Throughout American history, each president has put his own personal imprint on the dinnerware used within the White House. In some administrations, First Ladies have taken the lead, not only supervising production of the china, but actively helping to create the designs themselves. It is interesting to look back and see how White House china has evolved.
One thing that has remained nearly constant is the use of the Presidential Emblem – at least on formal dinnerware. (A few presidents ordered a second set of dishes for personal use.) The Presidential Emblem usually takes center stage on Service plates, but in some instances such as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s service, the Presidential Emblem motif sits on the rim at the top of the plate.
SOPHISTICATED 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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The American bald eagle holds a cluster of arrows in his left talons, symbolizing readiness for war. On his right, he holds an olive branch, symbolizing the desire for peace. Initially the eagle’s head faced to the left, but President Truman formally revised the Official Seal so the eagle now faces the olive branch of peace.
STUNNING SERVICE PLATE FROM THE WOODROW WILSON OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE CHINA COLLECTION - MANUFACTURED BY LENOX - PART OF THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION
Gold has featured prominently over the years, sometimes used heavily, sometimes delicately within the decoration. Banding and, sometimes, stars represent the stars and stripes of our nation’s flag. Woodrow Wilson’s Service plate carries both a wide, ornate gold band on outer rim and a narrower gold band on the inside. And Benjamin Harrison’s china featured delicate gold drawings of ears of corn on a black ground, honoring our nation’s heartland.
CAPTIVATING DINNER PLATE FROM THE BENJAMIN HARRISON OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE CHINA COLLECTION - MANUFACTURED BY TRESSEMANES AND VOGT, LIMOGES - PART OF THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION
Barack and Michelle Obama chose an unusual shade of blue to rim their dinnerware – a shade they named Kailua Blue, reminiscent of the ocean waters surrounding the President’s native Hawaii.
THE BARACK OBAMA OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE CHINA COLLECTION FEATURES A UNIQUE KAILUA BLUE RIM
In some cases, personal preferences beyond color have been featured. The magnolia blossom that centers informal plates from the George W. and Laura Bush collection honors the venerable magnolia tree on the White House lawn, said to be the oldest tree on the property. The pretty wildflowers that rim the plates of the Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson formal dinnerware reflect Mrs. Johnson’s lifelong love of our nation’s natural beauty. Wildflowers depicted in the collection represent the official state flower of each of the 50 states. Official White House China ordered by Ulysses S. Grant and James K. Polk also featured flowers in the center of some of the plates.
LOVELY SERVICE PLATE FROM THE LYNDON B. JOHNSON OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE CHINA COLLECTION - MFG. BY CASTLETON CHINA - PART OF THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION
Geometric designs have also remained popular. Perhaps the most unusual example is Zachary Taylor’s china, which has a striking, almost Oriental-looking black and white pattern.
BOLD PLATE FROM THE ZACHARY TAYLOR OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE CHINA COLLECTION FEATURES AN UNUSUAL GEOMETRIC PATTERN
White House china runs the gamut, from simple to ornate, subdued to flashy. The ultimate may be Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s bright red-banded dishes. Or Bill and Hillary Clinton’s heavy emphasis on gold decoration. The Clintons broke with tradition, replacing the usual Presidential Emblem with architectural drawings of the White House.
GORGEOUS SERVICE PLATE FROM THE RONALD REAGAN OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE CHINA COLLECTION - MANUFACTURED BY LENOX - PART OF THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION
Unlike his successors, George Washington used his own furnishings to entertain political guests. On one set of his dishes, a slender serpent surrounds the outer rim holding its tail in its mouth. Inside, 13 ovals each bear the name of one of our original 13 states. And in the center a stylized golden sunburst with 13 rays reaches out to each of the states.
RARE CHINESE EXPORT PORCELAIN PLATE FROM THE GEORGE WASHINGTON WHITE HOUSE CHINA COLLECTION - PART OF THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION
Some collections or individual pieces have verso markings that indicate dates, the manufacturer or other details about the china; others have no markings.
VERSO MARKING FROM THE F.D.R. OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE CHINA COLLECTION DEPICTS THE YEAR AS WELL AS WHERE THE CHINA WAS MANUFACTURED AND BY WHICH COMPANY
Over time, the size of the collections ordered has increased significantly. State dinners have grown in size, as has White House capacity to serve more guests at official dinners. So where early sets might have included 140 pieces altogether, a modern-day service may include as many as 320 place settings.
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.