold.

Antique plates may have multiple marks like this Royal Cauldon dessert bowl

Pattern Naming

Pattern refers to the stylized design used to decorate a specific plate or group of ceramics. While a common enough practice now, most ceramic manufacturers did not initially name their patterns. Names either developed over time or they were identified with a pattern code, while some manufacturers have been assigned names by scholars like Arlene Schleiger did for Haviland.

Antique Plate Forms:

Dinner Plate — 9″ to 11″ Diameter

Salad Plate — 7 3/4” to 8 3/4” Diameter

Bread & Butter Plate — 6” to 7 3/4” Diameter

Saucer — 5″ to 6″ Diameter with indent for cup

Butter Pat — 3″ to 4″ Diameter

Luncheon Plate — 8″ to 9″ Diameter

Dessert Plate — 6″ to 7″ Diameter

Charger — 11″ to 13″ Diameter

Platter — oblong shape 10″ to 20″ Length

Additional Resources:

Gardiner Museum European Porcelain Exhibit

How to Curate a Plate Wall

Collecting Antique Ceramics

Meissen Porcelain Collecting

China Pattern Identification Database

How to Install a Plate Wall

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