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The History of White House China Verso Markings in the 19th Century

Posted by RALEIGH DEGEER AMYX on Thu, Jul 16, 2015 @ 07:00 AM

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, few cared much about differentiating one china manufacturer from another. Certainly nobody could have predicted that any porcelain dinnerware would have outstanding historical significance 150 or 200 years later. As a result, early White House china purchased from French manufacturers during this period typically carried no verso markings. However, the back sides of plates were not necessarily consistent, and on unusual occasions when makers did use a mark, it was usually applied with a rubber stamp and made permanent with a clear overglaze. 

During this period, there was no uniform effort to record the manufacturer from which dishes were procured, nor were there formal comparisons made of different manufacturers’ work. So there is no research left behind for historians and collectors to reference, if any was ever done.

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PRESIDENT BENJAMIN HARRISON'S WHITE HOUSE CHINA VERSO MARKINGS

As French dinnerware became more popular in the 1800s, the number of porcelain manufacturers and decorating studios in and around Paris continued to increase. Nonetheless, China was still considered the leading source when it came to original artwork. With thousands of years of experience decorating porcelain, the Chinese exhibited superior expertise in creating beautiful hand-painted plate faces. The front was the decorative focus because it was the part diners could see during their meal. All china was hand-painted, and anyone could plainly see the skill level simply by looking at a piece of their porcelain.

As the century progressed and European decorating quality improved, competition grew. Manufacturers began using verso marks to identify their work. To help protect their domestic industries, European countries began requiring country-of-origin markings on imports in the 1880s. The US Congress followed suit, passing the Tariff Act of 1890 that required all European imports to carry a stamp or other mark identifying their country of origin. The Tariff Act also significantly increased import duties, to almost 50%. Subsequently, Congress reduced those tariffs in 1894.

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EAMPLE OF VERSO MARKINGS APPEARING ON THE OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE CHINA OF RONALD REAGAN

Even with the government-required country-of-origin markings in place, no one paid much attention to the decorations that appeared on the verso of china plates until the 20th century. Today, there is tremendous interest in those markings, because since the early 20th century there has been a growing desire to understand and preserve our nation’s past. Presidential historians and collectors of White House China want to know who made which dinnerware, and when. But modern-day “detectives” like Raleigh DeGeer Amyx, as well as White House Historians, often have little evidence to go by. 

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VERSO MARKINGS OF PRESIDENT EISENHOWER'S OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE CHINA

Auction houses sometimes are able to find information, but mainly what we know about dating White House china is based on extrapolation. For instance, Lincoln’s china had no verso markings, but Grant’s order of the same pattern did. McKinley ordered 36 assorted “Lincoln” plates, which arrived with different marks than those that had appeared on Grant’s order. But when multiple presidents used identical china, there is oftentimes no way to know which one used a particular plate or serving piece.

raleigh-degeer-amyx-in-libraryRALEIGH DeGEER AMYX - HISTORIAN & COLLECTOR 

World renowned collector Raleigh DeGeer Amyx has acquired a remarkable number of 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 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.

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