Dishes, dinnerware, china. No matter. It's all beautiful. If you're considering starting a vintage dinnerware collection, you really can't go wrong. But knowledge is power, no? So here is a petite tutorial to guide your search.
Let's start with porcelain.
There's a reason most restaurants use porcelain in their service. Porcelain is made from a high quality white clay, fired at very high temperatures, resulting in hard, strong and translucent pieces of china. Porcelain is typically white and has a very smooth surface and is non-porous, oven-safe and dishwasher safe.
If you're looking for dishes that can take a beating, porcelain is for you.
Stoneware is made from from unrefined clay. Stoneware clay has a grittier texture than porcelain clay due to its higher sand content. Like porcelain, stoneware is fired at a high temperature, and the result is a piece of pottery that is strong and chip resistant. Stoneware if often used to make mugs and baking dishes and can be safely heated in ovens and microwaves. Stoneware is a popular choice for dinnerware because it's durable and less expensive than porcelain. It tends to have a more modern appearance than porcelain, which makes it appealing to collectors looking to amass a collection of dishes that doesn't look like their grandmother's collection.
Earthenware is fired at a lower temperature than porcelain and stoneware, making it less durable, but also more flexible in design. Earthenware can be strengthened by glazing. Glazing hardens the surface of the pottery, allowing it to be used for every day uses. Ironstone is a type of earthenware with an extremely strong glaze to protect it.
Earthenware is typically fine in the dishwasher, although you have to be careful to keep your plates from clanking together in the dishwasher - they will chip each other. It's best to avoid oven and microwave with earthenware. While heat won't damage your earthenware, your plates, mugs or bowls will get very, very hot.
You can find earthenware in a wide variety of patterns, colors and textures. From a design perspective, earthenware is the most flexible.