As bespoke, decorative plates continue to crop up on the vintage scene, Charlotte Rowland looks at the evolution of these collected ceramics to uncover what they embody and represent.
With exclusive designs and prints as well as a level of everyday practicality that makes buying them all the more excusable, vintage plates have rapidly taken over more than their fair share of the modern market. Not only is this curatorship worth it for artistic purposes, with many plates boasting flamboyant florals and patterned façades, but stocking up on these delicate and ornate plates, as well as satisfying aesthetically, is a way of historically tracing the development of the plate as object or art.
When trade routes opened to China in the fourteenth century, porcelain objects, like dinner plates, became must-haves for European nobility. With this introduction, the plate quickly became associated with traits of dignity and aristocracy, with their use, expanding gradually to become the prime sign of an opulent Marie-Antoinette-style tea party from the Victorian era onwards, chiefly being to serve, host and impress respected guests. A cabinet stock in a courtly home was taken as a sign of finery, opulence and prosperity, and as an indicator that the titleholders were of a respectable and venerable class.
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Plates like the above, for instance, dated c1890, would have been much admired and esteemed for their hand painted glaze of pansies, lilies of the valley and ferns. In keeping with the multi-functional use of the plate we have today, however, the perforated edge here, foremost a decorative emblem, could also be threaded through its gaps, which would personalise the plate and ready it for hanging. Lace plates were also a prized style of the nineteenth century, with punctuated edges, this time much like a paper doily, allowing for the same decorative license.
Plates, however, were also accepted as works of art. The practice of collecting ‘souvenir’ plates was popularised in the nineteenth century by Patrick Palmer-Thomas, a Dutch-English nobleman, whose public plate exhibitions vouched for plate collecting as a fashionable and inexpensive hobby.
Credited to the Danish company Bing and Grondahl in 1895, the first limited edition collector’s plate ‘Behind the Frozen Window’, seen above, sold at an unpredicted rate. Styles like the one below, taken from the Royal Albert collection, for instance, could be picked up easily, while similar designs can be purchased from online stockists today for an average of £15.
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Serving an opulence of scones, tarts and fancies atop mismatched plates and table-wear would, to a Victorian tea-goer, have seemed out of place and uncourtly. Now, however, not only is it fashionable to stock, collect and trade vintage plates, but mixing prints, colour and periods is seen as a quirky, creative touch.
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Pretty, lavish tints, as seen in the c.1948 Royal Crown Derby plate above, became, for their elegance, the Victorian vogue , with the style of this design in-particular, known as a ‘ribbon-edge’ plate, being specifically in demand.
With such a history behind them, vintage plates stand today as more than just visual aesthetics. Our recently developed obsession with vintage plates can, in part, be put down to the attraction of style, with much of the porcelain circulars being delicately and exquisitely decorated with hand-painted floral designs, yet with their development of function, and how they came to mark out divisions between social class and status, plates today should be considered as historical artefacts as well as works of art.
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Sold singularly or en masse, vintage plates are not only appearing on the shelves of copious second-hand shops, but are also slowly and gradually filling the shelves, walls and tables of our homes, too.
Available in art nouveau, art deco, post-war, retro and, typical of the Victorian era, floriated, garden-inspired styles, plates like these are easy to obtain, with popular sites Not On The High Street, Cakes Stand Heaven, Etsy and eBay all stocking a unique supply. Prices vary, depending on the date, marque and china, yet a good browse at the market will easily reveal a plate to your tastes.
And not forgetting you can pick up gorgeous vintage plate (or two) and an eclectic range of homewares at a Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair near you – click here for the calendar!
Whether you purchase a refined six-set to fund a welcome Afternoon Tea, or prefer to use your plates more artistically, there’s no doubt that vintage plates, adaptable and sundry in their uses, are functional and creatively compliant, reminding us all the while of their pertinent back-story which we as modern-day plate collectors can and should unfetter.
Take a look at V&OAK Magazine for more vintage products and collectables.
See you next week!
Charlotte Rowland at V&OAK