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Antiques & auctions: Dishes often too dainty to risk at table; PORCELAIN: Fine plates from China and Europe can be acquired for a few hundred pounds.


CULINARY fads change from one generation to another and so too the instruments and utensils used for the consumption of food.

Designers today are now producing cutlery sets that can be purchased with or without knives as their use is becoming less essential with the modern fad for curry and pasta dishes.

Now that casual is the new formal and bolognese has replaced roast pheasant, seldom do we have the need for the dinner service which was the traditional wedding gift or family heirloom put lovingly away for special occasions.

Whilst essential plates and bowls have survived the test of time, many less functional and practical pieces like comports, game dishes, custard dishes and hot water plates have almost disappeared into obscurity.

For the collector, finding redundant pieces from grand services or even seeking hand-painted or transferprinted plates, can be fascinating. Whilst a 100-piece service from the 18th Century might well set you back pounds 7,000-pounds 10,000, a diverse and decorative collection of single items can be obtained at a relatively modest cost.

The origins of the ceramic dinner service date back to the early 14th Century when Chinese potters were producing bowls and dishes of incredible sophistication. Needles to say, these early tablewares consisted of individual dishes and were not full services.

The first Chinese porcelain to arrive in Europe came in Portuguese galleons late in the 16th Century. These wares were thinly potted and painted in inky underglaze blue, with boldly drawn dragons, animals, birds and flowers. Known as kraak porcelain after the ships, carracks, that carried them, examples can be purchased today for between pounds 150 and pounds 3,000, which is relatively inexpensive compared to other porcelain of the Ming Dynasty.

By the 18th Century, Dutch galleons were sailing to China to collect tea, which was highly prized in Europe. The ships were packed with porcelain wares that acted as ballast. This fine material inspired ceramicists throughout Europe who wished to emulate its quality and durability. Fashionable and cheap, Chinese porcelain dinner services were made to order for aristocratic British families who had their coat of arms or armorials painted with enamels. Full dinner services now included meat dishes in various sizes, vegetable dishes, soup tureens, sauce boats, dinner plates, soup bowls and side plates.

Other services were made with delicately painted Chinese flowers, animals or family scenes in famille-rose enamels as well as less expensive wares with Chinese landscapes and river scenes in underglaze blue.

By the early 1800s French and German manufacturers were producing their own porcelain table and dinner wares. The leading factories were Svres in France and Meissen in Germany and both were widely patronised by nobility and royalty. They produced large, magnificently painted services decorated with birds, flowers, figures and landscapes, often in the Chinese style. Pieces from these factories can range from pounds 300 for a single piece to several thousands for items from known services.

British factories were hard put to match the versatility of their continental counterparts and the secret of making porcelain was not discovered until 1768 in England. It was not until the early in the 19th century that large services were produced by factories such as Worcester and Bow. This coincided with the Industrial Revolution and the ability to apply transfer decoration to ceramic wares that became the standard method of decoration for cheaper wares.

Many specialised culinary items originally appeared as part of a large service, whilst others were sold as additions for the fashionable table. A vast array of table accessories, including sauce boats, asparagus shells, butter tubs, cheese dishes and patty pans were made in both porcelain and earthenware, and these are a good introduction to ceramic table wares for the collector on a budget.

For further information, call Ryan Beach MRICS on 029 2071 2608.

Infou Contact Ryan Beach at Anthemion Auctions on 029 2071 2608


DECORATIVE TREASURE: This plate from a 19th-century part dessert service painted with birds was recently sold for pounds 2,000 at Anthemion Auctions
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 1, 2002
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