HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT ANTIQUES OR COLLECTIBLES?

Send me an E-mail
(Please, no questions
 about value.)

Instructions for sending photographs of your pieces with your question.

What is a verge escapement?

When you just can't take
       anymore and have to get away.

A clock movement.
A mechanism that controls the
       "tic, toc" of a mechanical clock.
                     To see the answer

The Clock Book
by Philip E. Balcomb

This is an introductory book that combines the history of timekeeping with a guide to the basics of antique clock collecting. Clear line drawings illustrate the rudimentary details of clock mechanisms and the evolution of their cases. This is an essential text for the antique clock enthusiast.

                                   
More Books

Have Bob speak
 on antiques to your group or organization.

More Information

Can't find what
 you're looking for?

Go to my Sitemap

Share pages of this ezine with your friends using the buttons provided with each article.

Find out what's coming in the
FALL 2017 EDITION

of the
THE ANTIQUES ALMANAC

COMING IN OCTOBER
 


Download our
Decorative Periods and Styles Chart
 


Have a comment about

The Antiques Almanac
?

Fill in our form.

An Acquired Taste
by Bob Brooke

 

The Victorians were mad for oysters, and any table with pretensions of elegance had to serve oysters, on or off the half' shell. The hearty consumption of oysters by Americans during the 19`" century led to the production of one of the most beautiful Victorian dinnerware items — the oyster plate.

The Oyster in History
For thousands of years, oysters have graced the tables of Roman emperors, French kings and American statesmen. Ancient Romans and Greeks were noted for their consumption and caring cultivation of oysters. Oysters fascinated the Greeks, and Aristotle notes that the Greeks began to cultivate them as early as the 4th century, B.C.E.

More than 4,000 years ago the coastal Indians of North America ate oysters in great quantities. Large oyster shell mounds are reminders of their culinary tastes. Unlike the Romans and Greeks who preferred them raw on the half shell, Indians ate them cooked and probably created the first oyster stew.

There are many legends associated with the oyster. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, is said to have arisen from the sea on an oyster shell, endowed with the power to grant beauty and charm to others.

In Wales, people believed that the complexions of pale young women would improve if they ate oysters. The Chinese thought oysters would erase freckles. Casanova credited the oyster with enhancing his legendary prowess in the bedroom.

There are many tales of excesses in eating oysters, probably because of their reputation for increasing sexual passion. Historians believe Roman Emperor Vitellvis ate 1,000 oysters at a single sitting. King Henry IV ate 400 before dinner. In Ireland a man named Dando ate half his weightover 200 poundsin oysters. He lived to a ripe old age, and when he died, oyster shells surrounded his grave. Witnesses reported  that Diamond Jim Brady would eat over 100 raw oysters at Delmonicos Restaurant in New York City before his dinner.

The United States was in the throes of an oyster cult in the 19th century, and Americans had an "oyster mania." Oysters were eaten raw, baked, fried, fricasseed, in soup, in pies, in stuffing and garnished on top of grilled steak. In Home Cooking (Boston, 1853) Mrs. J. Chadwick suggested adding 100 oysters to her modest gumbo.

Every coastal city had its specialized oyster houses, and peddlers hawked oysters in the street. Signs reading, “All the oysters you can eat for 6 cents,” appeared on oyster houses in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

In 1859 residents of New York spent more money on oysters than on red meat. Many oysters sold in New York City came from two-story oyster barges anchored in the East River along East Street. Sailing vessels brought fresh oysters to the waterside and unloaded them onto the decks of the barges where men sorted and loaded them onto wagons and carts for delivery throughout the city. New York's Fulton Fish market sold about 50,000 oysters daily in 1877. Downings, the New York oyster cellar at 5 Broad St., was a popular establishment where people discussed politics, art and philosophy. In his book The Oyster House Cookbook, Fred Parks notes, "No evening of pleasure was complete without oysters; no host worthy of the name failed to serve `the luscious bivalves,' as they were actually called, to his guests. In every town there were oyster parlors, oyster cellars, oyster saloons, and oyster houses, stalls and lunchrooms."

But by the end of the "oyster century" America was running out of oysters. Even fishermen on the Chesapeake Bay couldn't keep up with the local demand. There were too many people and too few oysters. Today, from Cape Cod to the Gulf of Mexico, the once plentiful oyster is dying out. Each year overharvesting, red tides and diseases have taken a toll. Fortunately, in the past 10 years oyster farming has become a science, and oyster farmers carefully cultivate them through each step of development.

While oysters enjoy a modest increase in popularity today, that's nothing compared to their popularity during their heyday. True oyster aficionados still frequent oyster bars, scattered around the world, for fresh oysters served very cold on the half shell over ice. They pick up the oyster and tip the shell to their lips, taking both the liquor and oyster into their mouth, saying, "This is the only way to really enjoy oysters!"

The Oyster Plate
The popular craze of eating oysters made beautifully crafted oyster plates a necessity in restaurants and fashionable homes. Sumptuous meals were the order of the day for the wealthy during the 19" century and early 20th century in Europe and America. Servants served four or five separate courses, and special events could easily warrant 10 or more. It became fashionable for the servants to clear the dining table after each course, removing all the dishes and silverware and replacing them with a different set. This custom gave affluent families an excuse to show off their lovely china and silver.

