After a 200-year separation, the two rarest plates from the original official White House China order of James and Dolley Madison have been reunited. Their story underscores how collecting historical memorabilia can be both an art and a science, requiring not just an eye for beauty and a love of history but perseverance and well-honed detective skills.
The two plates that feature in this story are serving dishes – 9.5” diamond-shaped lozenges. After years of research, noted American historian and collector Raleigh DeGeer Amyx was able to bring the pair back together and add them to his renowned and often-exhibited White House China Collection. They are extraordinarily rare because they are the only two of their kind, and they are two of just 29 pieces that remain today from the Madisons’ original 231-piece set of White House China.
RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX EXAMINES THE UNIQUE SERVING DISHES
In 1806, President James Madison and First Lady Dolley Madison ordered those 231 pieces of Presidential China from Paris, France. A few years later, the British attacked the United States in what has since become known as the War of 1812. The British invaders entered the White House and destroyed almost everything within the Executive Mansion, then set it ablaze. The Madisons’ specially-chosen White House china was gone.
After the war, in 1814, President Madison chose the only alternative available at the time, instructing that the china he had officially used as Secretary of State now be used at the White House. The dinnerware from France that had been destroyed then became known as Official White House China, and ever since it has been coveted by institutions, museums and advanced collectors.
Grant Quertermous, Assistant Curator of President Madison’s home in Montpelier, Virginia, worked with White House Curator Bill Allman to compile valuable historic information, revealing that, in fact, 29 pieces of the original Madison porcelain had survived. Three are presently at James Madison’s home. Eight reside at the White House. And Raleigh DeGeer Amyx now owns four of these rare Madison pieces, including the only pair of lozenge-shaped porcelain White House dinnerware.
2 OF THE 29 REMAINING PIECES OF WHITE HOUSE CHINA FROM JAMES MADISON'S COLLECTION
Not surprisingly, very rare china pieces are also very valuable. These days, it is easier to learn how valuable your historic pieces may be, thanks to the advent of Google. The internet also enabled Raleigh to acquire the two lozenges. When his website was upgraded, many more photographs were added showing pieces in Raleigh’s collection, including two round dinner plates from James and Dolley Madison’s official White House China.
Separate owners of the two lozenges – one in California and one in Texas – found Raleigh’s website, saw the matching dinner plates, and contacted him. Subsequently, one of the owners put their collection up for auction and Raleigh purchased the lozenge; the other owner sold their serving piece directly to him.
A PORTRAIT OF PRESIDENT JAMES MADISON
Interestingly, one of the two lozenges now carries a calligraphed inscription, added years after the china was in use at the White House. The inscription, however, is historically inaccurate. Raleigh explains that he could have had an expert conservationist correct the calligraphy, but he has chosen not to do so.
An accomplished researcher himself when it comes to White House china and other memorabilia, Raleigh says it doesn’t matter to him that he wasn’t the sleuth to uncover the existence of a few surviving pieces of the Madisons’ porcelain. What is important, he says, is that the results are accurate – and Grant Quertermous was careful to record the owners’ names of each remaining piece.
RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX - HISTORIAN AND COLLECTOR
World renowned collector Raleigh DeGeer Amyx has acquired numerous pieces of official White House china including pieces from James Madison. Mr. Amyx’s passion for American historical memorabilia has been his sole focus for more than three decades. His collection is the first or second largest privately-owned collection of White House 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.