Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Paris Porcelain Bonanza

Last weekend, while out doing errands, we stopped in at a big, up-county antiques group shop where we came across a large and handsome part service of old Paris porcelain, circa 1850-65.

After debating its merits, and then negotiating with the dealer for an excellent price, we left the shop as the china's proud owners.   However, we left empty-handed because it was shortly before closing time, and the service needed to be wrapped and boxed in order for us to take it home.  We returned to the shop on Friday afternoon, picked up four boxes of the carefully packed china, and drove to Darlington.

After we got home we unwrapped the china and culled it of the two dozen or so pieces that were chipped or cracked, retaining seventy-odd pieces that were in perfect condition, albeit with some wear to their applied gilding.

This was a well-used set of china in its day and bears evidence of its regular appearance at prior owners' tables.  However, it clearly hadn't been used in many years, and was--as they say in the trade--filthy dirty.  It took me an hour and a half of steady work at a sink full of hot sudsy water to thoroughly wash the grime off of the pieces we kept.

As many of my readers well know, Paris porcelain (sometimes referred to as "Old Paris porcelain") is the name for a type of white porcelain china produced in France from the late Napoleonic era through the end of the Second Empire, or from around 1815 through 1870.  Much of it was produced as unmarked white-wares or blanks at Limoges, and then sent on to independent decorating shops in and around Paris (among other places) where it was then painted with colored ornamentation, banding, and gilding.  The porcelain was a popular export-ware, with millions of pieces sent around the globe.  In this country, Paris porcelain achieved its peak popularity in the decades leading up to the Civil War, when every middle-class American housewife aspired to owning a set.

I have always liked Paris porcelain, and we had rather a lot of it in my household when I was growing up, much of which had been passed down from my mother's grandparents.  I own some of it today.

A piece that once belonged to my great grandmother

Since buying Darlington House, Boy and I have added to the Paris porcelain I inherited, and we have dozens of simply decorated dinner and dessert plates that we use for large parties, a number of decorative urns, footed compotes and reticulated baskets, and a quantity of serving pieces.  We like it because it is honest, decent-quality stuff, is readily available, and usually quite reasonably priced.  One can pay a lot of money for Paris porcelain, but one doesn't have to, particularly if one keeps an eye out for it in offbeat places.  Not too long ago it was relatively easy to find large sets at less than ten dollars a plate.

The service we bought last weekend is quite extensive, including dinner, soup, dessert, and incidental plates, plus three covered serving dishes, half a dozen platters, serving bowls, cups and saucers, and more.

It also includes what I believe is an invalid cup.  Initially that struck me as rather odd, but upon reflection made sense to me, since illnesses that confined the afflicted to bed for long stretches at a time were much more prevalent in the mid-nineteenth century than they are today.

The set we bought is decorated with a peach-colored banding and applied gilding.  In general, I'm not crazy about the color peach, except on the actual fruit, as it was a much overused color in the 1980s.  However, I actually like that the porcelain we bought has peach-colored banding, now that we've brought it home.

In addition, the service is decorated with the letter "C" in an Old-English font that is identical to one that appears on a large set of silver I inherited that once belonged to my great-great uncle Augustus Bertram Coolidge (known as "Uncle Bert"), that was given to him 100 years ago in recognition of his service as Grand Master of the District of Columbia's Masonic Grand Lodge.  Nice coincidence, yes?

We inaugurated our "new" Paris porcelain china on Saturday at a small luncheon party at Darlington.  As it turns out, the guests we entertained also have a collection of peach-banded Paris porcelain, and it was an enjoyable gathering of jolly fellow travelers, with much to jabber about.

We served a classic country summer meal (supplied to us by our most-beloved caterer) of fried chicken, potato salad, and cole slaw, followed by chocolate devil's food cake and vanilla ice cream.  It was delicious, and the perfect repast on a hot July afternoon.  As I sat at our attractively laid table, talking with our guests and enjoying the lunch, I felt a connection with those who had owned the china before us, for certainly such a meal had been eaten off of it many times in such a dining room as ours in its 150 years of existence.  And will be again, I believe, long after we are gone.

All photos by Boy Fenwick


  1. Those are gorgeous pieces! Congratulations on such a wonderful find.

  2. Those are such a treasure! I have a few pieces of Paris porcelain from my great-aunt, but that set is beautiful. The invalid cup is an interesting piece, too. It almost looks like a fancy version of a child's sippy cup from today.

