Nonporous ceramic (glazed earthenware, stoneware and porcelain) has the advantage that it doesn't absorb water and today it's vastly predominant.

Since pottery manufacturing started with earthenware biscuit (non-glazed and therefore porous earthenware), my question is: when did nonporous ceramic become widespread or dominant? (i.e. used more than earthenware biscuit).

Switching from pottery that's not usable for holding liquids to pottery that is good for that looks like an important point in history to me.

Widespread is a relative term but I think it is possible to build a consensus about what widespread use of a certain object in history means (e.g. the Bronze Age is characterized by widespread use of bronze).

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    Widespread where? Outside East Asia, porcelain was manufactured only from the 18th century (Meissen porcelain), and then initially as an expensive luxury. Oct 9, 2017 at 7:23
  • Well, of course I would be most happy with an answer for each zone (Europe, Asia, Middle East) but the first widespread use anywhere is good enough for me.
    – Fructibus
    Oct 9, 2017 at 7:30
  • Does this count as glaze en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terra_sigillata#Roman_red_gloss_pottery or do you want ceramics? Oct 9, 2017 at 13:28
  • @TheSexyMenhir: I suspect not. Agile is porous in that it absorbs water. The water then gives it a flaky shape that renders the container (or agile layer, when in the ground) impermeable. By contrast, something like porcelain doesn't absorb water to begin with - it's not porous. Oct 9, 2017 at 17:02
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    I'd challenge the assumption that it's "vastly predominant", when you consider things like flower pots, drainage tiles, even brick if you want to include that in earthenware.
    – jamesqf
    Oct 9, 2017 at 18:25

2 Answers 2


Porcelain originates in China. They were able to reach the 1,200C needed to vitrify pottery as far back as the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 CE) and there was much earlier proto-porcelain (it had been around since 1,000BCE). Based on this, it's reasonable to infer that nonporous ceramic was relatively widespread in ancient China.

Chinaware then slowly made its way westwards. It became somewhat more common in Europe after Europeans started sailing to the far East. That said, it remained a luxury item outside of East Asia. The Chinese weren't too open about sharing their knowhow, as illustrated by how and when the Japanese learned how to make it: they picked up the knowhow from captives brought back home during their Korean invasions in the late 16th.

By the 8th century, the Muslims had figured out ceramic glazing as already noted by Tom. I'm not sure it became common in Europe then, considering Muslims and Christians were primarily trading blows at the time. But Europeans were salt glazing stoneware by the 15th century.

A key inflection point occurred in early 18th century. At around the same time, Germans figured out how to produce porcelain, and a Jesuit monk published Chinese knowhow on the topic. Factories were producing porcelain across Europe by the end of the 18th century, and by then the economy was becoming ever more global and industrialized.

  • Was the Han vitrified pottery widespread (or dominant) in that era, in China, or it was just a rare/luxury item? Or maybe it was the dominant pottery at least in the noble's houses? And how about the biscuit porcelain and biscuit stoneware (non-vitrified but also nonporous), were they widespread/dominant even before the Han dynasty?
    – Fructibus
    Oct 9, 2017 at 11:35
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    @Fructibus: the two wikipedia entries aren't too clear on this. The one in Chinese ceramics explicitly suggests that proto-porcelain had been around since 1,000BCE. There's another citation further down that suggests stoneware was commonplace, but without a date. Either way, the two lead me hypothesize that nonporous ceramics were indeed widespread by the Han dynasty, but I can't honestly say for sure. FYI the sources seem to be Vainker, S.J., Chinese Pottery and Porcelain; and Temple, R.K.G., The Genius of China: 3,000 Years of Science, Discovery, and Invention. Oct 9, 2017 at 11:47

Ceramic glaze became "prevalent" in Islamic art about the 8th century CE. It also became popular in China and Japan through the introduction of "colored" glazes in the 6th to 8th centuries CE.

So I would say 8th century CE, or slightly before. The caveat is that Europe at the time was in the Dark Ages (except for certain parts, such as Spain), so this idea did not reach most of Europe until early in the second Millennium, in some cases as late as the Renaissance.

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    Well I think this is a very good example of two answers that both deserve to be marked as accepted, as one answer focuses on the first event and then building on the other answer that offers a global view. My apologies for accepting the other answer since both are equally (very) good.
    – Fructibus
    Oct 9, 2017 at 11:26
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    @Fructibus: I appreciate your consideration in this regard. My answer was earlier but the other one was more detailed. It would have been a tough choice if I were you and you were me.
    – Tom Au
    Oct 9, 2017 at 18:06

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