Ceramics. Pottery. Porcelain. Fine China. What is the difference? And, does it matter?

How can you tell the difference between ceramic and porcelain?

Some of you are waving your hand, nearly jumping out of your seat to answer,

“I know, I know!

Just tap it and you can

tell from the sound.”

While some people believe they can hear the difference if they tap the item lightly with their finger, ears cannot distinguish between

Ceramics, Pottery, Porcelain, and Fine China. These are all terms for sedimentary rock in a form called clay.

It’s all just clay.

Clay may be used with other materials, treated with specific methods, and fired at different temperatures, making them different from the other.

If we leave our ears out of it we can learn to tell the difference between ceramics, pottery, porcelain, and fine china by using two of our other senses - Sight and Touch.


  • is made out of materials that change form permanently when heated

  • consists of clay plus one or more other materials such as glaze

  • is porous, can absorb water


  • is made only with clay

  • is used to create a vessel, a bowl, a dish, a cup - a pot

  • is the oldest form of ceramics

  • is often created on a potter’s wheel

Take a moment now to remember Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in the movie Ghost.


  • porcelain is made from kaolin, a type of white clay

  • it is fired at a higher temperature than ceramics, making it more durable

  • it has a fine and smooth surface

  • the material is thinner than ceramics, resulting in a translucent product when held to the light

  • fired porcelain has a whiter and more delicate appearance than ceramics

  • the word 'porcelain' comes from the Latin word 'porcella,' meaning seashell

  • porcelain is denser and less porous than ceramic

  • it is superior in resisting staining

  • it is less likely to crack with temperature fluctuations

  • it is much lighter in weight than a ceramic counterpart

Fine China

  • the term 'china' may be used interchangeably with porcelain

  • it is a smooth, white, and lustrous product

  • china is very delicate in appearance only

  • it had strength and resistance to chipping due to its high firing temperature.

Bone China

  • is a type of clay used to make porcelain

  • bone china is created the same way as porcelain china but the clay includes an extra ingredient, bone ash

  • bone ash gives the body of the plate a unique milky white color

  • bone ash adds translucency to the body of the product and makes it stronger

  • bone ash makes it less brittle, more resilient and less likely to break

  • bone china is usually thinner and the glaze is smoother than porcelain china


  • is the oldest type of pottery

  • is the softest type of pottery, easily scratched

  • is porous, water absorbant

  • varies in color from buff to dark red, gray, black, and cream, depending on the amount of iron in the clay


  • is dense, opaque, and stone-like after firing

  • is used in commercial manufacturing

  • is used in the creation of fine art pottery

  • is popular for modern-day tableware

Now you know the basics.

It's time to use your senses

of sight and touch.

Look at It!

Hold each figurine up to the light

  • Hold each object up to the light and wave a finger back and forth behind it. Porcelain is translucent, It will allow the shadow of your finger to pass through it, Ceramic is completely opaque.

  • Note the appearance. Porcelain may have a thinner, whiter, and more delicate appearance than ceramic.

  • If both pieces are white, notice which has more gloss. The fusion of petuntse and kaolin in porcelain gives it a glossy, glass-like appearance.

Touch it!

Unless you are a bull in a china shop, like I am, ignore your mother’s command that you do not touch anything (given with ‘the look').

Even at 61 years old I enter a china department with my hands clasped behind my back.

  • Touch it all. Feel the smoothness, the coolness, the form.

  • Run a finger over the surface of each item.

  • The porcelain will feel fine and smooth, like the surface of an eggshell

Why does it matter?

It may or may not.

When I purchase a piece because I love the form, purpose, price, color, style, etc… its position on the periodic table doesn’t matter.

If I am purchasing a piece and am told in writing, or orally, that it is such and such, I want to know for sure what I am are purchasing is correctly represented.

When I purchasing a piece as a personal investment, or to re-sell, I authenticate. What is is? What are the materials? When was it made? Where? Was is cared for? Is it a desired object? Is it priced fairly?

I obtain answers to all these questions to ensure profitability and to protect my reputation as a knowledgable and honest seller.

But mostly, I want to share authentic, valuable, and precious treasures with you. I want you to experience the same joy with the item that I have.

THAT is why I have A Vintage Addiction

Blessings, Terri

Upcoming episodes :

Is it Hand-painted or Transferware?

Ceramic Markings, Makers, and Dates

Ceramics Care Guide

The Glossary of Ceramic Terms

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