  3. Yes, for the first time in as long as I can remember, peach looks awfully good.

    It's a privilege that we get to share, with you both, in this: the china, your words -- beautifully inviting -- and Boy's gorgeous photos. All bring us straight to the table. Many thanks!

  4. I believe that your cup is a mustache cup rather than an invalid one.

  5. What an incredible find, absolutely beautiful. And I love the peach band for spring and summer entertaining. Now I regret not buying a service of Paris porcelain when I lived in Paris.....

  6. Congratulations on such a great find! I've never much cared for peach as a color either, but yours seems a bit more vivid than the dreadful 1980s version. I think you'll enjoy playing off this deeper color for various table settings.

  7. What a nice find Reggie. I always enjoy washing things up when I bring them into the house for the first time. It feels like the ritual that really begins my ownership.

    We saw an enormous set at the Porte de Vanves market when we were in Paris, laid out on an old blanket, an entire street parking space filled with stacks and stacks. It was pretty, but mostly I couldn't get over how extensive it was. I spent the rest of the morning looking for an orphan fish platter.

  8. wow wee! love the peach and peaches-yummy luncheon. isn't always wonderful to find a monogram or engraving that relates to You-in any way- I feel it is as if it might already belong to me, gorgeous photos as always.

  9. I am sick to my stomach with jealousy. I am southern boy who is very fond of Old Paris china. This set or close to it is amazing. Good for you for finding it and good for you for having the since to buy it. Enjoy!!!!

  10. I stumbled on your column coupled of weeks ago and I am learning so much.
    Loved the column.

  11. ...nothing to do with you post...
    just wanted you to know I gave you photo credit here (

    Northern Light

  12. those are gorgeous, and i love the coral color. nice find!

  13. Just reinforces my desire to some visit. Watch out Reggie:).

  14. Reg: great find and with your Brul Parfume, one more reason to be envious of the treasures at Darlington.

    I think of that particular peach color as a quintessential Old Paris Porcelain color. If I remember correctly (and I could be wrong), Jacqueline Kennedy was in the early stages of ordering a state dinner service when JFK was killed. She was especially enamored of the Federal period, when so much porcelain in the US was of French manufacture. I believe that she had settled on a color not dissimilar to the border of your service, a color she took from some Monroe era china in the White House collection. Sadly, the project was abandoned. More's the pity, as subsequent First Ladies have made, for the most part, pretty abysmal choices for State services.

    In any event, great find Reg.

  15. Now, where do you store all that china realizing you have so much already? Does Darlington have a Dish Room?

  16. Well done Reggie !!!

    Always Bumby

  17. Congrats on another great find! Peach is not exactly my favorite color either, but I must admit that your "new" set looks just lovely on the table. I'm honestly a bit jealous over your purchase. Clearly I've been antique shopping in the wrong places.

    I would tend to concur with "Anonymous" in that I believe your one specialty piece is in fact a moustache cup rather than being made for an invalid. 19th Century invalid feeders almost invariably had spouts that protruded out so that liquids could be more easily poured into the mouths of reclining individuals. This particular cup wouldn't serve an invalid very well unless he or she were sitting which case a specialty cup wouldn't really be needed in the first place. Also, unlike moustache cups, invalid feeders were rarely made as part of a matching china service. Of course it's tough to be completely sure about the intended purpose of any old, odd piece of china.

    Oh, and this set's monogram letter (along with its font) being identical to that on your family silver? What a wonderful coinicdence!

  18. VA Gal: Yes, I agree, what I suspect is an invalid cup does remind one of today's sippy cup, I thought the same thing.

    Anon 2:37: Do you really believe that what I think might be a cup for bed-ridden invalids is actually a cup designed to protect a healthy user's mustache? Not sure quite why, but I suspect that a "mustache cup" may be a name that is akin to "petticoat table," a modern-day, somewhat romanticized mis-naming of an object popular in an earlier era, or a "faux-bit" as hilariously explored in the play "Lettice and Lovage." However, I could well be mistaken in such a view. I'm more than happy to be educated in this matter, and will do some research. Any direction would be appreciated. Thank you for bringing this to my attention, I appreciate it.

