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Collector’s Minute: Christmas Plates

by Mike Wilcox (12/20/10).

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without all the tradition and decorations. Precious memories stored away in boxes attics and basements along with the tinsel, ornaments and decoration for the other 49 weeks of the year are pulled out and displayed. Tree ornaments that have been in the family for four generations, paper chains or macaroni-covered Angels made by children now grown with kids of their own, are lovingly unwrapped one at a time, bringing a big smile or tears. Some pieces, old or rare, are almost too valuable to display occupy places of honor on the mantel piece or wall, out of the reach of children.

Royal Copenhagen’s first Christmas plate.

Bing and Grondahl’s first Christmas plate.

One such traditional item is the Christmas plate which, legend has it, got its start as a gift from wealthy landowners to their servants. The plates—filled with sweet treats—were a rare thing for servants, who would to refer to them as their “Christmas Plate.” While the original Christmas plates were simple affairs, likely made of wood or pottery, what been considered a Christmas plate since the turn of the 19th century are considerably more decorative.

The Christmas plate tradition today is an annual affair, as each year the companies that produce them make a limited number for sale only that year, the molds broken after the edition has been run. The first modern firm to produce annual plates of this type was Bing and Grondahl in 1895, followed by Royal Copenhagen about 1908. These very early plates are the most sought-after, and if you can find one, Royal Copenhagen’s first Christmas plate could sell for $1,700 or more at auction.

Bing and Grondahl’s first platewould also set you back some $1,600. But not all the early plates by both companies are so expensive, later examples by Royal Copenhagen made from 1909 to 1914 often sell at auction in the $75-$100 range, while the Bing and Grondahl examples from the same period often selling for less than $60.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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