French Pottery
It is not surprising that the first porcelains produced in France were made at faience factories. Experiments in a Rouen faience factory owned by the Poterat family resulted in some of the earliest examples of soft-paste porcelain made in France. Soft-paste porcelain was a type of artificial porcelain that lacked the ingredients found in true or hard-paste porcelain. One of these ingredients, known as kaolin, was not discovered in France until the second half of the eighteenth century, and all French porcelain produced before 1770 was soft rather than hard paste.

Pottery comprises three distinctive types of wares. The first type, earthenware, has been made following virtually the same techniques since ancient times; only in the modern era has mass production brought changes in materials and methods. Earthenware is basically composed of clay--often blended clays--and baked hard, the degree of hardness depending on the intensity of the heat. After the invention of glazing, earthenwares were coated with glaze to render them waterproof; sometimes glaze was applied decoratively. It was found that, when fired at great heat, the clay body became nonporous. This second type of pottery, called stoneware, came to be preferred for domestic use.
The third type of pottery is a Chinese invention that appeared when feldspathic material in a fusible state was incorporated in a stoneware composition. The ancient Chinese called decayed feldspar kaolin (meaning "high place," where it was originally found); this substance is known in the West as china clay. Petuntse, or china stone, a less decayed, more fusible feldspathic material, was also used in Chinese porcelain; it forms a white cement that binds together the particles of less fusible kaolin. Significantly, the Chinese have never felt that high-quality porcelain must be either translucent or white. Two types of porcelain evolved: "true" porcelain, consisting of a kaolin hard-paste body, extremely glassy and smooth, produced by high temperature firing, and soft porcelain, invariably translucent and lead glazed, produced from a composition of ground glass and other ingredients including white clay and fired at a low temperature. The latter was widely produced by 18th-century European potters.

It is believed that porcelain was first made by Chinese potters toward the end of the Han period (206 BC-AD 220), when pottery generally became more refined in body, form, and decoration. The Chinese made early vitreous wares (protoporcelain) before they developed their white vitreous ware (true porcelain) that was later so much admired by Europeans.

Regardless of time or place, basic pottery techniques have varied little except in ancient America, where the potter's wheel was unknown. Among the requisites of success are correct composition of the clay body by using balanced materials; skill in shaping the wet clay on the wheel or pressing it into molds; and, most important, firing at the correct temperature. The last operation depends vitally on the experience, judgment, and technical skill of the potter.

French Pottery