Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Ironstone, Transferware Fall Tablescape: "Meat and Potatoes" China

Today's tablescape - perfect for fall, including Thanksgiving - is an example of yesteryear's "meat and potatoes" china, or ironstone, and the inspiration for the meal being served? Why, meat and potatoes, of course!
Without delving into the history of ironstone china's humble beginnings, suffice it to say it was the English working class's early 1800's response to the fine porcelain china being imported years prior, and used exclusively by the upper crust of society. Soon thereafter, white ironstone became the "meat and potatoes" china for the majority of English households and, by the mid-1800's, for American households as well.
Later, when methods for mass-producing transferware patterns onto the ironstone became standard production, those finer designs also became part of the middle class's cupboards. The transferware designs first mimicked the finer, Chinese designs being imported on the finer porcelains, only much more affordably so. Eventually, American potteries sprung up, as did fresh, new transferware designs.
With a dropcloth as the table's base covering, each place setting is built upon a twig placemat. My tablescape today was inspired not only by my own, randomly collected brown transferware and ironstone over the years, but also by the history of how these pieces would have been first used - to celebrate the harvest and hunt by our early American settlers - in a gathering of thanks for the meal provided.
Perhaps small game such as rabbit, pheasant, or fowl would be served.
Or, even venison or other game may be served as the main course. The entree, when presented under dome, is elevated to centerpiece status at the table. A tureen of harvested potatoes, mashed, is the choice complement for this "meat and potatoes" theme. The ceramic pitcher (a yard sale find) was poured, painted, and fired by the mother of the seller. Its hunt scene motif fits the concept perfectly.
Place service would be enough to include not only the main course and salad plates, but also an individual bone dish and butter pat for each person. A bread board is nearby.
Earthenware napkin rings, made by a local potter who uses the maple leaf as her signature, are much the same material as the century-old ironstone (which, by the way, has no iron in its material composition). They signify fall, the season of the hunt and harvest.

The flatware (vintage) is utilitarian in design, much like white ironstone is, and substantial in weight, while the the meat knife hints at finer design with its Mother-of Pearl handle, much like transferware designs are on ironstone. Beverage glasses, though crystal, provide a sense of earthy grounding to the table - a masculine-feminine, yin-yang touch. They are Lenox Impromptu, from the mid-1970's, and were purchased on eBay (for a song!) to complement stemmed glasses of the same color, pattern I already had.
Most of the transferware and ironstone have maker's labels, but no two are alike (other than the four swallow salad plates). None are perfect, and most have been found on separate vintage and antique ventures, through stores, estates, auctions, and individual dealers. Some of these pieces have endured the test of time, dating to the mid 1800's. I generally only buy something now when it's unique to my collection and reasonably priced (like the double handled gravy boat) or particularly handsome (like the tureen/underplate and large platter). Although crazing in the finish appeals to me, I will only use pieces with obvious cracks or with large chips for display, not food use.

The meat dome has an interesting backstory, having come from the historic Brown Hotel in Louisville, KY. The Brown Hotel opened in 1923 and still operates as a luxury hotel today. I purchased this dome from a dealer in the upper Midwest, bringing it back a little closer to its home.
Should the company decide to move outside after the meal, the throws on each chair can easily be taken with guests to ward off the evening chill. In use here are just some of my throws collected from estate sales over the years.


The earthiness of brown transferware has always appealed to me best, and it is probably the most common to find. Even though I've kept this tablescape neutral, it would be easy to jolt the mix with use of bright yellows, golds, reds or greens. A nice mix of color can be accomplished with any number of items - florals, linens (tablecloth, napkins), glassware, placemats or napkin rings - let your inspiration get you carried away!
To see more of how I use my brown transferware collection in my home, you can visit this post on my laundry room. To see other tablescapes, you can use the drop down menu at my blog header, or use the search button for keywords, such as transferware or tablescape, located just above my profile picture. Several related posts should come up for your viewing.

Thanks for your visit at the table today. I hope you leave a bit inspired. Feel free to leave a comment!
Rita C. at Panoply
A special thanks to Michael Lee of Rattlebridge Farm's Foodie Friday and Everything Else and Kathryn of The Dedicated House for featuring this post!

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