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 (often called china clay) 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 or Semiporcelain

Developed in efforts by European potters to create Chinese porcelain, which was durable, white, and had the ability to withstand boiling water. 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. Soft-paste refers to the need to fire these mixtures at lower kiln temperatures.

Bone china (historically called English Porcelain) is also important to include here as it was a key development in England in the late 1700’s created by Spode. As the name suggests the paste mixture included 30-50% animal bone (usually cow) with feldspathic material and kaolin. This produced a much more durable form of porcelain compared to other soft-paste forms and was competitive with the whiteness, durability, and translucence of Chinese or French hard-paste porcelains.

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

English Ceramics: Marks & History

Meissen Porcelain Collecting

The French Porcelain Society

China Pattern Identification Database

How to Install a Plate Wall

Spode & Bone China

Types of Ceramics


  1. Lou Ann on April 14, 2021 at 7:59 pm

    Thank you, I never knew all the differences but, this was very helpful,

    • Katherine on April 15, 2021 at 8:23 am

      I’m so glad Lou Ann! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Len de Rohan on April 17, 2021 at 1:45 pm

    Very informative, Katherine! I am saving this for my research library. All the best! Len

    • Katherine on April 22, 2021 at 8:54 am

      Thanks so much Len! Glad this was helpful. I need to have you stop in and educate us more!

  3. Stephanie on March 13, 2023 at 7:29 pm

    How do I know what mine are worth

    • Katherine on March 14, 2023 at 9:00 am

      Hi Stephanie! A good place to start is with the mark on the back of the plate. You can then try to date the plate based on that mark. I listed several mark identification and dating websites in the resources list of this post. Next look at sales listings for that manufacturer and date. A simple google search can render those.

  4. james evers on May 2, 2023 at 2:06 pm

    Hi Katherine,
    I’ve picked up a few plates from Goodwill lately, I really like the mid-century stuff and it seems to be popular. But the other day I picked up a German plate but cannot find the exact one or any close from the manufacturer. It has a gold lip, and another gold ring about an inch from the rim. It has a band of pink between the gold rings and a beautiful pink floral design in the well. It is marked Serb Bavaria Krautheim, Made in Germany, and a green shield with cursive “ELW” and a green crown over the shield. It has a hanger so someone must have had it in a collection. Just curious if you could help identify, please? Also I used your material guide above but not sure if I can determine the material, maybe stoneware?
    I did learn plenty from your guide above.
    Thank you.

I bet you've got something to say! Comment below!