Everyone knows that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But picking favorites among the many collections of stunning Official White House China is no mere beauty contest. For renowned collector Raleigh DeGeer Amyx, it’s about the art – and the fact that the magnificence of each service also reflects the context of its time.
“In a portrait gallery,” he explains, “you walk into a room filled with masterpieces yet you’re drawn to certain one(s) that move you, like a song that makes you feel something.” asked to name his White House china favorites, he chose nine, noting it was “easy” to identify the first four, but hard to decide beyond that because each collection is outstanding in its own way. This is the countdown of his nine favorite White House China examples.
STUNNING 1951 SERVICE PLATE FROM THE HARRY S. TRUMAN OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE CHINA COLLECTION - MANUFACTURED BY LENOX - PART OF THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION
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#9. Harry S. Truman
Similar in many ways to Woodrow Wilson’s White House China, the Truman collection exudes overall elegance. The richly-patterned green, gold, deep ivory and white provide an aesthetically appropriate harmony for official state dinners. This service is historically important because it depicts the federal eagle as “reversed” by Truman’s Executive Order in 1945, showing the eagle facing the olive branch of peace rather than the arrows of war.
#8. James Polk
Though more subtle than the surprising shapes of the Hayes china, the ornately scalloped plates are themselves works of art, reflecting a different artist’s imagination. They create a visual frame for the extensive gilded designs as well as beautifully hand-painted flowers on the dessert plates – 36 flowers to denote the 36 states in the Union. With this china, a new presidential shield is depicted for the first time in red, white and blue.
There is nothing subtle about the unusual plate shapes in this White House China collection. “You either like it, or you don’t,” says Mr. Amyx. Each plate seems to have been designed to frame its colorfully detailed, hand-painted wildlife. The non-traditional aspects of this china extend to the always-present presidential emblem – it is equally colorful, but appears only on the verso. Pieces from the original 1879 order are most collectible. Although the “cypher” on the verso was supposedly rendered in red, white and blue, it appears to be gold, turquoise and orange. ”
First Lady Caroline Scott Harrison was a very talented artist, and it is her, in part, own artwork that adorns the border of this striking White House China. In fact, it is so pretty, subsequent presidents chose to reorder the same pattern rather than make any changes. That makes some Harrison china easier for collectors to locate. However, the pièce de résistance among this collection is the rarer and more valuable morning breakfast plate that features a double border.
#5. Ulysses S. Grant
With this extraordinary china, the subtly scalloped edges of the plates offer a distinctive design element. But the large, beautifully detailed flowers are the main presence – 24 in all, allowing each place setting at smaller dinner gatherings to be different. This dinnerware also introduces a new presidential emblem, again chosen by the artist and approved by President and/or Mrs. Grant.
BEAUTIFUL SERVICE PLATE FROM THE 1968 LYNDON B. JOHNSON OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE CHINA COLLECTION - MANUFACTURED BY CASTLETON CHINA - PART OF THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION
Lady Bird Johnson used her influence as First Lady to promote beautification of America’s roadsides through planting wildflowers. The state china she helped design reflects that same theme – not only pretty but perhaps a floral political statement as well. "Photos simply do not do this china justice," notes Mr. Amyx. He admits he especially loves the eagle, which borrows from Monroe and Lincoln depictions.
#3. Ronald Reagan
This china’s extraordinary creativity and beauty show in the bold scarlet border (Nancy Reagan’s favorite color), bounded by gold cross-hatching on the service and dessert plates. "The color and design are both striking, like a lady in a perfect red dress," yet they take their inspiration from artistic elements in early White House China patterns.
CLASSIC STATE DINNER PLATE FROM THE 1861 ABRAHAM LINCOLN OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE CHINA COLLECTION - MANUFACTURED BY HAVILAND & COMPANY - PART OF THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION
#2. Abraham Lincoln
Presidents are America’s version of royalty, so this china also features a variation of Royal Purple – in this case a rich, warm tone called Solferino, chosen personally by Mary Todd Lincoln. This stunning china carries forward the Monroe eagle to represent the president, but now the eagle holds arrows of war and an olive branch of peace and is accompanied by a banner that reads “E Pluribus Unum.”
#1. James Monroe
This was the first time an American president had a Congressionally-approved budget to buy china for formal White House occasions. Previous presidents had brought their personal dinnerware with them, so there was no precedent regarding what constituted “officially appropriate” china. "What should the presidential emblem look like? The Monroe service, like several other early designs, is presidential china as seen through the eyes of the artist." Every detail imagined and hand-painted, from the unusual marbled purplish-blue border to the bald eagle with widespread wings.
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.