As Victorians saw oyster related items of china and silver in grand hotels, dining cars and steamships, they had to have them in their own homes. To supply oyster plates to a growing market, ceramic companies in the United States and Europe created an endless variety of them, some of rare beauty and delicacy.

Types of Oyster Plates
There were three types of oyster plates, all of which people used from 1860 to 1910. People used the first, a bowl-like dish, to serve oysters on the half shell on a bed of ice. An underplate to catch the melting ice accompanied this. The second type had individual wells to hold oysters on the half shell, but without ice. The third, and most collectible, style is a flat plate with wells that are often oyster shell-shaped, to hold the oysters without both shell and ice, providing a neater presentation, because there’s no melting ice, and there are no oyster shells to scratch the plate. This type of plate is often very ornate and comes in many designs.



Oyster plates come in porcelain or majolica pottery and vary in shape, in colors, and in the number of receptacles or wells. Makers also created ones of glass, silver, and pewter. Many have a deep center well which was used for a lemon wedge, sauce, other condiment, or if large enough, for crackers. The wells range from one to six—two wells being rare. Potteries produced larger plates as well, holding from one to three dozen oysters. Minton made a magnificent three-tiered lazy Susan holding 27 oysters, designed for use at large parties or banquets.

Chinan makers produced oyster plates in a variety of interesting shapes. They can be found round, square, triangular, fan and crescent-shaped and in animal forms, such as scallops, oysters and fish. They decorated them with lavish gold highlights, scrollwork and pearl-like lusters. Some plates feature underwater foliage, shells, flowers and other sea motifs.

So popular were the oyster plates that in 1879 President Rutherford B. Hayes ordered a service of them from Haviland & Company for a state dinner party he was planning. The "Presidential" oyster plates have five wells, surrounded by southern raccoon oysters, which have the outside of their shells showing. The arrangement vaguely resembles the outline of a turkey. This design was a creation of artist Theodore R. Davis, whose signature is on the underside of each plate.


Oyster Plates as Part of Dinnerware Sets
Having observed the Victorian passion for oysters, virtually every maker of dinnerware began producing oyster plates, soon incorporating them into the massive sets of dinnerware sets of the day.

The town of Limoges was the center of hard-paste porcelain production in France, and many companies exported lovely oyster plates, along with their dinnerware service to America. One of the most famous, Haviland & Company, designed as many as 60,000 chinaware patterns. The company decorated many of its oyster plates with delicate floral designs in pastel colors so that they would blend more easily with existing china services.

Not to be outdone by the French, over 250 German porcelain factories also produced oyster plates during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Tody, these plates can be identified with the mark consisting of a crown over a shield with the word "Weimar" diagonally crossing the shield.

In the United States, the Union Porcelain Works of Greenport, N.Y., was the first American company to make oyster plates. It was established by German potters about 1854 and purchased later by C.H.L. Smith and Thomas C. Smith. They registered a logo consisting of an eagle's head with the letter "S" in its beak in 1877. This logo along with the letters U.P.W. appears on most of their oyster plates. This company made two sizes of clam-shaped plates and one round plate. All are rare and expensive today.

Majolica Oyster Plates
Collectors actively seek majolica oyster plates because of their vibrancy of color and dramatic designs. Companies used high-fire lead glazes on earthenware to produce many elaborate and colorful finishes to the plates. In America, majolica became popular because it was inexpensive and available in many different pieces.

Majolica oyster plates produced in England are some of the most beautiful and expensive. Thomas Minton established a famous pottery in Stoke-on-Trent in 1793. He hired Leon Arnoux, who developed colored majolica pieces for him, as his art director in 1849. Popular motifs included leaves, shells, seaweed and fish. Wedgwood also made many unusual majolica plates with a great amount of detail.

The Market for Oyster Plates
Generally, collectors favor oyster plates  made between 1860 and 1910 because of their endless variety available at every price level.

Examples from well-known makers and artist-signed pieces bring higher values. Turkey oyster plates are the most popular with collectors. These plates made by Haviland before 1892 are very special if they're perfect. And majolica oyster plates are an example of the high end of the price scale.

As with any antiques and collectibles, you should buy the best available within your budget. Some antiques experts suggest having a plan or collecting on a theme. It's possible to amass a beautiful, diverse, historically significant collection of oyster platesand you don't even have to like oysters to enjoy them.

Prices range from a low of about $15 for a 9-inch plate to $300 for a Minton plate, with six white wells and moriage decoration, dating from about 1900. Large, ornate serving plates can sell for as much as $2,000.

< Back to Antiques Archives                                                 Next Article >

FOLLOW MY WEEKLY BLOG
Antiques Q&A


JOIN MY COLLECTION
Antiques and More on Google+

LIKE MY FACEBOOK PAGE
The Antiques Almanac on Facebook

No antiques or collectibles
are sold on this site.

How to Recognize and Refinish Antiques for Pleasure and Profit

Book: How to Recognizing and Refinishing Antiques for Pleasure and Profit
Have you ever bought an antique or collectible that was less than perfect and needed some TLC? Bob's new book offers tips and step-by- step instructions for simple maintenance and restoration of common antiques.

Read an Excerpt

Provided by: News-Antique.com