IDENTIFY THE GENERIC NAME OF THE CLAY:
Never fall in love with a dinnerware pattern without learning the generic name of the clay. Is it earthenware, stoneware, bone china or porcelain? If dinnerware is decorated, determine the type of glaze: underglaze—overglaze, and be sure the glaze is lead free.
This information should be available in the retail store but if your answers are unsatisfactory, contact the manufacturer. Any ceramic dishes with metallic decoration, should NOT be used in a microwave oven or dishwasher.
You can’t simply ‘look’ at dinnerware shapes and know what kind of mold was used to make each piece— because all finished pieces must have uniform wall thickness. All flat surfaces must be smooth—without excesses of glaze or pin-point holes in the glaze. Pin-point markings beneath each plate are the result of stacking pins used to separate dishes during firing and are unavoidable.
Visible mold marks and visible joinings as cup handles or
rough edges anywhere—including foot rims—indicate
care was not taken to perfect each piece in its greenware
or bisque state. This is sloppy ‘craftsmanship’.
Determine the care with which patterns have been applied.
If a decal, seams must be invisible where the ends of each
decal are joined. If hand-painted, execution must be excellent.
Examine the following elements to judge if production quality is good.
GENERIC NAME OF THE CLAY:
The generic name of each clay provides direction
for the care and durability of dinnerware.
All generic clay as earthenware, stoneware, porcelain and bone china contains elements that impart characteristics of delicacy and/or sturdiness and also affect purity, firing temperature and durability.
Several catalogs recently identified dinnerware made of ‘chip-resistant white clay’; a specious phrase to create an impression of durability and not the name of a clay.
All glazed ceramic surfaces must be unblemished and void of warping, porosity, and pit marks. The thickness of clay must be uniform. All ceramic products having handles, spouts or any part molded separately and ‘pasted-on‘, must have no indication they were ‘added-on’. Finished products must appear seamless.
Crazing and crackling are fine lines in a glaze usually caused by non-fitting glazes or a wrong firing temperature or they may be deliberately forced by a factory to sell as ‘instant-antiques’. Extremes of temperature causes crazing and crackling in glazed ceramics because clay and glaze contract and expand at different rates. This may happen if dishes are stored in a cellar or attic. Request assurance that any lead in the glaze of the dishes you like, meets consumer standards established by the FDA.
Mold marks must not be visible on dinnerware. These should be removed in the greenware stage prior to firing. Marks from small stacking-pins used to separate wares during firing are hard to avoid but should be present only on the bottom of each piece.
‘Foot rims’, the ridge upon which every piece of dinnerware ‘sits’, must be smooth. Manufacturers may grind them smooth or they may be glazed to avoid damaging the table top as well as tops of other plates if dishes are stacked upon each other.
HAND PAINTED DESIGNS:
Insist upon excellence. The beauty of hand work is the lack of perfect uniformity, not the lack of standards. Hand painted dinnerware will be more expensive, as Maiolica or Delft.
I chose hand-painted Italian maiolica dinner plates in a
NYC department store and wanted twelve. After examining
several dozen, only nine were acceptable. The hand-painting
was sloppy and careless— and both sales and management
personnel rationalized the poor quality saying, “but they’re
Yes, badly hand-painted. The plates should never have been
shipped by the factory —and should have been rejected by the
store—and I should not have been dismissed with such a shoddy
excuse for such shoddy merchandise. The plates and the store
were poor ‘quality’.
DECALS OR TRANSFER DESIGNS:
All designs must appear seamless. Just as you would not purchase clothing
if a pattern did not meet at the seams, this standard applies to transfers or decals on dinnerware.
CUPS AND SAUCERS:
When I helped couples select dinnerware in the Gift Gallery, grooms were most concerned for the comfort of the cup handle. And if a teaspoon easily slid from the rim of the saucer into the cup well as the cup was lifted—the pattern was immediately rejected.
Metallic decorations are the last thing ‘fired’ in a kiln because they require a low temperature. Metallic trim is also ‘soft’ and eventually wears away so metallic trimmed dishes should never be washed in a dishwasher: the combination of swirling hot water and detergent is too abrasive.
Nor should metallic trimmed dishes be used in a microwave oven
because microwaves cannot pass through metal: they damage the
oven if reflected back into the magnetron.
Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY
My next post is: JUDGING VINTAGE CERAMIC DINNERWARE