Identifying Real Bone China

Verifying Authenticity and Tips for Proper Care

Two antique porcelain tea cups over a light background. Still life.
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Bone china dishes have been around for a very long time. It was common practice for brides in the early- to mid-1900s to either get a set of china for a wedding gift or to collect it beforehand. As a result, your family may have an heirloom set from this era. Today's brides have a wider assortment of fine dishes to choose from, but bone china remains popular and highly collectible. Learn how to determine the authenticity of pieces you are interested in purchasing or have had gifted or passed down.

The Process of Making Bone China

Several processes are involved in the making of bone china, but the ingredient that sets it apart from other china is that it contains at least 25 percent bone ash. This not only adds a certain amount of strength and white color to china but also makes it somewhat translucent. Light passes through it, although it is not transparent. Bone china is also usually more expensive than other china, and this is justified by the processes and intensive labor involved in its making.

How to Verify Authenticity

Generally, bone china is registered by the manufacturer and you can find its trademark, number, and pattern name under each piece. Over time these can become difficult to read, so it's always good to know an alternate way to quickly verify its authenticity, without requiring any special tools or resources. If you hold up any piece of bone china up to a light and place your hand behind it, you should be able to see your fingers through it.

Bone china also has a certain clear ring if you flick the edge of a cup or plate with your fingernail. However, identifying this sound from that of any other tableware item does take some practice.

How to Care for Bone China

Bone china is surprisingly stronger than it appears, but it's not indestructible, nor is it considered durable and unbreakable such as Melamine dishes. Care should be taken when handling these quality dishes first because of the monetary or heirloom value, but also because these are to be treasured and enjoyed, then passed on through the ages.

Hand washing with a mild soap is strongly recommended. Handle only one piece at a time while washing and use care. Cup handles are the most prone to breakage. Some newer pieces may be marked dishwasher safe, but dishwasher detergents are very harsh and over time will fade the pattern on your good dishes. OIder bone china was painted and designed for gentle hand washing. There is also a possibility that even with the best dishwasher loading practice, these delicate items can become chipped simply from rattling against other dishes during the dishwashing process.

Because many if not most china patterns have gold or metallic trims and bands, they should never be placed in a microwave. If you do so you will see sparks that can damage both the china and your microwave.

But don't be afraid to use your bone china—it is made to be enjoyed. Tea and coffee taste the best in bone china cups. Setting a table with this china gives it a touch of elegance, making the dinner more memorable and enjoyable.

Buying Bone China

If you'd like to collect or buy a set of china for your formal table, it is sold in many stores, online, and at jewelry retailers and where fine wedding gifts are sold. Note that some retailers may not provide the full product details and you may need to enquire to ensure you are purchasing bone china.

If you have some table pieces but are unsure of how old they are, there are many publications and guides to help you identify the pattern, manufacturer, and era when it was made.

You'll also find this type of tableware at flea markets and garage sales, which can net you some great deals. Being sure of what you are purchasing is indeed bone china is the key to actually getting that bargain.