True white porcelain made from white porcelain clay first came into usage around 500 A.D. in north China. This was an improvement on the techniques developed over the previous 400 years used for creating pottery known as celadon ware, a somewhat crude ceramic that was glazed and fired in a kiln but was not porcelain white and often did not fire with a smooth surface.
This new, true white porcelain gave birth to a new art form as the smooth white clay made a good surface for art work and decoration. The popularity of porcelain began to increase over the next several hundred years and by the 12th century the secrets of porcelain manufacture had spread as far as Korea. By the 15th century the export of porcelain ware reached the main cities in Europe and porcelain became a favorite of the nobles that could afford it.
Ceramists in Europe eventually learned to create variations of the white porcelain using the materials that were available in their local areas in the early 18th Century. The next major advance in porcelain technique came in the Staffordshire region of England in the 1750’s. This new technique known as “transferware” made it possible to use decals or paper transfers for the decoration of porcelain which, in turn, made the production of finished pieces go faster. This new technique quickly increased the supply and popularity of decorated china as it became more affordable and more widely available to the middle classes.
Transferware, made popular by manufacturers such as Spode and Wedgewood, was usually printed with one color and can typically be distinguished by the fine lines created through the process of engraving. The most popular colors are cobalt blue, red and brown. The design could be transferred under the glaze or over the glaze when making a ceramic piece. Since the ink tended to wear off on pieces that were overprinted, the under-printing method became the most popular method of manufacture.
Another variation that was developed in Staffordshire was Antique Flow Blue where a blurred effect was achieved by positioning a porcelain piece in a protective casing during the firing process that allowed the blue color to flow onto the body of the piece. Depending on the position of the piece in the protective casing the finished piece would vary from slightly blurred to such a pronounced blur that the pattern became almost indistinguishable.
Other well known European porcelains that came into being during the 18th century include German porcelain known as Meissen or Dresden porcelain, Bone china created in England and fine white porcelains created by Limoges in France.
The main differences between these types of porcelain were the clays that were used for production and the material that was used for a flux during the fusion of the glaze. For instance, alabaster was originally used as a flux in creating Meissen porcelain instead of the normal feldspar and silica, while Bone china was created using bone ash as a flux. The pieces produced in Limoges were created using fine white kaolin clay found only in that area of France.
Early Limoges porcelain was actually produced by several factories in France from the late 18th century through the early 20th when the style changed to a more basic design. Wares that were marked Limoges were produced by as many as 48 companies during the 1920s. One of the main exports of the companies operating in this region was elaborately molded white wares known as blanks. These blanks were often sold to decorating studios and to individuals who decorated the pieces as a hobby. For this reason you will find a wide variety of quality in the decoration of pieces marked Limoges.
Royal Beyreauth porcelain began manufacturing in the late 18th century and gained wide popularity in the late 19th century with the introduction of figural patterns, such as flowers, animals, fruits, vegetables and even people. These natural forms were used to create many utilitarian wares besides table service such as hatpin holders, baskets, toothpick holders, vases and decorative plaques.
Because of the wide variety of uses and the decorative appeal, Royal Beyreauth was highly sought after during the Victorian age. Royal Bayreuth porcelain is also well know for their tapestry lines, including rose tapestries in several color variations and the very rare sterling silver rose, as well as scenic tapestry and non-tapestry forms of scenics.
Another manufacturer gaining wide popularity during the 19th century and beyond was Doulton, becoming known as Royal Doulton in 1901 after receiving the honor of using the “Royal” name from King Edward VII. Doulton had been honored at many international exhibitions and had become famous for creating a wide variety of vases, figurines, character jugs, and other decorative pieces using under and on-glaze enameling techniques with many vibrant colors.
The knowledge and techniques for creating fine porcelain continued to spread and by the late 19th century expert porcelain artists could be found throughout the world.