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China Settings, Antiques and Collectibles

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Book Buzz is a blog produced in collaboration with neighborhood librarians from Houston Public Library, Harris County Public Library and the Bellaire Library.

During Thanksgiving dinner this year, I had to smile at the festive turkey paper plate in place of the “good” china. To be fair, while my 80-year aunt was officially hosting the family event; my cousins took over the planning and implementation for the 30+ guests keeping things simple for the large extended family. In family holiday events of years past, my aunt would have matching china place settings that would include polished silver and gleaming crystal. Only the best table manners were expected at these formal table settings; alas paper plates do not bring out the same level of table etiquette.

These days, many couples do not include china selections in their registry opting for simpler items that are used daily and not just on special occasions. I wonder how many adult children are now being honored with grandma’s or great-grandma’s china and trying to be gracious as they look for a place to store something they view as outdated and old-fashioned. My sister-in-law recently encountered this as she unpacked two sets of china from storage. One was her grandmother’s and one was hers as a young bride. What to do? Use one of them, of course, every day. 

My mother did not have the collector’s gene and never owned a set of china or crystal. She thought that everything should be used instead of stored, so today I treasure the three pieces of an Occupied Japan tea set, brought to her from her brother-in-law stationed in Japan at that time, the crystal luncheon set that has been reduced to two plates, three tea glasses, two sherbet cups and the creamer/sugar servers. I remember using all of these items growing up and I would not trade those memories for a complete set of anything (although to be honest I would love to have a few more pieces of the tea set, like a cup and saucer).

For those who have been given incomplete sets of the family china, silver or crystal there are companies that will help fill in the missing pieces. Libraries have titles that will help you identify the pattern and quick tours of antique shops can fill in missing pieces as well. Here are a few to check out: 

  • Antique Trader Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide 
  • Warman's Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide
  • Kovels' Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide 

If you have inherited a box of family china or crystal, I invite you to take a moment and imagine all of the hands, large and small, calloused and smooth, that have share a meal on that plate over the decades. Families have stories and sometimes seeing the pattern in one plate will help nudge a memory.

And if you need a refresher in table settings or manners, try Emily Post's Etiquette

Editor's Note: For more on china patterns and family traditions with place settings, read Andria Frankfort's China Patterns: Dining on family history.

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