Whether you inherited or purchased your china, here are some key points for caring for your pattern.
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Cracking the Fine-China Code

Learn how to decipher common labels when buying or selling your sets.

Pastel and Gold Thanksgiving Table Setting
Credit: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Produced; Page Mullins

Ceramic vs. Porcelain
Ceramic
Often used for everyday dinnerware, ceramic is a clay-based material that’s hardened by kiln firing at low temperatures. Because of its porous makeup, it tends to be soft and slightly more fragile. On the plus side, it’s usually a lot more affordable.

Porcelain
This is often synonymous with “special occasion” dinnerware—and for good reason. The crème de la crème of ceramics is made of finer and denser clay and is kiln fired at higher temps, resulting in stronger, thinner, and more elegant china.

Porcelain China Stack
Credit: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Mary Beth Wetzel

Vintage vs. Antique
Vintage
Generally, the rules are more lax when it comes to earning the trendy label “vintage.” Anthony Barzilay Freund, editorial director and director of fine art at 1stDibs, says pieces are fair game to be called vintage if they are at least 20 years old but less than 100.

Antique
While you might be sitting on a wealth of Grandma’s heirlooms that seem ancient compared to your modern-farmhouse decor, Freund says that pieces are only considered true antiques if they pass the age test: They should be at least 100 years old.

Antique-China Woes, Solved

Company’s coming, and Grannie’s heirloom dishes are calling out a last-minute SOS

Problem: Serving dish is cracked.
Start by warming the crack with a blow-dryer, says Angela Boudreaux, owner of Antique Restoration Studio. Then apply a 30-minute two-part epoxy, and gently wiggle the crack until the glue seeps through. Dry 24 hours.

Problem: Dinner plate got dinged.
For simple chips with clean breaks, a liquid adhesive will put it back together. Use Elmer’s Glue-All for soft-paste pieces and a two-part epoxy for hard, says Patti Reuss, co-owner of Sundog Restoration Studio.

Problem: Coffee stained your teacups.
Begin with the gentlest method to spot-treat stained china, says Reuss. Apply a paste made of powdered laundry detergent (such as Tide) and water. Then cover with plastic wrap. Let it sit for 30 minutes.

Problem: The entire set has turned yellow.
Soak pieces with stubborn stains in a tub of sudsy water using powdered laundry detergent with a shot of ammonia, says Reuss. Just use caution: If anything is really valuable, it’s best to call an expert.

Antique China
Credit: Hector Manuel Sanchez

Storage Smarts

Four tips for protecting pieces when they’re tucked away

  1. Keep fine china in a temperature-controlled environment. Extreme heat and humidity can damage gold accents and cause cracks.
  2. Before placing dishes in a box, wrap each piece in acid-free paper (conventional paper may cause discoloration).
  3. If you must stack, rotate your pieces periodically so the bottom one doesn’t always bear the weight of the others.
  4. Store cups and mugs with the rim side up to prevent scratching the most delicate area.

Name That Pattern

Lucky enough to inherit family china, but stumped on its origins? North Carolina-based antiques dealer Replacements, Ltd., will do the digging for you free of charge—and help you find any missing pieces you need to complete the set. Visit replacements.com to learn more.