THIS NEAR PRISTINE CONDITION DINNER PLATE FROM THE GEORGE WASHINGTON COLLECTION IS CONSIDERED TO BE "THE HOLY GRAIL" OF A WHITE HOUSE CHINA COLLECTION - FROM THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION
When collectors talk about White House China, what do they really mean? The word “china” is now commonly used to refer to any type of fine-quality dishes, but we also hear terms like porcelain and bone china. It is interesting to contemplate where these terms came from and how they apply – or not – to the dinnerware designed and enjoyed by our presidents for almost 250 years.
All ceramics are basically baked clay -- a versatile material used for making numerous objects besides dinnerware. Ceramic dinnerware produced around the world tends to reflect the types of clay available locally, so we often see dishes made of stoneware (heavier, more heavily textured clay) or terracotta (the soft, reddish clay found in Mexico and Latin America). However, in order to achieve the prettier, more delicate qualities of “fine china” demanded by presidents and other upper-echelon society members, dishes must be made of porcelain or bone china.
Today, the terms china and porcelain are interchangeable. China is made from a combination of clay, kaolin (another type of soft, white clay), feldspar and quartz and sometimes other materials. The specific composition determines the color, density and texture of the finished piece. The process of producing high-quality dishes originated more than a thousand years ago in China, therefore the name. Today we use the term with a lowercase “c” to designate any type of fine dinnerware.
THIS EXTREMELY RARE AND INTRICATE JAMES MADISON LOZENGE SERVING DISH WAS MANUFACTURED BY NAST'S FACTORY PARIS - A RARE EXAMPLE FROM THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION
As we look back to the early White House years, we find official White House China that literally came from that country. However, most presidential dinnerware in the ensuing years has been manufactured in Europe (primarily France) or the United States.
The term porcelain has always been used to refer to “china” made in Europe or elsewhere outside the country of China. The word is derived from “porcella,” a Latin word that means sea-shell, in honor of its bright white, smooth and lustrous appearance. Very early European porcelain was originally made with ground glass, but shortly after 1700, German producers replaced the glass with feldspar, which is still used today.
Bone china is produced from the same ingredients as porcelain, with the addition of finely ground ash from cow bones – anywhere from 25% to 50% bone ash. Because the ash has a slightly off-white color, bone china has a distinctive “milky” appearance. Take your family china out of the cupboard and look for the words, "bone china" - surprise! You probably have more cow bone in your home than you ever dreamed.
Adding bone ash also makes the finished pieces appear translucent rather than opaque like traditional porcelain. Bone china is sometimes referred to as “fine china,” although this term is also commonly used to differentiate between any type of finer quality pieces and stoneware, terracotta and so on.
ULYSSES S. GRANT HAD AN AFFINITY FOR CHINESE PORCELAIN. THIS FISH PLATE IS ONE OF THE MANY PURCHASES THAT THE GENERAL AND MRS. GRANT MADE DURING THEIR 1879 TOUR OF EUROPE. THIS RARE EXAMPLE FROM THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION.
Porcelain is typically fired at a temperature between 2300oF and 2400oF, or even hotter. Although it is very delicate looking -- thin and lightweight – it is actually quite durable, making it ideal for dishes as well as decorative items.
Bone china is fired at a slightly lower temperature, about 2200oF. The result is a product that is softer (relatively speaking), which actually makes it stronger because it is less brittle. For that reason, bone china is especially resistant to cracking and chipping or breakage.
Collectors use the term porcelain to refer to all White House China, regardless of its composition. Although the official White House collection includes both porcelain and bone china pieces, there is no set of presidential china that is composed solely of bone china.
RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX - HISTORIAN AND COLLECTOR
World renowned collector Raleigh DeGeer Amyx has acquired a remarkable number of sparse or rare pieces of official White House china. Mr. Amyx’s passion for American historical artifacts has been his sole focus for more than 35 years. Mr. Amyx's collection is the largest privately-owned collection of extremely high-quality, as well as the rarest, Official White House China as well as Presidential China in the world. If you would like to engage in a discussion with Mr. Amyx about White House China, please contact him through the button below.