When it comes to home décor and museum collections, I’m particularly fond of dinnerware and all that belongs on a table. I like using the china and tableware that my grandparents and great-grandparents enjoyed, and mixing and matching with contemporary pieces to create unique table settings.
Blue and white dishes are common in every style (from earthenware to fine porcelain) and from every period. Over the centuries, every time a new technique came to light, it was tested first with blue against a white background because cobalt blue is one of the few pigments capable of withstanding extremely high oven heat. The family of blue and white ceramics is large and includes many contributions: the Chinese, Dutch, English and French are among the principal players.
Legend tells us that the first pieces of porcelain to appear in Europe belonged to the Tzu-Chou dynasty and were brought by Marco Polo. European artisans tried for some centuries to reproduce the porcelain of the Chinese masters. By the 16th century, there were a number of successful European artisans.
In the 17th century, porcelain dinner sets were imported from China and proved to be extremely popular in Europe. Eventually, a series of factories started to appear, first in Meissen (near Dresden), then Vienna and Venice. By the 18th century, there was a porcelain factory supported by the corresponding royal house in almost every European country. The eastern moniker “fine china” was retained.
No look at the history of dinnerware is complete without mentioning Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795), who is remembered as “the Father of English Potters”. Wedgwood was born in Burslem, Staffordshire, in the heart of the English potteries. He served his apprenticeship as a potter before setting up his own business in 1759. During his lifetime, he invented and produced what remain today three of Wedgwood’s most famous ceramic bodies: Queen’s Ware (1762), Black Basalt (1768) and Jasper (1774).
Founded more than 120 years ago, Lenox – a personal favourite – is the only manufacturer of fine bone china in the United States where production continues at its state-of-the art facility in Kinston, North Carolina.
Originally developed in the late 18th century by English potter Josiah Spode, bone china is known for its high levels of whiteness, translucency, mechanical strength and chip resistance.
Celebrity plates were among the first kinds of Canadian Historical China mass produced in the 19th century. Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee of 1887 prompted the creation of a series of popular plates (Wallis Gimson & Co.) featuring leaders of the time, including Sir John A. Macdonald.
As in England, china painting was popular in late 19th century Canada fuelled by the Arts and Crafts Movement with its emphasis on hand-crafted objects. In 1886, when the Women’s Art Association of Canada (WAAC) was established, china painters were an important group within the association. Many branches listed active china painters. A wonderful informative online exhibit about women and 19th century Canadian china painting can be found at http://www.civilization.ca/cmc/exhibitions/hist/cadeau/caint02e.shtml.
From the 1890s to the 1930s, souvenir china (the term more commonly used today for this type of ware) was extremely fashionable as Canadians embarked on sightseeing excursions that were unheard of only a generation earlier.
The story of souvenir china in Leeds & Grenville and the Thousand Islands starts around the time of The Chicago World’s Fair in 1892-3 with Charles Wheelock and John Roth. Wheelock and Roth ran a successful retail store in Peoria, Illinois, selling crockery, china and glassware from around the world. They saw an opportunity in souvenir china (manufactured in Europe) and developed a sales force of 31 commercial travellers and a well-organized national distribution system at a time when trains and boats delivered most goods in North America.