Throughout our nation’s history, several US presidents have used their Official White House China as a means to celebrate America’s beauty and bounty. The china collection commissioned by President Rutherford B. Hayes and First Lady Lucy Hayes is one of the most spectacular examples of this.
Produced by the renowned Haviland & Co. of Limoges, France, the dinnerware features stunning artistic renderings designed in America. The choice of decoration was something of an accident. First Lady Lucy Hayes had already chosen Haviland to manufacture her dinnerware. One day, she was in the White House conservatory looking at botanical samples that might be used to inspire designs. Theodore Russell Davis, at the time a writer and artist for Harper’s Weekly, just happened to be on hand.
RARE HAND PAINTED DESSERT PLATE FROM THE HAYES OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE CHINA COLLECTION - DESIGNED BY THEODORE R. DAVIS - MANUFACTURED BY HAVILAND & CO. - PART OF THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION
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He suggested featuring North American flora and fauna as subjects. That way the dinnerware would reflect both the spirit of nationalism and strong interest in nature, both of which were prevalent at the time. Mrs. Hayes was so taken with this she asked Davis to direct the artistic aspects of the project.
Davis proceeded to create illustrations, from which etchings were made so the design outlines could be transferred to the dishes. Chromolithography and decalcomania were used to colorize, then the final shading, enameling and gilding was done by hand. A total of 16 artists worked on the project. In all, the Hayes china service incorporates an astounding 130 different designs.
IMPRESSIVE HAND PAINTED FISH PLATTER FROM THE HAYES OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE CHINA COLLECTION - PART OF THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION
What sets this china service apart isn’t only the tremendous variety of artistic designs. In a distinct break with tradition, many of the plates are not round but unusual shapes – teardrops, multi-sided geometric shapes, some with scalloped edges or curled lips or corners (see above). Many of the pieces also include raised patterns and shapes that add dimension to the subject matter -- flowering plants, birds, mammals and sea creatures, often shown in their natural settings.
In many cases, the decoration depicts the use of the dish. For instance, seafood plates feature oysters or lobsters. Ice cream dishes feature snowy scenes with snowshoes. Dinner platters display the regal American wild turkey.
THE HAND PAINTED EAGLE ON THE HAYES OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE CHINA IS A REPLICA OF THE OFFICIAL PRESIDENTIAL EMBLEM
As with many White House china collections, the Hayes china features distinctive verso markings that make it easy to authenticate its provenance. These include a beautiful polychrome eagle in the same pose as is used for the official emblem of the President of the United States. Some of the Hayes designs were also produced for purchase by the public. These are easily differentiated, as their verso markings show a blue 1880 patent mark instead of the 1879 pennant mark. Both the Presidential China made for the public as well as The White House are scarce.
The Hayes china was delivered to the White House in June of 1879. With it came an 88-page booklet which listed the pieces in the collection, the 16 artists who participated in creating the designs and decoration and 67 pen-and-ink illustrations of some of the pieces, along with written descriptions.
The new china was first used in November, 1880 when President and Mrs. Hayes hosted a small gathering for President-elect and Mrs. James Garfield. The following month, the china debuted at an official state dinner that honored former President and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, culminating their around-the-world trip. This was also a relatively small dinner. There were only 40 invitees, but they represented the nation’s top leadership, from members of the Cabinet and Congress to Supreme Court Justices and high-ranking military officers.
By today’s standards, Rutherford Hayes’ White House china was a small collection – just 562 total pieces for nine courses, compared to current presidential sets that often include more than 300 place settings, thus equaling over 2,000 pieces. Naturally, formal state dinners today frequently seat far more dignitaries than were invited by presidents of old.
World renowned collector Raleigh DeGeer Amyx has acquired a remarkable number of scarce 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 and 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.