    Belle de Ville: Not necessary to wait for a return trip to the City of Light to buy Paris porcelain, it is still readily available up and down the Eastern states for you to find and take home with you to sunny California.

    David: That must have been an incredible sight to see. I have also seen enormous services of Paris porcelain, clearly ordered for a huge house, the size of which boggles Reggie's mind.

    Natasha: Thank you for the acknowledgement on your wonderful blog. What a pretty post that was.

    LPC: We at Darlington would welcome such a visit, m'dear.

    Magnus: What an interesting bit of information, thank you for sharing it. I am sure Mrs. Kennedy, one of the 20th century's great taste-makers, would have chosen a service for the President's House (as she deliciously called it) that far surpasses the rather humdrum and fancified ones selected by subsequent chatelaines.

    DAM: Storage is becoming problematic at Darlington, as our closets and cupboards are full to bursting. We have resorted to using large, rolling, wire shelving to store overflow of such stuff in our (clean and tidy) basement, which is where much of this service will reside.

    Anon 3:27: Thank you for your comment, seconding the view that what I suspect to be an invalid cup is actually a mustache cup. The vessel you describe for invalids sounds to me to be a posset pot, which I do not believe were meant (originally) to be used to serve the afflicted. However, Reggie aspires to being correct in his usage of terminology, and will most definitely do some research on this matter, and will post his findings for the edification of his readers (as well as himself...) Thank you, and Anon 2:37, for bringing this to my attention. And for those other readers out there who might have views on this subject, I welcome your thoughts, too.

  19. Anon 2:37 and 3:27: A cursory check of the internet leads me to believe you may well be correct, and I wrong. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I'm going to do some additional research on this, and will revert. Again, thank you.

  20. MD had several mustache cups which came from the great-grandparents' house in Indiana. I wonder what became of them?

  21. Sister: Really? All that I recall is a shaving mug, with MD's nickname in gilt lettering on it (I assume entirely by coincidence), which is sitting in our medicine cabinet at Darlington, holding razors and the like.

  22. What a great write-up! I was given a set of Limoges demi-tasses for my wedding with the same band of color (mine are pale yellow) and gold stripe and never knew much about their provenance (other than they were found in a very high-end consignment shop!)

  23. It's gorgeous. And I am now incredibly green with envy.

  24. I adore your new china...and it looks amazing on your table. Not one for the color peach myself, and had to laugh out loud on the 80's reference, as that is exactly why I don't care for peach as well! Your service appears more orange in these photos, and its safe to say, bears no resemblance to anything 80s at all!

  25. Delightful. Absolutely delightful. We have the same china, though with painted flowers in the center of the plates. And so does Hyde Hall, whose haul was purchased sometime in the late 1840s/early 1850s from a shop in Albany. It is heavenly stuff.

  26. The color "peche" exudes a warm ambiance!
    What a score and your table looks rather inviting - especially for a supper of fried chicken.

  27. This is a beautiful set! The color complements your mahogany Federal furniture and walls. This deep peach-color on Old Paris is very popular in the Deep South where I live. I collect Old Paris also.

  28. Dear Mr. Darling,

    As an enthusiastic user, and avid collector of old Paris Porcelain, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post and viewing the delightful photographs that accompany it.

    I have a similarly colored set to yours with a "CD" monogram in the Old-English font. Mine is a dessert service (a teapot, large sugar bowl with lid, a waste bowl, handled platters that one would have used to serve desserts or sweets, dessert plates, tea cups and saucers). I wonder what fate the milk jug or creamer met during its years of use?

    Your set is unusual in that it consists of both a dinner and dessert service. I have read somewhere that it was more the norm to use a separate service for dessert. Enjoy using your porcelain. The color lends itself beautifully to autumn entertaining.

  29. Belatedly happening upon your blog via researching an Old Paris vase I found today. Your wonderful orange/peach banded dinner service is very similar in both color and style to the Old Paris service displayed at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, in Lexington, Ky. HC brought his set back from France in the 1840s, if I remember correctly - it includes a large, egg-shaped two -pieced ice cream container. With not one, but two ice houses, the Clay family was noted for serving that rare delicacy, ice cream, so this piece must have received a lot of use in its day. I hope you get to see it some time. It's interesting that your set also bears the initial "C"!

    Susan in Ky


Please do comment! I welcome and encourage them, and enjoy the dialogue.

Related Posts with Thumbnails