A Guide to Ceramics

A Guide to Ceramics

By Bailey Tichenor

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.


A 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.


Tan, unglazed stoneware.

    • Qualities: tan or light brown; often has a pie crust-like edge
    • Associated with: Wedgwood

Black Basalt

Stoneware made from Staffordshire clay blackened with deposits of coal and added manganese.

    • Qualities: smooth to touch, black or dark grey in color
    • Associated with: Wedgwood


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


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

Terra Cotta

Red earthenware with iron in the clay; low fired at around 1000°C

    • Qualities: usually unglazed, brownish-red in color


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

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, Sevres, St. Cloud, Mennecy

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 

Soap Rock 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

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.

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