F.G., back in the 1980s, knew the private secretary for the late dancer/actress Cyd Charisse, and bought, from the secretary, Ms. Charisse’s 12-piece Wedgwood “Charnwood” pattern bone china dinner service.
She writes she is delighted by its pinks and greens, butterflies in flight, and slight gold trim on pure white. And because F.G. swears that formal dining is coming back (COVID-19 has meant that she cannot dine out), she predicts that folks will start entertaining again in their homes. (She may be right, because Jeff Moran of John Moran Auctions reports to me that large formal dining tables are selling!)
So F.G. jumped at the chance to purchase another Charnwood by Wedgwood service for 12. Now she has a service for 24, and she said her grown son and wife will kill her when she dies and they must haul it away.
So why is formal Wedgwood china coming back?
Firstly, it was always the most reliable china to purchase since the 18th century, when Josiah Wedgwood was the first potter of note to use his name as a brand signature. (Pieces marked Wedgwood and Co., or Enoch Wedgwood, are likely fakes, however.) And Wedgwood early on made its china “date-able” with specific marks and code.
Thus, on the back of F.G.’s china, we see the shape of the famous Roman Portland Vase, from 1-25 A.D.; the most famous example of ancient cameo glass, relief cut white glass over a blue-black ground, which inspired the 18th-century Josiah, and this shape/mark indicates a date from 1900 to around 1962.
Around 1962, we started to see a copyright “c.” Right around 1891 we see the word “England” as part of the brand, and this was required to meet the U.S. Customs regulations imposed by the McKinley Customs Administration Act. (This is a tremendous dating tool. Iff you see the country of origin on anything, you know it dates no earlier than 1891.) Replacements LTD said that FG’s pattern dates from 1951-1987. Further research indicates that it premiered in ads around 1949. Wedgwood tells us that Charnwood is a centuries-old Chinese design first made by Josiah Wedgwood in 1790.
In 1949, F.G. could have purchased a five-piece place setting for $14.50. Today Replacements LTD sells such a thing for $120 used.
If you get lucky, as F.G. did, and can buy a whole set at an estate sale, spending $400 to $500 for a not-so-complete service for 12, or if you live in England, where this pattern is more popular (they have a sense of history there), you’ll spend $900 on a service for 12.
F.G. asked me what each of the plates she owns are used for.
Well, a five-piece place setting is standard for two/three courses: dinner plate, bread and butter, the larger salad plate, and a coffee or teacup and saucer.
Now we get into the dishes designed for more than two-course meals, and you will see that F.G.’s set has many of these dishes: a square salad plate, a dessert plate slightly smaller than the salad, a rimmed soup bowl for clear soups, and a footed cream soup bowl and saucer for creamed (made with milk) soups, tiny fruit bowls, and a demitasse can and saucer. She also has a squat teapot and covered sugar and creamer, a chop plate used of course for serving meat/chops, and oval vegetable bowls.
What she has is sufficient for a five-course meal (appetizer, creamed soup or fish course, main course, salad, cheese or dessert and cheese.)
This got me thinking about what a 12-course meal might involve, and I was lucky to find a 12-course meal served on board in 1912, the night before the sinking of the Titanic:
2. Consommé/cream soup.
4. A choice of three entrees.
5. The ‘removes” course: lamb or duck, and surprisingly Shepard’s pie, potatoes, peas, carrots and rice.
6. Punch or sorbet.
7. Roast squab.
9. Pate de foie gras cold dish.
10. Sweets including chocolate eclairs.
11. Dessert, fruit, and cheeses.
12. Coffee and liqueurs.
The china services must have been vast to serve 12 courses. It was Spode’s K4431, elegant, expensive white china with cobalt edged in gold.
I side with F.G. in thinking that the day will come when the dining room is no longer an office, and it houses a formal dinner party again. Fine china services will increase in value as we entertain at home.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press Life section.
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.