Throughout history, the First Lady has been responsible for the “domestic” side of the presidency, overseeing household and entertaining details. So while it is true that a few of our past presidents have chosen their own official china service, most often this task has fallen to their First Ladies.
In the case of Benjamin Harrison’s official White House China, his First Lady did much more than “take a hand” in the process of choosing a design and manufacturer. Caroline Scott Harrison was an accomplished artist in her own right – well-known for her water color studies and, in particular, her love of china painting. It is her own work that adorns the ultimate china of her era – the Benjamin Harrison White House collection.
CAPTIVATING STATE DINNER PLATE WITH HANDSOME BLUE BAND FROM THE HARRISON OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE CHINA COLLECTION - PART OF THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION
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The beautiful plates feature a scalloped edge, narrow gilt rim and wide band of dark blue that sets off illustrations of corn and goldenrod. The sketches are done in gold, reflecting their natural color. There is an interior circlet of small gold stars, and the traditional Presidential eagle sits at the center of the plate. There aren’t any notes to tell us definitively, but perhaps the corn and goldenrod motifs were chosen to represent America’s heartland.
Caroline Scott Harrison continued to paint during her tenure as First Lady, and even taught china painting classes in the White House. She also worked to upgrade the Executive Mansion, to make it a more contemporary, comfortable living space. Yet, as a history lover, she was careful to preserve existing collections of furniture, as well as household glassware, silver and dinnerware used by past presidents. Decades later, Jacqueline Kennedy often chose the Harrison china for use at official state dinners.
While his wife made an impressive artistic contribution to the White House, President Benjamin Harrison’s own legacy was less impressive. Benjamin Harrison was born, raised and worked as an attorney in Indianapolis before entering politics and moving to Washington, DC to serve as our 23rd president. During his single term of office, from 1889 to 1893, he accomplished little of note. He signed into law the Sherman Antitrust Act, but it was not effective until it was strengthened in later years. He advocated voting rights for African Americans in the South, but not successfully. He did establish Samoa as an American protectorate, and he worked with Canada and Great Britain to reduce hunting of seals in the Bering Sea.
GORGEOUS BREAKFAST PLATE WITH GOLDEN ROD TRIM FROM THE 1892 BENJAMIN HARRISON OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE CHINA COLLECTION - PART OF THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION
At least Benjamin Harrison inhabited the White House long enough to make his own contribution to the ever-growing collection of presidential china. His grandfather, William Henry Harrison, was not so fortunate. Elected as our nation’s 6th president, the elder Harrison died just one month into his term.
And while his administration may have been lackluster, Benjamin Harrison did leave us with a timely quote: “An American citizen could not be a good citizen who did not have a hope in his heart.”
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.