ONE OF THE great contributions made to the world by the English potteries in North Staffordshire was the development of bone china in the early 19th Century. Tradition holds that the technique was discovered by one of the local potters, Josiah Spode, who was looking for an inexpensive way to duplicate true porcelain, that splendid product that had been imported from China for more than 200 years. Spode's bone china turned out to be very much like Chinese porcelain: He simply added bone ash to kaolin and feldspar (discovered at the time in Cornwall) in order to make a paste more manageable in the kiln than porcelain. In addition, it was lighter, whiter and easier to decorate than either true "China" or the hard-paste porcelain favored by the Continental potters at Meissen and Sevres.
European porcelains in the 18th Century--the "hard pastes" made in imitation of Chinese pottery and the French and English "soft pastes"-- were soon superseded by Spode's invention. It was a better product in every way, and the bone china of the early 18th Century is virtually the same material that is used today in England and elsewhere for tablewares.
For many years Spode, Son and Copeland (Copeland was the London representative of the firm whose family eventually took over the business) was the finest mark of English bone china. In addition, Josiah Spode II, the son of Josiah Spode, became one of the first English potters to apply gilding to bone china, making many handsome adaptations (known as "Japans") of Japanese Imari ware. The variety of objects made from bone china and decorated lavishly by Spode is without end: punch bowls, mugs, sugar boxes, butter tubs, roll trays, supper plates, broth bowls, toast racks, steak dishes, radish trays, cheese toasters, scent jars, ink stands, card racks, snuff boxes, rouge pots and violet baskets. Bone china, of course, was produced by many other Staffordshire potters during the 19th and 20th centuries: Minton, Worcester, Coalport--and so on.