What is Lenox Bone China?

Bone china is one of the most intriguing and valuable collectibles in the world of pottery. It is stronger than any other form of porcelain, yet is thin enough that light can easily pass through it. With its alluring translucency, its hardness, and its natural ivory color, bone china is of extremely high quality—and oftentimes, extremely expensive too.

First and foremost, people wonder: does it contain actual bone? The short answer is yes. In order to be considered as “bone china” in the United States, a piece must contain at least 25% bone (though most pieces are comprised of at least 50% bone). It was first created in a rough form in 1748 by Thomas Frye, who tested it at his porcelain factory near East London. With his factory being located near cattle farms and slaughterhouses, he was able to obtain the bones easily. Nevertheless, it was Josiah Spode who revolutionized the development process between 1789 and 1793—creating a formula which is still considered to be the basis for all bone china today.

In order to create the china, the bones must first be pulverized and burned, resulting in a fine ash. The ash is mixed with water, then with china clay, ball clay, flint, and feldspar. This resulting slurry is filtered to remove the air and all but 20% of the water; the leftover liquid substance is called “slip”. Once drained, the slurry is formed into chalky cylinders called “pugs”. The slip and the pugs are sliced into discs and placed in plaster molds, forming them into the shapes of plates, cups, and other fine china pieces. From there, each piece is scraped of excess clay (which is reclaimed and used in future batches), dried, removed from the mold, dried again, and smoothed. Next, each piece is inspected then inserted into a kiln, where it withstands a temperature of about 2,300 degrees (Fahrenheit). Lastly, the pieces are polished, heated, glazed, heated, decorated, and—you guessed it—heated a final time.

As is evident by the lengthy process, making even a single plate is labor-intensive, not to mention expensive, given that the basic ingredients are both domestic and international products. Because of this, up until the end of the twentieth century, bone china was almost exclusively produced in England. In 1989, however, Lenox China opened a factory in Kingston, North Carolina—the only bone china factory in the United States.

Over 200 years after Josiah Spode developed his key formula, the Spode factory in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire is still producing quality bone china today. Along with Lenox bone china, Spode’s china is considered highly collectible, taking such forms as vases, dinnerware, and figurines. Because of its valuable nature, most bone china produced today is registered and marked with an identifying pattern, brand, and/or date.

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