Archive for Sunday, October 1, 2000

Victorian table service took function to excess

October 1, 2000


Formal dinner parties were an important part of the life of a well-to-do Victorian couple. The rules of etiquette and good taste dictated the dinner table's look. Collectors now find many pieces of silver, serving dishes and large, carved furniture that were made for a Victorian feast.

The dining room had large furniture. There was often a sideboard with carvings of dead game birds, animals and symbols of the food to be served. The sideboard held large pieces of silver that were to be used during dinner. Examples of fine silver, crystal or china were also on display.

The table was in the center of the room under a large, decorative chandelier. Ground-glass globes were preferred because they made the lighting more flattering. The long table was surrounded by matching carved chairs.

The table was covered with a white damask cloth that was large enough to fall 20 inches from the floor at both ends. The cloth was ironed and the crease was placed exactly in the middle, going the length of the table. The center of the table held a flower arrangement.

Dinners often had 12 courses, so many dishes were used. Silverware, dishes and napkins were put in place for each course. Sometimes the place setting included an individual salt dish and spoon, plus a place card.

Large, ornate serving pieces like tureens and platters were used, and serving pieces were made for every type of food, from asparagus to tomatoes. Most of the utensils can still be used.

Never wash gold-trimmed dishes or hollow-handled silverware in the dishwasher. The heat can cause damage.

Can you tell me when collapsible beach chairs with woven plastic webbing and short legs were first made? I thought they were a fairly recent design, but my grandmother has some stored in her beach house. She claims she has had the chairs for close to 50 years.

Your grandmother's memory is good. Short-legged, folding beach chairs like those you describe were patented in 1942. The chairs have been manufactured since the 1950s by Telescope Casual, a company in Granville, N.Y. Other manufacturers have made variations of the design. You don't mention the condition of your grandmother's chairs. The webbing can stretch, fray and wear thin over the years. If you want to use the chairs, check the webbing and replace it if necessary.

My mother willed me a Steuben perfume bottle that she always said was a piece of "jade glass." It's now too late for me to ask her why she called it jade glass even though it's yellow. I always thought jade meant green. Can you help?

The term "jade glass" refers to an art glass invented by Frederick Carder about a century ago. It is translucent (which means that it lets light through), but it is not transparent. It was made in many colors, including green. Blue and yellow jade glass are the most expensive. When Carder invented the glass, he was working for Stevens & Williams in England. By 1903, he had immigrated to the United States and was working at Steuben Glass Works in Corning, N.Y. Jade glass was most popular during the 1920s. Your perfume bottle would sell for more than $1,000.

While clearing out my parents' home, I found 18 white china plates with a gold double-eagle insignia and the words "Palace Hotel." Nine of the plates are marked on the back with various numbers and the words "Syracuse China USA." The other nine are marked with a drawing of an American Indian and the words "Shenango China, New Castle, PA, USA." Why do the same plates have different marks?

The mark on the Syracuse plates was used from about 1946 to 1971. The mark on your Shenango plates was used sometime during this same period. Any extra numbers or letters on the plates can help you date them more specifically. The Syracuse China Co. of Syracuse, N.Y., and the Shenango China Co. of New Castle, Pa., made china for hotels, railroads and other corporate clients. In all likelihood, the Palace Hotel ordered dishes from both firms. They kept the same designs, regardless of which pottery company supplied the dishes. Syracuse bought Shenango in 1988. This was only one year before the Susquehanna-Pfaltzgraff Co. bought Syracuse. The Shenango plant in New Castle, Pa., closed in 1991.

My aunt recently saw that I have an old celluloid dresser set. She told me the pieces could burst into flames and suggested I get rid of them. My aunt tends to worry a lot, but I'm wondering if she's right.

Celluloid is a semi-synthetic plastic that was invented in the 19th century. It does not combust spontaneously. Celluloid can melt and burn easily, however.

Never place your dresser set near a fireplace, candle or light source. This includes a light bulb or strong sunlight.

Correction: A recent column pictured a Triumph Suisse gramophone that appeared to have two horns. The picture was actually a double-exposure that showed the horn, which rotated, in two positions.


Glass becomes cloudy if not kept completely dry when not in use. That is why decanters and vases often discolor. Drain them upside down.

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