Do you know that porcelain aka china was first produced in China, more than a thousand years ago?

Is antique 'china' or antique 'porcelain' correct?

Usage of the term 'china' for porcelain

The term "china" as used in 'antique china' is sometimes confusing for people who do not use it.  Many British and other European porcelain marks do have the word "china" in their back stamp. Actually, 'china' has the same meaning as 'porcelain'. In English both terms are used, but some people use it specifically for dinnerware (only). To be clear, the term is used in English only. When it appears in marks of other countries, this is because those marks are English.
Other European languages use the equivalent of "porcelain"; the use of "china" is very confusing to them. Because of the above, some non-English speakers think an item was made in "China", even if it is clearly European, if the mark says "china" after the factory name. In fact, the term 'china' means the same as the term porcelain. In the 16th century, when Europe discovered the white ceramics made in China and it became fashionable in the upper classes of Europe because of its pure white color. It was different from earthenware or other European ceramics.

Kaolin clay, which was the base ingredient for those antique china wares was unavailable in Europe, and all such ceramics needed to be imported from China.
Thus, in England and some other countries the term 'china' became popular to describe those specific ceramics made with Kaolin clay in China. (Please note that 'china' is not written with a capital "C" when it means porcelain, only the country name is in capital). This is somewhat similar as the use of "silver". Here also the material has come to mean the specific tableware made of silver.

Back to 'China' and 'china' - if you are involved in selling or buying porcelain online and come in contact with people who are not native English speakers, attention needs to be paid to what "China" means in a specific case. Western  porcelain marks often contain something like "AAA China", where AAA may be the manufacturer. A little clarification might prevent any misunderstandings...just in case. :-)

Why are naming conventions of ceramics so confusing?

Many of us have made experience of misunderstandings with other because of the names and their meaning below.

  • Ceramics
  • Pottery
  • Earthenware
  • Stoneware
  • Porcelain
  • China

If you look at categories of auction sites (and some other places), you will find some odd naming conventions. Theoretically, names should be the same everywhere?

  1. The term Pottery is used for Earthenware.
  2. The term Pottery includes all types of ??? (equals ceramics).
  3. The term Ceramics includes all types of ??? (equals pottery).
  4. The terms Porcelain and China (lower case) are used for the same item types.
  5. Porcelain and China are sometimes used for different items (e.g. mainly when indicating dinner ware)
  6. Ceramics and Porcelain are used both for bathroom items, floor and wall tiles.
  7. The term is sometimes also used  for the enamel of a non-ceramic bathtub.
  8. In dentistry both Porcelain and Ceramic are used, interchangeably (we all know for what).
  9. The same is valid for electric insulators.

So what is what?

We all can look up definitions in Wikipedia or other places for correct definitions, but they may not necessarily agree with popular use (usage depends on the region).

Here is the definition we use

Pottery and ceramics are interchangeably usable for items made and fired/or unfired with clay, since thousands of years ago. Thus, they both include earthenware, stoneware, porcelain (the term china equals the term porcelain), and unfired clay items.

(We do not consider architectural, technical or dental namings, it gets too complicated.)

search by keyword