Collecting and Caring for Ironstone Dishware

Explore the history and style of beautiful, romantic ironstone.

White Ironstone dishes make for a useful and beautiful collection.
Whether clean or marked with character, ironstone is as useful as it is beautiful.

Are you an enthusiastic collector of ironstone? The simplicity and utilitarian quality of these gleaming white dishes makes it a favorite collectible. Sometimes known as “the little black dress” of pottery, white ironstone mixes beautifully with antique, traditional, farmhouse, French country or contemporary interiors.

Ironstone pieces are survivors; their resilience tells their story, and minor discoloration only seems to add to their patina and beauty.

Give clean white Ironstone a rustic feel by pairing pieces with antique cutting boards.
An antique breadboard gives this Ironstone vignette a rustic feel.

What Is Ironstone?

Ironstone is not porcelain; it’s porous earthenware, made of clay mixed with feldspar. Patented in 1813 by Charles James Mason in Staffordshire, England, it was an immediate success, and ironstone blanks were decorated with transfer patterns or hand painting to imitate Chinese porcelain. There is no iron in ironstone. Many believe Mason used this name to imply that iron and china created a durable and almost indestructible pottery.

Many Staffordshire potteries had similar products known by a variety of names: English porcelain, semi porcelain, new stone and stone china. Mason’s patent lapsed in 1827, and other Staffordshire factories adopted the name ironstone.

In the 1840s, undecorated white stoneware was shipped to the colonies. Durable and affordable, ironstone was popular with rural American families and settlers. Called graniteware, stoneware, pearl china or feldspar china, these pieces are all considered ironstone. In the 1870s and 1880s, American potters began to manufacture their own white ware, under the name graniteware.

Ironstone Maker's Marks
Look for maker’s marks on the bottom and details toppers on lids.

What to Look for

Weight. Ironstone is thick and heavy.

Maker’s Mark. Most, but not all, ironstone is marked with a stamp on the bottom that is printed, impressed or both.

Color. Early English pieces made for export will have a blue or gray tint. Pieces that remained in England are creamier white, as are American ironstone pieces.

Shape. Date early ironstone by looking at patterns and shapes.

  • 1830s and 1840s: Gothic early pieces are hexagonal or octagonal in shape.
  • 1850s: Leaves were popular embellishments.
  • 1860s and 1880s: More rounded forms, harvest patterns with fruit, berries, nuts, grain or sheaves of wheat.
  • 1880s: Return to simpler forms, plain designs with decoration only on the handles or finials.

Condition. Crackling or crazing in the clear overglaze is not uncommon in old pieces; it’s considered acceptable, even desirable to some collectors. Edges should be free of chips if possible.

An Ironstone cake plate works as a centerpiece, topped with roses.
This cake plate hosts a bouquet of roses for a sweet yet informal centerpiece.

Start a Collection

You can choose a pattern, or focus on a certain shape. Once very affordable, ironstone is now highly collectable and coveted by collectors. You can expect to pay $350 for a teapot, over $1,000 for a rare pedestal or cake stand, and $200 for a soap dish in exceptional condition.

Beautiful as well as practical, these dishes add personality to your romantic decor. Gather a grouping in your hutch, march a variety of pitchers down your dining table, or fill a tureen with flowers for an effortless centerpiece. Once you have bought one piece, you’ll want to join the rest of us in our white-on-white craze—collecting is highly addictive. Happy hunting!

Vignette with ironstone, linen and silverware
Create the look of rustic elegance by paring ironstone with natural linen and silverware that shows its age.

How to Care for Ironstone

  1. Hand wash ironstone and dry it with a soft towel.
  2. Never use bleach. Bleach penetrates the glaze, can dissolve the glaze and can eventually cause the clay to crumble and disintegrate.
  3. Remove silverware marks with a soft cloth and a gentle rubbing of toothpaste; then rinse and dry.

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Stories to Tell: Collecting Classic Transferware

Make a statement on your holiday table with classic transferware dishes.

