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Bone China sets are a type of soft-paste porcelain that is made up of bone ash, feldspathic material and kaolin. It has been described as ware with a translucent body consisting of around 30% of phosphate derived from animal bone and calculated calcium phosphate. Bone china is one of the strongest of the porcelain ceramics or china ceramics and with it having high mechanical strength and chip resistance, it is known for its high levels of whiteness and translucency. With its high strength, the ceramics allow it to be produced in thinner cross-sections than the other types of porcelain. Similar to stoneware it is vitrified, but is translucent due the difference in its mineral properties.
The first commercially extensive bone china was first developed by English potter Josiah Spode within the early 1790s. From the china’s initial development and by the later part of the 20th century, bone china was exclusively an English product, with the production being efficiently localised in Stoke-on-Trent. Large English firms such as Fortnum & Mason, Mintons, Coalport Spode, Royal Crown Derby, Royal Doulton, Wedgwood and Worcester made and still do make it. Within the UK, any references to ‘china’ or ‘porcelain’ can also refer to bone china and the ‘English porcelain’ has also been used as a term for it, in the UK and around the rest of world.
The first known development of bone china was made by Thomas Frye in his Bow porcelain factory near Bow, East London in 1748. With Frye’s factory being close by to cattle markets and slaughterhouses of Essex, it gave him easy access to animal bones. Frye used around 45% of bone ash to create what he called ‘fine porcelain’.
With the production of bone china more care is needed due to its lower plasticity and narrower vitrification range when compared to porcelain. The normal known formulation for bone china is: 25% kaolin, 25% Cornish stone and 50% bone ash. The particular bone ash that is used within bone china is made from cattle bones which tend to have lower iron content. The bones are crushed before they are degelatinised and then calcined up to 12500C therefore creating the bone ash that is used. The ash is usually milled into finer particle sizes. The main component, kaolin, is needed to give a slightly more plasticity feeling to the substance allowing articles to be moved into such shapes, which is then heated to around 12000C. These raw materials used to create bone china are considered to be very expensive with the production of it being very labour-intensive, hence the reason why bone china maintains a high luxury status and high value.
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