What Am I? A Victorian Porcelain Pop Quiz

It is a well-chronicled fact that in the heyday of fine home dining, an established household's china cabinet included a veritable forest of arcane dishes. These days, we set the daily table with a plate, a knife, a fork, and maybe if we're getting really elaborate, a spoon. But in the days, and social strata, when every dinner merited a bow tie, things were a bit more complicated, and, if you're a china enthusiast, a great deal more fun. Below, using a selection of porcelains from our Fall Gallery Auction, we test your mettle against the myriad uses of dishes from a more ornate time.

nelson-bowl--1-
What am I?
A) A child's bowl and plate, belonging to a young man named Nelson who lived in the colonial town of San Josef in the British Isles.
B) Stock porcelain from an unknown maker, customized to commemorate the British Admiral Horatio Nelson and the Spanish ship the San Josef.
C) Serving dishes from the British "Oak Leaf Society," a dinner club restricted to Lords that often used the anniversary of British military victories as occasion for celebration.
Answer:
B. Along the lines of today's dishes commemorating the Royal Family, etc., these dishes were produced in large numbers as blanks and then sold to dealers who custom-decorated them to commemorate whatever the buyer wished. In this case, the dishes celebrate Admiral Nelson's capture of the San Josef during the battle of Cape St. Vincent in 1797.

gold-plate-close-up
What am I?
A) "Cabinet plates."
B) A set of plates from the ladies' porcelain painting parties that were popular in the Victorian era.
C) China used exclusively in the winter, as indicated by the snowflake design.
Answer:
A. Leland Little Porcelain Director Pam Briggs refers to heavily decorated and gilded plates such as these as, "show you how much my husband earns plates." The flashier the better for this task, and as the resulting heavy gilt didn't hold up well to washing, the dishes were really only suited for being put on display to impress visitors.

ladle--1-
What am I?
A) A rare smoking accoutrement, used to dip a pipe's worth of tobacco from custom-prepared barrels.
B) A slightly less rare, but still unusual, porcelain ladle that matches its accompanying set.
C) A ladle used to skim the cream off the top of fresh milk.
Answer:
B. It was much more usual for soup and sauces to be served with a silver ladle or spoon, and so it is uncommon to see a utensil like this porcelain soup ladle, which goes with a large tureen from the same set.

blue-plates
What am I?
A) A highly ornate shot put.
B) The leaning tower of porcelain.
C) The actual number of plates in a complete Victorian set of china.
Answer:
C. Including: a dinner plate, a luncheon plate, a dessert plate, and a bread and butter plate. Not including: soup bowls, cups, saucers, innumerable serving dishes, tea and coffee service. A fully complete Victorian dinner service could easily reach a hundred pieces. This particular set of Booths Ironstone, Victoria Pattern, from our Fall Gallery Auction is 94 pieces.

IMG_2973--1--1
What am I?
A) A "washing set" for personal ablutions.
B) A child's tea set, which explains why it's incomplete. The child broke the rest of it.
C) Tray, creamer, and sugar bowl for breakfast tea to be served in bed.
Answer:
C. In the Victorian period the lady of the house did not as a matter of course emerge from her chambers until after she had been served her breakfast in bed. And so of course she would need china specific to the purpose. This broad Meissen tray and partial tea set mostly likely served a party of one, in her pajamas.

If you only answered 1-2 questions correctly, you are ordered to enroll immediately in the nearest etiquette class. If you answered 3-4 questions correctly, you will be allowed to sit at the grown-up table at Thanksgiving this year. If you answered all 5 questions correctly, congratulations! You are hereby inducted into the Leland Little Auctions China Collectors' Club of Esoteric Knowledge (LLACCCEK). Welcome.

Content created by the Leland Little editorial team