P.C. has a collection of hors d’oeuvres small plates; the smallest being a set of 6 from the International Toasts Series by Fondeville Ambassador Ware. Fondeville, N.Y., imported these from England in the 1920s and 1930s. My favorite plate shows two kilted Scots, toasting with Whiskey, saying “Here’s Tae Yooo!” Of course, we have toasts in many languages, and colorful costumes. The value of each of these small plates is $15.
The second set is eight stoneware illustrated dishes by Parry Vielle (marked “PV”), themed French Opera characters and snippets of songs from musical scores, the crudité size at 8”, from the 1940s. The designs are not hand painted, but applied with transfers, much like the decals affixed on a model airplane. Although PV is associated with Limoges porcelain, it is not made of the famous Limoges Clay which contains Kaolin, but merely decorated in the city of Limoges! Typically hand painted dishes are worth more than transfer decorated dishes like these; these are valued at $15 a dish.
The next set of small dishes is the most interesting in theme, featuring the exploits of the French Foreign Legion, as drawn, cartoon style, by Albert Guillaume in the early 1900s. As opposed to the PV dishes, these are hand painted, the stoneware is heavy, and the glaze is thick. There are two little holes to the back rim for wall mounting, which shows that these were meant to be thought of as art.
The title of the series is “Mon Regiment,” of interest to militaria collectors as well as French Faience collectors.
The dishes were made in the famous ceramic town of Sarreguemines, probably in the early 20th century, where the tradition of ceramics goes back to the French Revolution, when the town factory was established in 1790. Like the themes on the plates themselves (wartime escapades), the French factory suffered from the Franco-Prussian War.
The Treaty of Frankfurt in 1871 “gave” Moselle to Germany, and since part of the factory was in Moselle, Sarreguemines was divided. These charming plates were made by the Cazal Family in the early 20th century, which took over one branch of the factory, called Sarreguemines – Dijon – Vitry -le- Francois.
The style, which had a certain colorful look in both illustrations and images, as well as vivid colors, is the epitome of French Faience and this style was collected worldwide in the first and second quarters of the 20th century. There’s a certain lighthearted French humor, hard to explain, but you’ll know it when you see it, in the style we know as Faience.
The war-time division of the ceramic factory has a connection with these plates representing images of the French Foreign Legion; the appropriateness of the imagery to the factory must have made this a popular work to make as well as to buy in the day.
The Foreign Legion was created in 1831 as a corps of the French Army to allow foreign nationals to join. Légionnaires fought as the Armee d’Afrique, a most famous posting even till the end of the Algerian War in 1962.
Men who had experienced the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine by Germany flocked to join the Foreign Legion so that they could retain French Citizenship. The legion announced a call in July of 1914 for volunteers to support their adopted country or to fight for the France they had known. In August, on just one day in 1914, the Paris Office of the French Foreign Legion accepted 8,000 volunteer soldiers.
These plates show the comical relationship between the old legionnaires, many of whom were crusty misfits, and the new legionnaires, young and idealistic. However misaligned, the two groups fought for France in Artois, Champagne, Somme, Aisne, Verdun, in the Dardanelles, and on the Macedonian Front, and of course in Algeria. In fact, Americans joined the legion, notably the poet Alan Seiger, who, although mortally shot, cheered on his fellow legionnaires as he lay dying. Of course, these dishes are ever so charming, laughing at the war, with that French ebullience.
About 20 years ago, these plates would have been worth more than they are today, because the style for a fine kitchen in a large mansion was then French Country. Many a Montecito client has remodeled from a French Country kitchen to a postmodern look as I write this.
These plates tell the story of an intrepid cast of soldiers, in that typical French light satire. Each of the plates is worth $80.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.