I had a dinner party this past weekend and had so much fun creating a fun tablescape that incorporated both the season and the meal. And, even though our meal (prepared and plated by the fabulous Chef Katy Parker BTW) didn’t consist of turkey and it’s not officially Thanksgiving just yet, I kinda wished I had some of those old school turkey transferware plates.
You know the ones, brown and white normally and probably found in your mom or grandma’s hutch or kitchen. Love them, hate them, or don’t really care about them either way, the plates are not only pretty and festive, they’re historic.
As with most things formal and proper, we have the Brits to thank for turkey plates and I’m not talking turkey blue plate specials. I’m talking turkey plates that are special.
Following the Revolutionary War, Great Britain was licking its wounds and its economy was struggling but instead of writing their then nemesis America off, those brilliant Brits began targeting us Yanks with their famous dinnerware like the simple yet stunning 1765 platter from Staffordshire pictured above. Soon everything from our historic landmarks to patriotic scenes to even the expansion of the west would eventually be found on plates and platters from Pittsburgh to Portland. It was a certain handsome bird however, that took center stage in the center of the plate.
Shortly after President Abraham Lincoln declared the fourth Thursday of November as the nation’s official Thanksgiving holiday in 1863, English potters began producing turkey-themed dinnerware for the American market. Already the star of both English and American feasts, the turkey quickly became the symbol of the new holiday and American tables were suckered into all things turkey.
I’m a sucker for a formal set table, although I rarely set one myself, and I love china. I have mine from our wedding, as well as my mother-in-law’s less formal one and my mom’s. We use my mother-in-law’s as our everyday plates and just recently my non-sentimental husband commented that he really likes using them and that they make him happy. Who knew simple china from England could make the brash boy from Buffalo blush?!
I’m also a sucker for a picturesque plate wall like the one above fabulously configurated with…yes…turkey plates! What a great idea for all of you out there who may have a plate collection but don’t want to use them for their original purpose. I’m floored by this wall!
Today turkey-themed plates by the likes of Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, and Ridgway can be found but you may need to look hard for the real deals as they can sell anywhere from $500 to upwards of $1,500. One of the original originals is the above classic blue-and-white “Flow Blue Turkey Platter” from Royal Doulton. You’ll also find various versions by various makers in lots of colors, including the traditional brown and white as well as blue, green, red, and even purple. Oddly enough, finding some in black (which I would LOVE!) is rare, so if you do, snatch them. I’m a big fan of a host of transferware patterns and will always gravitate toward those in green and white, red and white, and of course the brown and white turkey.
One of the most popular patterns and one of my faves is the above “His Majesty,” which was produced by Johnson Brothers from 1959-1996. The company and all of its patterns were acquired by The Wedgewood Group in 1968 and from 1999-2004, Wedgwood partnered with Williams-Sonoma on reproduction patterns.
Today the retail giant offers not only a stately “Plymouth Turkey” dinnerware collection but the above “Plymouth Birds” collection, which is equally festive and perfect for family feasts and every day dinners.
Sadly formality is not trending or going viral these days. Considered as uncool as a flip-phone or file folders is formal dinnerware. Crystal goblets, sterling silver place settings, and porcelain china dishware aren’t on any millennial or Gen Xer’s wedding gift registry and it makes me sad. What makes even sadder is when I see “Honeymoon Fund” or “Wedding Fund” on their registrations. What? But, that’s a whole other blog I guess.
So, what I’ll do with all my china, crystal, and silver that our daughter probably wants nothing to do with is not something I think about. Until the day comes, I’ll continue to enjoy having a casual glass of wine in my Waterford crystal and our nightly dinner on Wedgwood china. I’ll also continue to crave some turkey plates on which to gobble gobble goodness. If anyone has any they’d like to unload, I’m more than happy to help your efforts. We’ll both be thankful.
Blogger’s note: I can’t close this blog without sharing a great little turkey tip I recently ran across. Instead of roasting a big 20 pound or larger turkey that takes up so much room and takes so much time to cook, think about instead roasting two smaller birds. Not only will cook time be reduced, guests will have more chances at those coveted legs and wishbones. You’re welcome!