What’s the difference between porcelain, china, and bone china? It’s largely in how they are made; this article has a lot of interesting details, but the basic idea is that porcelain is very functional, china is a special kind of porcelain used to make fine cups and plates (and was invented in the country China — hence the name), and bone china is an even more specific kind of china, made using bones. Bone china was actually invented in England, not China, and usually contains powdered cow bones (but read the knowledgenuts article to find out about china made from human bones …)
History of bone china
Invented near East London in 1748, the first bone china was created by Thomas Frye, who used bone ash from nearby cattle markets to increase the strength of his “fine porcelain”. The formula still used today was developed and improved by Josiah Spode in 1796, and bone china became very popular for its translucent appearance and higher durability compared to other china. Bone china was made only in England for the first 200 years, but today it is produced in several Asian countries as well, and the largest producer of bone china in the world is now China itself — coming full circle to the creator of the original “china” porcelain. The most famous name today in English bone china is a company called the Wedgwood group, which has acquired many of its competitors and come to dominate the market. For the Islamic world, it has become possible to purchase bone china which is certified halal, made in the Middle East. Very high-quality bone china is also made in Japan by the famous company Noritake.
Meanwhile, in China
China has historically been considered the producer of the finest porcelain in the world, and the finest porcelain in China comes from a city in Jiangxi province called Jingdezhen (pronounced Jing Duh Jenn). Amazing porcelain masters there have been providing the imperial families with china for over 2000 years, and the most expensive blue-white china ever sold was from Jingdezhen. Today, this city produces about 300 million pieces of china every year. China is now producing more bone china than any other country in the world, but the best-known bone china still comes from English countries. Jingdezhen is better known for its traditional porcelain techniques than for the new bone china production power. A well-known Chinese company producing exquisite bone china today is called Shanghai Tang.
The most precious porcelain known
- Korean porcelain, also known as “Joseon baekja”, is a kind of white porcelain. The most expensive Joseon item ever sold was “White Ware Vase Painted in Cobalt Blue”, for $4.2 million US.
- The most expensive teacup in the world: the Ming Dynasty “chicken cup”, purchased at an auction for 21 million pounds — about $27 million US. This cup has been called the “holy grail” of Chinese porcelain and was once used by the emperor himself.
- The chicken cup was then surpassed in 2017 when the Ru Guanyao Brush Washer Bowl, a Northern Song Dynasty piece, was sold at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong for almost $38 million US. Coming from an extra rare kiln in Henan province makes these “Ru guanyao” items more precious.
- A Yuan dynasty jar auctioned for 230,000,000 yuan (about $33 million US) in 2005 in London (the aforementioned blue-white china piece from Jingdezhen). This was the most expensive china in history, until …
- A Qing Dynasty porcelain vase sold for $84 million US, the most expensive Chinese porcelain art ever known.