Red transferware lends its cheery hue to holiday vignettes
Transferware comes in many colors, but during the holiday season, red is our color of choice!

Temptingly graphic with stories to tell, antique transferware comes into its own at holiday time. With elaborate borders and endearing scenes, each piece of transferware pottery is a miniature work of art. A few pieces grouped together or a large collection displayed en masse make an exquisite decorative statement. Transferware, with its subject matter, technique and colors, is timeless—a classic that is admired just as much today as it was in the 18th century.

Red transferware plate with cows

What Is Transferware?

Transferware is a type of pottery that is decorated by a process developed in England in the mid-1750s. To produce each colorful design, a master pattern was engraved on copper, glazed with color and transferred to thin paper. These sections of paper were applied one by one to a piece of pottery before the piece was put into the kiln. Many patterns were so complex that it took over a month to engrave the copper master sheet.

a holiday vignette featuring red transferware


Transferware was made all over Europe and the United States in many colors and patterns. Before transfer printing was developed, each piece in a dinner set had to be painted by hand, a costly process, making decorated dishes completely out of reach for working class families.

The industrial revolution in England changed that. The transfer process meant pottery patterns could be reproduced repeatedly, allowing middle class families to enjoy appealing dinnerware similar to that found in the homes of the gentry. By the 1800s, factories were producing entire tableware sets, most in romantic patterns featuring a man and woman in lush landscapes.

A display of red transferware plates and a platterWhat to Look For

Most transferware on the market today is from the mid to late 1800s. Especially appealing are pieces from the late 1800s Aesthetic Movement, when artists believed that creating something for beauty alone justified their artwork. Look for Oriental patterns, free-flowing asymmetrical designs, lavish florals and garden scenes filled with exotic birds, trees and lush landscapes.

Holiday vignette featuring red transferware

Most transfer pieces are marked on the bottom with the maker’s mark, and often with a pattern name. Some early pieces are unmarked; they are just as valuable. The older the transferware, the more “misses” you will see where the pattern joins at the seams. Unless it truly is a huge miss, this does not devalue a piece.

Prices can range from a lucky find at a flea market for well under $100.00 to thousands at an auction house, depending on rarity, size, and who else wants to add that piece to their collection.  Of all the colors of transferware, yellow was the least produced, therefore the most rare and costly to acquire.

Next time you come across a striking platter, bowl or cup, don’t hesitate to add it to your antique collection. The darling of decorators, transferware is decorative as well as useful. Whether you display your collection on your walls, or set a holiday table, these pieces have survived for over a hundred years and are meant to be used and bring joy.

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Initial Attraction: Collect Monogrammed Linens

Connect the handiwork of the past with your present decor by collecting exquisite, hand-embroidered linen textiles before they become too rare to find.

These delicate textiles reflect the labor and love of skilled needlewomen from generations past.

The art of combining two or more letters together into one beautiful symbol or monogram is centuries old. Once upon a time, only royalty or nobility could afford linen adorned with their own initials. Household linens were painstakingly embroidered with white satin stitches and great finesse, each piece finely executed by hand.

These days, antique monogrammed linens are collected for their artistic beauty, and collectors don’t mind whose initials are emblazoned on them. Antique one-of-a-kind pieces with monograms have storied pasts and are one way to express your own personal style at home.

Exquisite antique damask napkins with a central triple monogram embroidered in an elegant, scrolling bourdon stitch encircled with a grape garland add the luxury of yesterday to a contemporary table.


Antique linens with hand-embroidered monograms took months of patient and devoted stitching. Household textiles comprised a large part of a family’s wealth, carefully preserved and handed down from generation to generation.

Throughout history, every bride took great pains in providing her trousseau. The French word trousseau stems from the verb trousser, which means to “wrap up as in a package.”  The package of linens that a young bride took with her as she left her home, the size of which was commensurate with the wealth of her family, consisted of linens embroidered with the monogram of the bride and future groom.

From early adolescence, the bride-to-be spent many years sewing and embroidering her household monogrammed linens. Often linens were only embroidered with the bride’s initials at first, but always leaving a space for her future groom’s initials, until his identity went from dreamy mystery to known.

