Sometimes in the world of collectibles there is an event item that is made specifically and only for that special time and then there is a commemorative item that was not made officially for the event, but instead honors the event itself. For example, the official inaugural medal for a president’s swearing in recognizes the event officially. Another company produces its own inaugural medal to recognize the event in its own way.
I mention all this to bring attention to a unique item that was made both officially and as a commemorative item, the Birthday Plate for President Dwight D. Eisenhower. On October 13, 1953, during his first year in the White House, Castleton China created a special plate to give away at a huge outdoor party held in Hershey Park, Pennsylvania. While there were 6,000 invitees, I’m not sure how many of the official plates were actually produced, although each guest was given one in a special presentation box.
However, once it was learned that the plate existed, many of Eisenhower’s fans wanted one, too. The demand was so great that a second, unofficial, plate was produced to sell to those willing to pay for it. So now, there was the official plate given away at the official party and the commemorative plate produced for resale. How to tell them apart?
The official birthday plate and the commemorative plate (the one for resale) both are identical in front (the obverse). Both show a Pennsylvania Dutch symbol of a two-headed dove for Love and Peace in bright colors, the date of the party and the gold signature of President Eisenhower. It is the reverse of the plate, though, that is different.
On the official plate, a sentiment was written explaining the symbol on the front of the plate and the provenance of where and why it was produced. This sentiment is formed in what is called a ‘keystone’ pattern, the official symbol of Pennsylvania surrounded by olive branches. This was a special edition made expressly for the event by Castleton China without numbers indicating a limited edition, except for a 21 in the lower left corner, although I’m not sure of its significance.
The commemorative plate, the one for resale after the event, the sentiment on the reverse of the plate is in an oval shape, not the keystone, and specifically says that this plate ‘commemorates’ the birthday in Hershey Park for President Eisenhower. There were about 6000 of these plates produced as well and appear to be numbered.
The online auction value of either of these plates, official or commemorative, don’t seem to be affected either way. In fact, those that sell these plates aren’t aware of the significance of the reverse sentiment. Still, it is important to understand these differencings to get a better understanding of the event and its commemorative items.
Incidentally, each participant also received a hand held cardboard cake with a red candle that was lit at the precise moment that President Eisenhower “lit” his giant cake in the arena after the dinner. There is also a commemorative program for the event.
For more on the event itself, visit