When you pick up a piece of ceramics on the beach, it isn’t necessarily “pottery.” Here’s a quick list of terms for what you found:
Ceramics: The general term for items made by shaping and firing a non-metal mineral, such as clay or a glaze, at a high temperature.
Pottery: Containers, such as bowls, mugs, bottles, and jugs. Humans have been making pottery since 18,000 BC in China!
Figurine/statuette: Small three-dimensional representational sculpture.
Earthenware: Items made with a rough clay and fired at a low temperature. Earthenware must be glazed and fired a second time to be waterproof. Bricks, tiles, decorative pieces, and flower pots are often earthenware, but clays used in earthenware can be many colors, including red, yellow, white, and gray.
Stoneware: Dense, durable, clay pieces, which are more waterproof than earthenware, even when left unglazed. Stoneware is fired at a high temperature and used for pottery, including early bottles and jugs as an alternative to glass.
Porcelain/fine china: Made from clay mixed with glass and minerals, porcelain is as durable and dense as stoneware when fired, but more refined. It is waterproof and has a smooth, hard texture and shiny, translucent appearance. Bone china is a variation in which bone ash is added to the clay before firing.
Industrial ceramics: Ceramics are used to make everything from electrical insulators, spark plugs, non-corrosive scientific equipment, and even tiles on space ships. These pieces, glazed or unglazed, are extremely durable.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine July/August 2021 issue.