Perhaps I’m going way overboard on any potential health concerns when purchasing antique porcelain dishes, tea cups, saucers, bread plates, and those oh so cute salt and pepper shakers with gold painted detailing.
Why the concern then? From what I’ve researched some of the glaze and paints they used back during the turn of the last Twentieth century may contain lead, radium (in gold paint) and other nasty heavy metals that they either didn’t know much about or did know and figured the glaze over porcelain would act as a barrier. Mind you, I surmise this, I don’t know this as fact.
Why waste money on old porcelain tea cups, saucers, bread plates, etc.? Well, perhaps there’s other uses for this old porcelain, say for example, change cups to keep pocket change in, hair pin receivers, jewelry/ trinket boxes (I find that small sugar dishes with their lids work well for this purpose). I guess it reflects a nostalgia for something forgotten, overlooked, antique and just plain unique.
Then again, perhaps I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill when compared to the lead-laden toys on the market today that have questionable chemicals at best and reek to high heaven in some cases. And then again, maybe it’s a sense of lost craftsmanship that rarely, if ever, surfaces in every day dishes made nowadays.
Have I ever turned up a modern dinner plate and tea cups with elaborate flower patterns with gold trim around the handles or rims of soup bowls and bread plates? No.
I have come across a slew of new designs that might appeal to a young(er) crowd, but for a person such as myself who constantly sees everything with a familiar sticker, “Made in China” or ‘Chemicals used in this product are known to the state of California to cause reproductive harm, cancer, etc.’ makes me yearn for something far removed from my time that displays well, shows elegance (maybe even a touch of high class in old-fashioned terms), and makes great conversation starters.
I can only go by what I have in my collection now which likely dates anywhere from the 1900s to the early 20’s. Perhaps earlier than that. And what I’ve found from digging through boxes of dirty porcelain to extract each cup, saucer, snack plate, bowl, is that more often than not crazing is a huge no-no. Why? Because it means that the porcelain item is likely weak or has microscopic imperfections where the glaze didn’t entirely fill in a gap and water, dirt, bacteria hides deep.
I haven’t had any success cleaning porcelain dishes that suffer from terrible crazing issues. I did read an article in a local paper back in 2007 that listed a very good remedy on how to make porcelain bright. The article stated to very gently place the porcelain dish in a solution of cool water and a cap full of hydrogen peroxide, let it soak and then wash and dry it off. This will bring out the luster of the aged porcelain but will do nothing to clean whatever is trapped under the glaze. I curtailed my collection until I can get around to doing a little bit more extensive research on antique porcelain. I especially heard that the porcelain plates with gold and silver trimmed-finishes can have lead in them, these dishes I can picture in my mind were likely made in the 1940s or somewhere in that time frame.
So keep in mind when shopping your local thrift stores, yard sales, flea markets, antique malls, examine that porcelain dish carefully before you buy it. My best advice is to steer clear of crazed, dirty, cracked or chipped porcelain dishes. If you try to wash porcelain by hand that’s cracked (even a tiny chip), it could shatter. It’s happened to me a number of times. Thankfully I didn’t give very much for it and never buy it if the asking price is more than $5.
What you might want to look for is bright white porcelain dishes, tea cups, soup bowls, bread plates, dinner plates, etc. Hold the item up to the light. Does the floral pattern appear unglazed? (that is if it has an elaborate pattern). Since the paints they used way back when were very different (some even more toxic than what’s on today’s market), my main concern would be potential lead poisoning. The second question I ask myself: Do I or would I plan to put anything acidic in this soup bowl, for example? Citrus and tomato products are high in acid and might even eat away at that stunning floral pattern. Again, however, I’m no expert and this is just a learning experience for me when it comes to antique porcelain dishes. They sure are beautiful and make a nice statement.
And again I remind myself, I don’t need it because the likelihood that I would serve more than myself or host a lavish dinner party is highly unlikely. Long gone are the days when hosting lavish dinner parties included cooking for twenty or more guests. Besides I’d really hate to be the scullery maid.
Keep checking back for new blogs. Thanks for reading. 🙂