A Guide to Ceramics: The Many Media of Vessels

Here at Bardith, Ltd. we specialize in antique ceramics. If you browse our inventory, you’ll find terms like soft-paste porcelain, earthenware, and terracotta. What does it all mean? Ceramic nomenclature can present a challenge to new collectors and old alike, so we’ve put together a guide of ceramics dictionary terms for your convenience. Now, you’ll never have to wonder about the difference between stoneware and earthenware!


All of our vessels are ceramics/pottery. The terms are synonymous and refer to objects made of fired clay, though the nature of each’s purpose varies slightly.

Ceramics: objects made of fired clay; usually more decorative in nature

Pottery: objects made of fired clay; usually more utilitarian in nature

Ceramics/pottery can be divided into three groups: stoneware, earthenware, and porcelain. Each has their own variations, described below.

Stoneware: ceramic material made of fire clay, ball clay, feldspar, and silica and fired at high temperatures of 1148-1316ºC; nonporous; white, gray, or brown in color; can be glazed or unglazed

English Stoneware Obelisks
  • Caneware: tan, unglazed stoneware
    • Qualities: tan or light brown; often has a pie crust-like edge
    • Associated with: Wedgwood
Caneware Game Pie Dish
  • Black Basalt: stoneware made from basalt rock, an igneous rock formed from lava
    • Qualities: smooth to touch, black or dark grey in color
    • Associated with: Wedgwood
Pair of Wedgwood Black Basalt Urns

Earthenware: porous ceramic material made from either red or white clay fired at low temperatures of 1000-1080°C; most fragile type of pottery

  • Creamware: made with buff-colored clay with flint to whiten it and covered with a lead glaze
    • Qualities: cream-colored, lightweight, durable
    • Other names: Queensware
    • Associated with: Wedgwood; Leeds
English Creamware Banded Mug
  • Terracotta: red earthenware with iron in the clay; low fired at around 1000°C
    • Qualities: usually unglazed, brownish-red in color
Pair of Neoclassical Terracotta Ewers

Porcelain: ceramic material made by firing clay at high temperatures that result in vitrification; white in color; highly durable

  • Hard-paste porcelain: ceramic made from Kaolin white clay and Petunse rock; high fired at around 1450°C
    • Qualities: translucent, brilliant white, glassy smooth
    • Other names: “true” porcelain, pâte dure, porcelaine royale, grand feu
    • Associated with:  Meissen; Chinese porcelain
Sevres Hard-Paste Porcelain Dishes
  • Soft-paste porcelain: ceramic made from Kaolin white clay and Petunse rock; fired at a lower temperature of around 1200°C
    • Qualities: granular and porous, a little less white, has silky or marble-like feel to the touch
    • Other names: artificial porcelain, frit porcelain, porcelaine de France, pâte tendre
    • Associated with: Medici Porcelain; the Chelsea Factory in England
Worcester Soft-Paste Porcelain Cup & Saucer
  • Bone china: ceramic made from Kaolin white clay and Petunse rock with added bone ash; can be fired at a lower temperature than soft-paste porcelain
    • Qualities: brilliant and translucent white (though less so than hard-paste porcelain)
    • Other names: English China
    • Associated with: Bow Factory; Chelsea Factory; Lowestoft Factory; Derby Factory
  • Soaprock porcelain: uses a soft Steatite mineral
    • Qualities: feels soft like soap
    • Other names: soapstone, French chalk
  • Biscuit porcelain: unglazed porcelain or earthenware that has only been fired once
    • Qualities: marble-like appearance
    • Other names: bisque, Parian ware
  • Blanc de Chine: white Chinese porcelain made in Southeast China; typically used for figures or sculptures
    • Qualities: highly transparent, white
    • Other names: “white from China” (Fr.), Dehua porcelain
Blanc de Chine Porcelain Cockerels

As you can see, there is a plethora of types of ceramics. We hope this guide of  ceramics dictionary terms will be helpful for you when browsing our inventory. Feel free to contact us with any questions or requests for information.


References

Bertolissi, Nicoletta. “What is the difference between porcelain and ceramic? All you need to know about 9 confusing ceramic terms,” Nicoletta Bertolissi. 3 December 2014.

Mussi, Susan. Ceramic Dictionary.

“Types of Porcelain: Hard Paste, Soft Paste, and Bone China,” Marks 4 Antiques.