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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

ABC Plates

Author: Irene & Ralph Lindsay

Children’s dishes, including those with the alphabet printed on them, have always been very popular with the collecting community. Concentrating on ABC material alone is a challenging but very rewarding field for the collector.

This article will concentrate on ABC Plates and Mugs, beginning with the earliest products–English creamware pottery during the first quarter of the nineteenth century. The later Staffordshire (soft paste) ware, in hundreds of patterns, comprises the bulk of ABC collecting. Our book, ABC Plates and Mugs, has 31 categories of English plates alone.

One can direct one’s collecting energies (and pocketbook) toward certain categories, such as wild animals, birds or sports, or one may concentrate on soft paste, hard paste (German), or tin. Or one may, as we did, simply go after anything with the alphabet on it! This has proved to be a long-time commitment, resulting in stacks of plates everywhere in the house, voluminous files and references with indices, and every china closet in the house full.

Let’s begin with Staffordshire. Plates have the alphabet embossed or printed (transferred) around the edge. A picture is printed in the center. All printing is by the transfer method–a master is hand-engraved in copper, inked, then a tissue is pressed onto the copper engraving, then to the plate. Single-color plates were fired at this point and the finished product was one color. Others had the picture hand-tinted, often by children, and then the plate was fired.

The manufacturer’s name can sometimes be found stamped or printed on the bottom of the plate. Occasionally the British Registry symbols are also found. These tables, covering 1842 to the present, are duplicated in our book, ABC Plates and Mugs.

Staffordshire mugs are another area of collecting, although mugs are far fewer in number, and therefore more expensive, than plates. All Staffordshire mug alphabets and pictures are transfers. The handles on the mugs are very delicate, and far fewer mugs have survived.

German hard paste ware is another field of ABC collecting. This ware was made much later than Staffordshire, about 1900. German plates are whiter than soft paste and the alphabet is always embossed, and sometimes decorated with gilt. The picture in the middle is always a decal, the subject usually directed towards children – chickens and small animals, for instance.

German ware also includes cups and saucers in matching sets, with the alphabet, sometimes incomplete, on both pieces. German ABC ware exists in enough variety for one to amass an attractive collection in this area alone.

Another material for ABC ware is tin–actually tin-plated sheet iron. Many tin pieces are very early - about 1860 – with the subject embossed giving a clue as to the country of manufacture. Variety is somewhat limited. Lithographed tin is another variety, arriving on the ABC scene later than tin plate. Most of the pieces we have discovered were made in America. ABC ware is also found in other materials, but in diminished variety. Clear glass, agate, carnival, milk glass, silver, and yellow ware are available.

My wife, Irene, began her huge collection in 1985, purchasing Staffordshire and placing a $45 limit on each purchase. She began branching out soon after, and her collection now includes any type of ABC ware. Antique shows are, in our opinion, still the best place for buying ABC material. A good show will have a couple of dealers with a few items. Co-ops and flea markets are also sources, but pickings tend to be slim. There is no “right” way to pursue collecting anything, and this includes ABC ware. Many people start with soft paste and specialize in certain categories. Plates bought at a bargain, but of a different category, can then be traded for ones in your field of interest. At one time, the number of different patterns was thought to be 700 maximum. This number is low, as the Internet auction houses keep coming up with more.

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