Collecting ironstone is one of my favorite pastimes!
Are you a lover of antique and vintage ironstone dishes like I am? For me, collecting ironstone dishes began with one very special piece, a piece that I had completely forgotten that I even had!
About eight years ago, I started seeing vintage ironstone showing up in all the beautiful home decorating magazines.
Displayed in old painted cabinets, on antique sideboards, and on open shelving in gorgeous kitchens, were these pretty dishes in different shades of white.
The more I saw it, the more I became drawn to it.
I loved it’s simplicity, and also the visual impact it made when displayed in large collections.
Around the same time that ironstone started becoming very collectible, I was also in the process of slowly transitioning my own decorating style to one using more neutral colors.
I was slowly changing out upholstery, painting walls, and generally decorating with more whites, creams, grays, and blues so I naturally became intrigued with the layers and texture that a collection of ironstone gave a space.
I wanted those creamy pieces of ironstone stacked up in my own cabinet, so I made the decision to actively start looking for, and collecting, vintage ironstone.
Then it suddenly dawned on me.
I actually owned a piece of antique white ironstone.
It was a lovely, petite, English sauce tureen by Bishop & Powell. A family heirloom that I had packed away and completely forgotten about.
It had belonged to my grandmother, passed on to my mother, and then to me.
My grandmother always called the tureen a gravy bowl, because that’s what was always served in it.
The small sauce tureen was complete with an underplate that was always placed underneath it to catch any drips.
I have many memories of meals served with this petite tureen used as a serving piece.
The tureen was passed to my mother and she continued the tradition of using it for gravy. It usually her sausage gravy, made to smother the handmade, from scratch, biscuits that we all loved.
This precious ironstone tureen has been well used by several generations, and I’m often amazed that it has survived without getting broken.
Once I realized that I already had the first piece in my collection, I searched in earnest for more pieces to add, finding pitchers, tureens, platters, and bowls.
It didn’t take long for me to amass quite a collection.
In the beginning of my collection, I bought anything I could find at a good price, but as the collection grew, I started curating it a bit more.
Now I only buy English or French ironstone, and have a special affection for ironstone with lion’s head handles, which is pretty rare to find.
And butter pats….I have such a weakness for those little stacks of butter pats!
I also love to find pieces that are hallmarked with the same marking as my grandmother’s tureen, Bishop & Powell.
These pieces seem to be hard to find in our area, so I rarely find them, but I keep looking!
During my search for old ironstone, I starting coming across English marmalade jars and French mustard pots, many from the late 1800’s.
These old transferware advertising pots had such fabulous graphics and they displayed beautifully among my ironstone dishes.
Lately, I’ve been on the hunt for more ironstone with advertising on it, and I’ve found some wonderful pieces!
One of my most recent finds is the English pudding mold with the recipe printed on the outside, a rare French milk pitcher, and the huge French mustard pot.
I also love collecting old English marmalade jars by Frank Cooper.
Cooper is a family name, so perhaps old Frank is a distant relative? I like to think so!
The Frank Cooper marmalade jars are a rarity and I’ve never found any here in the States, mine have all been bought from English sellers. The James Dundee marmalade jars are more commonly found.
The French mustard pots, with their wonderful French graphics, are a fabulous addition to the ironstone collection as well, with different styles, depending on the year they were made.
My favorites are the very early ones from the mid to late 1800’s, with their skinny necks.
It’s fun collecting antique ironstone, marmalade jars, and french mustard pots, and displaying them together.
Prices have certainly gone up with the surge in it’s popularity, and, in my area at least, it is now getting more difficult to find.
Vintage and antique ironstone can be found in so many different places……..flea markets, auctions, antique shops, thrift stores, estate and yard sales! It can also be found online at Ebay, Etsy, Rubylane, and 1st Dibs, just to name a few, and prices vary.
Not sure how to recognize ironstone? Many times there will be a marking indicating that it’s ironstone. You can also tell by the weight of the piece, it is weighty like earthenware would be. Also, it will always be opaque. Under light, you shouldn’t see any translucence.
Some common English makers of ironstone are Wedgwood, J&G Meakin, Wood & Sons, Birks Bros. & Seddon, T & R Boote, Turner & Tomkinson, Bishop & Powell, and Johnson Brothers. These makers are usually hallmarked on the underneath side of the piece. Some American makers are Red Cliff, Knowels, Taylor & Knowels, and W.A. Lewis.
If you’re not sure, flick the piece with your finger….ironstone should have a ringing sound.
I recently found a couple of small German condiment pots, and though they are made of porcelain, I think they look great displayed among the ironstone.
Here are some tips if you would like to start your own ironstone collection:
- Ironstone varies in prices so decide on a price point that you are comfortable spending. And if you’re on a budget, begin by collecting smaller pieces like creamers, small platters and bowls.
- Collect what speaks to you….some people collect certain pieces like tureens or sugar jars, others may only collect English ironstone, or ironstone by a certain maker. In the beginning of my collection, I bought anything I could find at a good price, but as the collection grew, I started curating it a bit more. Now I concentrate on English or French ironstone, especially those pieces with lion’s head handles or old advertising.
- Start small with one or two pieces, and slowly add to your collection. After all, the thrill of the hunt is part of the joy of collecting!