A variety of monogram styles- simple embroidery paired with other pieces that are highly embellished- make for a lively collection.

Stitched with expert workmanship, each delicate satin stitch was carefully done. These linens embroidered with monograms of the future bride and groom were a true labor of love. Esteemed for their beauty and function, antique monogrammed linens bridge the past and the future. And there is a certain romance to weaving your own stories into their provenance.

Truly exceptional antique monogrammed linens are getting more difficult to source. As the old chateaus and family homes are being sold, fewer heirloom-quality linens are coming on the market. Buy the best antique monogrammed linens you can find for your collection.

Monogrammed linens are not just for the bed or table. You can repurpose large antique monogrammed sheets as upholstery or drapes. Use them everywhere—these treasures were meant to be seen, and pull on your heartstrings.

Heirloom quality point de venise lace napkins demonstrate the skills of Verona, Italy’s master needlewomen.

How to cherish linens forever

  1. Put them to use. Monogrammed linens were meant for daily use, for the lifetime of a husband and wife, and then they were passed on. Most have been used over 100 years. These linens still have plenty of years left to make your home beautiful.
  2. A gentle soaking with a product especially made for antique linens is usually all you need to get out spots. You can carefully rub a combination of lemon juice, white vinegar and salt on a stain and lay the piece in the sun for a few hours. Avoid bleach, as it’s too harsh on the natural fibers.
  3. Line dry. Skip the dryer, which removes lint from antique linens and makes the fabric less smooth. Hang your linens outdoors to dry; they will be fresh and smell wonderful.
  4. Exceptional hand-embroidered triple monograms add a sense of elevated luxury to these pillow shams.

    Iron if needed. Time your ironing so that your pieces are still damp. This makes it easier to press out wrinkles. Use a spray bottle of water to spray each piece; then roll it up in a little bundle. Place the monograms right-side down over a terrycloth towel on your ironing board, so as not to flatten the embroidery, and press. Iron the linens completely dry.

  5. Gently fold each piece and store it in your linen closet. Add some lavender sachets for fragrance. Drape heavy hand-embroidered tablecloths or sheets over a padded hanger, and place them in a clothing closet. Never press on folds, as this weakens the fibers.
  6. Mix and match antique shams with different monograms together with a contemporary duvet on your bed, or a different napkin at each place setting. There are no rules!


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Gilty Pleasures: Vintage Gold Boudoir Accessories

Collect gold vanity accessories for a touch of 24-carat luxury

Vintage gold has a luxurious patina
Vintage gold has a luxurious patina

Every woman’s boudoir or vanity should have gilt—gold plating, or gilt with just an “i.” The term “boudoir” derives from the French word bouder, which means to sulk or pout, and it originally pertained to a room where a lady could withdraw to sulk.

Upright glass jewelry casket lined with gold tufted velvet
Upright glass jewelry casket lined with gold tufted velvet

By the 18th century, this sulking room was transformed into a lavish dressing room with a vanity table resplendent with costly gold ormolu perfume bottles, mirrors and jewelry caskets. True ormolu pieces are rare to find, and quite costly. Ormolu gilding went out of fashion in 1830, as the danger of the process was considered too high.

Today, collectors are gathering more contemporary gold-plated vanity pieces made in the early 1900s through the early 1960s. Collected to create a feminine dressing table or vanity space, or simply to display in a glass case, these jewelry caskets, perfume bottles and dressing table sets covered in a layer of pure 24-carat gold are exquisitely made, and beautiful to look at and use.


Gold-plated vanity accessories are most often Rococo style with ornate filigree work, birds and floral designs. Feminine and romantic, they made a luxurious statement. These extravagant vanity accessories were created with considerable attention to detail, which is why they’re a favorite collectible for women and even men.

24 karat gold and amber glass Matson perfume bottle
Perfume bottle and stopper made of 24-carat gold with floral filigree and amber glass.

