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( Originally Published 1963 )
The serving dishes in dinner sets usually included one or more open vegetable dishes, a covered vegetable dish, three or more platters in different sizes, perhaps a round chop plate, a gravy boat with its saucer sometimes attached, a covered butter dish, and a sugar and creamer. Some sets included a round or square plate for serving cake and a teapot and coffeepot.
Covered butter dishes are little seen in modern china patterns. Another unusual serving dish, which is better known in rural areas, is a pancake dish. This resembled an oversized covered butter dish. The bottom was a large plate, and over it fit securely a domed cover with a knob and with small holes to permit steam to escape. Obviously it was used to carry pancakes from the griddle to the table and keep them warm until they had been served.
Oyster plates, like the oyster forks in silver flatware, have gone out of style too. Plates for oysters, clams, and snails with depressions shaped and marked like the seafood were quite common by the 1890's.
A matching plate and bowl into which a baking dish of food could be slipped for serving at the table is a nice piece to find. The inner bowl, which could withstand the heat of the oven, was some kind of unglazed pottery. The outer bowl and the plate, which was considerably wider, were often porcelain, although some probably were made in earthenware. Haviland and other. factories in Limoges made baking-serving dishes. Since they were a late-Victorian idea, the patterns are often delicate florals, with or without gilding.
Most families owned a tureen, a very old type of dish that is deep and has a cover to keep warm the soup or stew served from it at the table. This dish was not necessarily part of a full set of tableware. Tureens made in the most typical pottery or porcelain were common in every country. Meissen was producing colorful tureens in the form of fruits, vegetables, animals, or birds as early as 1750. The same sort were made a little later at Chelsea in England. A famous Chelsea tureen has the shape of a most lifelike rabbit. By 1880, tureens in more conventional shapes were common. Many of ironstone and transfer-printed Staffordshire are still around, and some of these are being reproduced.
Haviland porcelain dinner sets included butter pats until 1900 or a little later. Various kinds of pottery ones had been made much earlier. Bread platters or trays were rarely part of a set of tableware. They were made in various sizes-small enough to hold only two rolls or large enough for a loaf of bread. These trays were made from all types of china ranging from Sevres porcelain and faience to majolica.
Salt shakers usually were not made as part of a set of dishes. Silver or cut glass salt dishes or shakers were preferred on a dinner table set with the best china. However, many individual salt shakers were made of pottery such as Sevres faience and of Royal Copenhagen porcelain. Most of them are about 3 inches high, although earlynineteenth-century ones often were 5 inches tall. Only one of these large ones would be placed on a table. After 1850, pottery salt shakers became more common. The pair of matching salt and pepper shakers, identical except for the size of the holes in the top, did not come into general use until after 1875.
Trivets or hot plates to use on the table probably were not made to match sets. However, they are a pretty addition to a cloth-covered dining table. Most of them were round, about 6 inches in diameter, but a few oval ones were made. They usually were white with floral designs.
A fish set graced the corner cupboard of many an East Coast dining room. In fact, such sets were common throughout the New England States as far west as Keene, New Hampshire, and Springfield, Massachusetts. A set consisted of plates from which to eat fish and potatoes, a distinctively shaped platter, a covered vegetable dish, and perhaps bone dishes. The family who did not own a fish set often had a special platter on which to serve fish at the table. As a lone piece or part of a set, a fish platter was long (more than 20 inches), oval, tapering at both ends, and narrower throughout its length than a meat platter. Luster and Old Blue were popular for the fish sets produced in England, France, and Germany.
Bone dishes also were a part of dinner sets. If they were not made to match a fish set, others were used with it. Bone dishes were small and crescentshaped, 51/2 to 6 inches or so from tip to tip. A bone dish was set in front of each place at the table and each person unabashedly piled the bones from his fish or chicken on it. These dishes were in general use until at least the 1870's. Both porcelain and earthenware were used for bone dishes; Flowing Blue and flowered patterns were probably most common.
Dessert sets or at least one dozen dessert plates, and-nearer to 1900ice cream sets were commonly owned by families who were comfortably situated. The dozen dessert plates might be accompanied by a matching cake plate, sometimes on a standard. Some sets included three sizes of cake plates or compotes. Dessert sets were made of porcelain and various kinds of pottery. Most of them had painted decoration in the center and often a colored rim, perhaps touched with gilt. A different scene on each of the plates was a popular decorative scheme throughout the 1800's. Later in the Victorian era, more romantic subjects such as fans became popular, and often the edges of the plates were pierced. Fruit plates displaying a different painted fruit in the center of each one were a vogue in mid-Victorian days. Ice cream sets consisted of a large serving bowl with sauce dishes to match. These were made in porcelain and earthenware as well as in cut glass.
Tea and chocolate sets as well as dinner sets were made of porcelain in Germany in the 1740's. In England and the United States, tea sets became important before 1800. A tea set consisted of teapot, sugar and creamer or milk pitcher in the size and shape of the period, two serving plates, and a dozen cups and saucers. A set extensive enough to include a dozen tea plates, a dozen sauce dishes, and a small bowl evidently was intended for high tea or Sunday night supper.
Many luster tea sets were proudly displayed and used in this country. Sprigged china ones were popular in the early 1800's, and toward the end of the century floral ones were well liked. White china tea sets with simple gold band decoration became fairly common after about 1850. In some localities, these are called Wedding Ring china. Those with white and gold china rope twined about the knobs and handles are considered somewhat finer than those with plain gold trim.
Tea, coffee, and chocolate pots can be distinguished by their size. All three were considered essential in house-holds, rich and poor, throughout the 1800's. Their use dates back to the 1740's. All of them were made of porcelain and various types of pottery, as well as silver, pewter, and sometimes copper. The size and shape of each changed every so often, just as they did in the case of silver pots.
Coffeepots usually were slightly taller and more slender than teapots, and chocolate pots were taller and slimmer than coffeepots. The teapot belonging to a tea set was much smaller than the one with a large capacity made for use on the family table. Teapots and coffeepots could be bought singly, too, and some of these separate teapots were made in very odd shapes and forms. A chocolate pot frequently came with a dozen matching cups and saucers.
Pitchers for table use varied in size from time to time, just as teapots and coffeepots did. Creamers always have been small. Milk pitchers such as the 6-inch-high one in a Gold Band tea set were taller. In the late 1800's, small pitchers became more common, and larger ones with a capacity of a quart or more were used for water. Stoneware or crockery ones were generally used for milk.
Pitchers in all sizes and shapes were made to be sold as single items and also to match many sets of dishes. However a pitcher was purchased long ago, it may be a collectors' piece nowadays. It doesn't have to be an apostle pitcher with a different apostle portrayed in each of the twelve panels around the sides. Or a fine porcelain one made at the Royal Worcester factory between 1820 and 1840, when dull but rich-looking "honey" gold was used to cover the handle and edge the rim and thus set off the floral design. A Belgian stoneware, a transfer-printed Staffordshire, or a copper luster pitcher can be fully as worth finding and dusting.
Cups, like teaspoons and teapots, have changed a great deal in size and shape since the late 1700's. The chances are almost as good of finding a cup without a saucer as the other way around.
If a cup is old or unusual enough, it's worth something even without the saucer.
A cup intact with two saucers is a real prize-to keep or to sell. Two saucers to accompany a handleless teacup were fashionable from about 1815 through the 1850's. It was the custom then to pour the tea or other hot drink into the large, deep saucer so that it would cool, and to set the cup, with some liquid still in it, to one side on the small saucer. In fact, people drank from the deep saucer. Both Flowing Blue and sprigged china handleless cups are still to be found.