Christmas Dinnerware – Not for the Average Ho-ho-hoer
The most famous, Christmas holiday dinner pattern of all, with apologies to Rudolph, is Spode’s Christmas Tree. This set of 8 plates sold for $50 in October 2017.
My family’s dinning room table was a holiday destination. Growing up in Hellertown, Pennsylvania, I was part of a nucleated family consisting of 28 aunts and uncles, 22 Prosser first cousins, and eight Rinker first cousins, the majority of whom lived within a five-mile radius of my parent’s home at 51 West Depot Street. My parents lived in a Tudor-style row house in a row of six. In today’s more upscale society, it would be billed as a townhouse. In the 1950s, I never knew how good I had it.
My mother’s sister Ruth and her husband Browny and her sister Jeannette and her husband Bill occupied two of the other homes in the row. The Prosser sisters, eight daughters sandwiched between two sons, never did anything independently. The Prosser’s sisters had an open-door policy – show up, invited or not, and you were fed.
Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas meals had a zoo-like quality. All the loose animals gravitated to the Depot Street tables. In addition to my Prosser aunts and uncles, Rinker relatives made their way to our table. My Aunt Jeannette, Aunt Ruth, and my mother competed for the right to host Grandpa Prosser and Aunt Annie. I am not certain who kept score but someone did. Uncle Harry and Aunt Myrtie, my grandfather’s brother and his wife, always went to Aunt Ruth’s home. The reason is a family story that my surviving relatives hope dies with me.
Holiday meals meant the “second best” dinnerware, flatware, and stemware, along with a host of accessory pieces, graced the dining room tables of the three homes. The “good” dinnerware, flatware, and stemware was held in abeyance for special company. With the “second best” on the table, there was no concern about breakage or the possible disappearance of a piece or two.
In preparing this article, I tried to remember if any of my aunts and uncles had special Christmas china. My best recollection is that they did not. The majority of the family was lower to middle-middle class. Homes at the time were modest with storage space a premium. Since holiday meals consisted of the adults in the main dining room table and two to three card tables set up for children, a typical holiday meal count numbered between 15 and 20. These numbers put a strain on the “second best” dinnerware, flatware, and stemware. Children ate their meals using the “kitchen” dinnerware, flatware, and stemware.
Although Christmas-theme dinnerware dates prior to World War II, it did not gain in popularity until the 1960s and 1970s. It was viewed as a needless expense by most Depression Era/World War II era couples.
The most famous, Christmas holiday dinner pattern of all, with apologies to Rudolph, is Spode’s Christmas Tree. Spode introduced it in 1938. It carried Spode through many lean times.
Sydney Thompson of Copeland & Thompson, Spode’s New York agent, returned to the Spode factory in Stoke-on-Trent in England once a year to develop new dinnerware patterns for his market. When reviewing the Spoke pattern book in May 1938, Thomas Hassall, Art Director at Spode, and Thompson found several holly designs. Thompson wanted a “new” design. Hassall asked designer Harold Holdway to work on the project. Holdway settled on a pattern of an elaborately decorated Christmas tree with presents beneath, the latter suggested by Thompson. Why Santa rather than an angel or star sits atop the tree remains a mystery.
The 1938 plates have “Wishing You a Merry Christmas 1938” on the back. The date was dropped in 1939. Within a short period of time, the design was used on a full table service and serving pieces. Spode used its Kailas shape line. In 1962, slide-off technology replaced hand painted transfers. The border band, originally above glaze, was now underglaze. Early pieces came with a green or red border band. In the late 20th century, Spode’s Regimental Oak shape line was used for the pattern. Most pieces came with the green border band. Christmas tree was so popular, a Malkin 6 head, 6 color pad printing, backstamp, and lining machine ran 24/7 year around. Most pieces were sent to the American market. Spode merged with Royal Worcester in 2006. Portmeirion Group acquired the brand names and intellectual rights to Royal Worcester and Spode in March 2009. Portmeirion Group continues to manufacture the Christmas Tree pattern dinnerware.
In 1922, Fred Cuthbertson, owner of Plummers Store in New York, created a Christmas tree pattern with a star on the top of the tree and presents around its base. This particular set sold for $43.98 in October 2017.
Spode was not the first to produce dinnerware with a Christmas tree theme. In 1922, Fred Cuthbertson, owner of Plummers Store in New York, created a Christmas tree pattern with a star on the top of the tree and presents around its base. The dinnerware had a green border band. This special-order china was made in the United States. Two years during World War II, the green border band was replaced with a red border band, with a response similar to Lucky Strike’s “green” going to war. In the 1950s, Cuthbertson’s sons founded Cuthbertson House to wholesale the Cuthbertson Christmas tree pattern to stores. The firm became Cuthbertson Imports in the 1970s.
A Johnson Brothers Victorian Christmas serving platter sold for $14 in August 2017.
There are more than 100 antique, collectible, and contemporary Christmas dinnerware patterns. Holly theme patterns include Fitz and Floyd’s St. Nicholas, Lenox’s Holiday, Mikasa’s Ribbon Holiday, and Royal Worcester’s Holly Ribbons. Nikko’s Happy Holidays and Johnson Brothers Victorian Christmas are tree patterns. Johnson Brothers Friendly Village Christmas and Portmeirion’s Christmas Story are scenic patterns.
Contemporary patterns include Pflatzgraff’s Christmas Day, Dancing Snow Flakes, Snow Flurry, and Winterberry, Pottery Barn’s Nostalgia Tree, and Williams and Sonoma’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and Woodland Barn. For those who prefer the truly tacky, Spode offers its Christmas Tree pattern in Melamine plastic.
This Johnson Brothers Old Britain Castles Christmas square salad plate sold for $13.99 in October 2017.
Antique, collectible, or contemporary Christmas dinnerware is not cheap, especially considering it is used for only a brief period each year. Prices on eBay and other internet auction sites are strong, except for the common dinner plate, salad plate, butter plate, and cup and saucers. For those wishing to purchase a set, estate sales are the ideal venue.
My wife Linda has wanted Christmas dinnerware for years. We recently bought a service for 12 of Spode’s Christmas Tree pattern with glasses and coasters for $200 at an estate sale. Now, all I have to do is prevent Linda from buying missing accessory pieces at Macy’s or on eBay. Ho-ho-ho – I do not stand a ghost chance in h__l of that happening. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!
Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out Harry’s Web site. You can listen and participate in Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show “Whatcha Got?” on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. It streams live on the Genesis Communications Network. “Sell, Keep Or Toss? How To Downsize A Home, Settle An Estate, And Appraise Personal Property” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web site.
Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected queries will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Pond Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You can e-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.
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