|Punch Bowl, circa 1820
Canadian Museum of Civilization
Cat. no. A-5696
Slide no. 17991
IRONSTONE"What the public will have the manufacturer must make," said a nineteenth-century British potter. In a century of technological advancement and restless change, potters had constantly to come up with something new.
At the beginning of the century, cream-coloured earthenware was still much in use. It was soon, however, to be superseded in popularity by newer types. One of these was a high-fired earthenware, stronger and more durable than anything that had gone before.
When it first came on the market, the new earthenware was given the blue-grey appearance of Chinese export porcelain. Its decoration, often hand-painted within printed outlines, was frequently adapted from the Oriental. Many potters made and exported it, but it was Staffordshire's Charles James Mason who took out a patent for it in 1813, calling it Ironstone China. "Ironstone" suggested strength; "China" suggested porcelain. But it was, in fact, an earthenware.
Other potters exported similar bodies to Canada, using names such as Stone China, Granite China, Pearl Stone and Dresden China.
Here was a ware eminently suited to the Canadian market. Its great strength enabled it to withstand storm-tossed voyages over the Atlantic. It was more expensive than ordinary earthenware, but cheaper than porcelain itself. It was taken up with enthusiasm by the importers. One of the earliest Canadian advertisements for it appeared in a Quebec newspaper in 1820, where it was described as "the new Invented Iron Stone ware."
The popularity of Mason's bold patterns lasted long after he died. Before his death, in 1856, the right to use his moulds and patterns had passed to others. This ironstone plate, in an early Mason pattern, was produced in Staffordshire by George L. Ashworth & Brothers. It is from a dinner service purchased about 1870 by Sir William Dawson, principal of McGill University in Montreal. It was used there for both family and official entertaining.
The Spode firm, with its Stone China, was a vigorous competitor of Mason's. As the century advanced, Spode's products of various kinds were to have a strong presence in what were to become the western provinces of Canada.