Many manufacturers specialized in gold-plated vanity items. Apollo Studios was the earliest and most prestigious firm. A contemporary of Tiffany Studios, Apollo Studios produced many of the same items, creating pieces of exceptional quality from 1909 to 1922.

In the early 1940s, many companies began producing vanity items with a 24-carat gold-plated finish. Some of the most well-known include Matson, Stylebuilt, Guildcrest and Globe. Production of most of these types of items ended in the 1960s, although Stylebuilt still creates gold-plated pieces today.

What to Look For

Familiarize yourself with the shapes, designs and workmanship of the good vintage pieces. The most common design elements include roses, birds and filigree work, at times accented with faux jewels. Sometimes brushes and hand mirrors have faux mother of pearl or guilloche enamel behind the filigree, which is always plastic and not the real thing.

  1. Mark: Most of the vintage vanity and dresser items plated in 24-carat gold are marked by the manufacturer. Some were marked only by a paper label, which may be missing. But the quality is unmistakable; you’ll know it when you see it.
  2. Jewelry caskets: The jewelry caskets will have elegant feet and beveled glass held in by diamond-like prongs or accented by jewels. Most have velvet-lined board bottoms, tufted or not.
  3. Perfume bottles: Most perfume bottles are large filigree bottles with beveled glass. The bottle should retain its original glass dauber attached to its gilt filigree stopper. Another style, theatomizers, have siphon tubes inside.
  4. Dresser sets. Trays withmirrors or lace enclosed between glass are either large enough to hold an entire brush and hand mirror set, or small to showcase a few special perfume bottles. Most have little feet and ornate filigree handles.

When you display your collection, the more the merrier. One piece is beautiful on its own, but a display of gilt accessories can be captivating. A collection of jewelry bottles or a selection of jewel caskets on a mirrored tray will be the highlight of any space. These gilded vintage treasures are sure to add glamour and sophistication to your home.

Vintage gold colored jewelry casket lined with teal velvet
Jewelry casket lined with teal velvet


  1. Display your collection away from direct sunlight. Keep your vanity accessories away from moisture, which can loosen the gilding and damage any jewels you may have.
  2. Dust your pieces regularly, using a brush to get into the little filigree areas. I recommend a medium-size paintbrush—the stiff bristles will loosen dirt and debris in the ornate designs.
  3. If you polish your gold-plated pieces, do so very, very carefully. The gold layer is thin and easily polished away. Use a Q-tip dipped in a high quality, silver-gold polish, and gently rub on a small area; then buff it out to a shine. Most collectors, however, prefer the beautiful unpolished patina that their boxes, perfume bottles and vanity accessories acquire over time.

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How to Preserve Your Christmas Collectibles

Learn how to avoid a broken collectible and a broken heart with these tips on preservation.


Don’t let all the time you’ve invested into piecing together the perfect Christmas tree or dining set go into shambles…literally. Treat your decor and ornaments like the precious pieces they are to avoid a tree or table boasting scratches and chips—especially if the pieces are vintage.

Diane Sedo, a featured Romantic Homes stylist and photographer, gave us her tips on how to preserve and store your holiday decor so they’re just as bright, glittery or shiny—and most importantly, in-tact—next year.

Santa punch bowl


  • To prevent scratches, always remove the metal hooks from ornaments and store them in a resealable storage bag.
  • Dust your ornaments with a feather duster or soft artist’s brush.


  • “I store components of vignettes together so I don’t have to search through boxes to put them together again,” Diane said.
  • “Store like ornaments together. I label the containers to identify the category of items such as glass, fabric or plastic.”
  • “I store my ornaments in sturdy boxes with several layers of divided compartments. Storage and organization stores sell a large variety of storage boxes made specifically for holiday decorations. I individually wrap fragile ornaments in acid-free tissue before packing them away.”
  • “Vintage hatboxes are perfect for large or odd-size pieces. When I can, I store each piece in its original box,  but that’s not always possible. Egg cartons and plastic containers protect fragile pieces. I store them in a hall or bedroom closet where there is no drastic change in temperature or moisture like in an attic, basement or garage.”

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