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Grading plates

November 27, 2002|Emily Green

Before buying plates, measure your dishwasher and cabinets. Today's massive dinnerware often exceeds the widths of cupboards and the height of dishwasher racks. Then, know your grades of ceramics. Here is a guide:

Earthenware or pottery: Crockery made from clay, then sealed with a waterproof glaze. The glazes are often the most lustrous, but tend to allow some water absorption. This will eventually make the clay expand, the glaze crack and the plate break. But quality has greatly improved in the last 20 years, with better clay mixes and computerized kilns, so almost all are dishwasher/ microwave safe.

Stoneware: Most durable type of earthenware, fired at high temperature and tough enough to use without glazing. Often found in mid-century Modern- and Asian-style dinnerware, with enamel and translucent glazes.

China: A term originally referring to the home of porcelain, now used merely to connote dishes. Phrases such as "real China" mean nothing.

Porcelain: The highest grade of ceramic tableware. Originally made in China and neighboring countries but from the 1800s, manufactured throughout Asia and Europe, and a bit in the Americas. The exceptionally high quality owes to the use of mineral-rich clay, which can be fired at such extreme temperatures that it becomes glass-like and opaque. When a porcelain plate is broken, it should be impossible to distinguish the body from the glaze.

Transferware: In a process developed by English potteries, handsome patterns were inked on instead of hand-painted. Modern transferware is usually dishwasher/microwave safe.

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