Dinnerware [ceramic] is produced in various categories using a mixture of raw materials, including different types and grades of clay, stone, glass, and bone ash. These materials, combined with standardized firing temperatures, produce dinnerware types in different categories that include pottery and earthenware, stoneware, porcelain, and bone china.
Pottery is made from lower grade clay, is fired at relatively low temperatures, and does not become vitrified (hard and "glassy") or translucent after firing. For thousands of years, people have created pottery by moulding pots, bowls, plates, and pitchers from clay and then baking them. Over the years pottery has come to be known by a number of names, including earthenware, semi-porcelain, graniteware, and ironstone. Unfinished pottery is typically somewhat porous with a thick, opaque, clay body. Earthenware is similar to pottery but it is usually more durable and suitable for everyday use.
Stoneware is very hard and dense, and stoneware dinnerware sets, in undecorated form, vary in colour from brown to blue-grey. Stoneware is fired at very high temperatures and has a somewhat vitrified body that is water-resistant and more durable than pottery.
Porcelain dinnerware is made from very high quality clay and is vitreous, nonporous, and in most cases translucent. The commonly used generic term for dinnerware, "china", comes from the fact that porcelain was first made in China. It is believed that porcelain was first developed in China during the 9th century. During the early 1700’s the process used to make porcelain found its way to the European continent. There are two types of porcelain, soft paste and hard paste.
Soft paste porcelain combines white clay and ground glass and is fired at a lower temperature than hard paste porcelain.
Hard paste porcelain is made from china stone and kaolin, and is fired at higher temperatures.
Bone china dinnerware includes the use of highly refined clay and bone ash in its production. Bone china came into being as a result of a number of experiments performed by English china manufacturers in the mid-eighteenth century. The English were seeking a process by which they could achieve “vitrification” during dinnerware production. When vitrification is achieved during the firing process, the clay and feldspar bond and become one material. Unfortunately, the English were unable to get their kilns hot enough to achieve vitrification. Therefore, they sought to lower the required temperature at which vitirification would take place. By adding animal bone ash to the china compound, they were able to achieve vitrification at lower temperatures. Josiah Spode was the first English producer to achieve success with this new process, and the result was a form of china that was both translucent and durable. Bone china offers advantages over porcelain including being whiter in colour, lighter in weight, and less brittle. A wider range of colours can also be used in its decoration.