Selecting china can be a confusing process if you are not familiar with the terms used to describe various types of dinnerware. Once you understand these, you will have a good idea of their differences in quality, and be knowledgeable about what you are buying. Most people feel it is better to invest in a small number of pieces of fine quality china than to have a great number of pieces of lesser quality.
Once you have chosen a pattern that appeals to you, you will need to decide what different pieces you will need and how many of each of these pieces, depending on the size of your family and the number of guests you are likely to entertain.
If a pattern is "open stock," it means that the pieces may be purchased individually, instead of as a set. But remember that the pattern may not be available forever.
The different types of dinnerware you will find in the stores are:
Bone china -- China that contains animal bone ash for added translucency and whiteness.
China -- A nonporous type of clayware made of special white clay and fired at exceptionally high temperatures. The finer grades are generally thin, translucent, resistant to chipping, and ring clearly when struck.
Earthenware -- A type of clayware fired at comparatively low temperatures, producing a heavy, porous body that is opaque, and not as strong as china. Earthenware is generally in the low and medium price range.
Faience -- A fine glazed earthenware, originally French-made.
Ironstone -- A term applied to certain types of earthenware, originally a form of stoneware said to contain powdered iron slag.
Limoges -- Often misused as a brand name, Limoges refers to porcelain produced in or near the city of Limoges, France.
Ovenware -- Clayware that can withstand the heat of a kitchen oven without damage, usually of casual design.
Porcelain -- A hard, white, nonporous, clayware containing no bone ash, very similar to china.
Pottery -- A porous, not very durable clayware made of crude clay and fired at comparatively low temperatures.
Stoneware -- A hard ware made of a single light clay and fired at a high temperature. It is nonporous and very durable but does not have the translucence or elegance of china.