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Museum Feature

Museum Feature – Haviland Sea Life Oyster Plates

Our Museum Feature this month is a gorgeous set of Sea Life; oyster plates produced by Haviland & Co. These beautiful plates were produced between 1876 and 1880 for Burley & Tyrrell, a Chicago department store that specialized in fine china and porcelain. The exquisite hand-painted decorations on these plates depict a stunning variety of marine life, which, as one would expect, was a common design motif for oyster plates.

Archeological evidence suggests humans have consumed oysters for thousands of years (although, as Jonathan Swift famously wrote, “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster”). Oyster consumption was perhaps at its peak during the 19th century, when the abundance and affordability of oysters made them an almost omnipresent menu item, available at street stands and fine dining establishments alike. Common oyster preparations include smoking, frying, roasting, or steaming. One of the most distinctive oyster recipes, Oysters Rockefeller, was conceived in 1899 at the famed New Orleans restaurant, Antoine’s. The original recipe remains a family secret, but a typical version calls for oysters on the half-shell covered with some combination of greens, sauce, and bread crumbs, then baked. Purists, however, prefer to eat their oysters raw on the half-shell, and it was for just such a purpose that oyster plates were created.

In keeping with the 19th-century trend of having specialized tableware for almost every food item - and given the popularity of oysters at the time – it was almost inevitable that dedicated oyster utensils and plates would come into being. From the mid-19th through the early 20th century, hundreds of different oyster plate designs were produced, most crafted in china, but some also made in glass, pewter, and silver. Three main types of oyster plates were produced during this time: one with deep wells for serving oysters in the shell on ice; another type with deep wells to serve oysters in the shell without ice; and one with shallow wells designed to serve oysters out of the shell. The number of wells per oyster plate could range from two to more than twenty, with some plates even including additional areas for sauces, crackers, lemon wedges, or other oyster accoutrements. Like the oyster plates featured here, many oyster plates showcased an ocean-themed design. Some of the more whimsical plates were even shaped like fish, clams, and other marine life. Today, oyster plates are an especially popular tableware item to collect, with the most desirable ones fetching thousands of dollars!

In 1841, David Haviland of D.G. & D. Haviland Trading Co., New York, embarked with his wife, Mary, and son, Charles, for France. Their destination was Limoges, a city 200 miles southeast of Paris, world-renowned for its production of fine porcelain. The region was rich in kaolin, cream-colored clay that yielded superior porcelain. Haviland, intent on producing the world’s finest china, obtained permits from the French government to build a state-of-the-art china factory in 1853. Within two years, Haviland’s keen business sense had aided him in establishing one of the most advanced china producing facilities of its time. When Haviland & Co. split into separate entities in 1891, son Charles led one of the firms, competing fiercely with his brother, Theodore.

In 1907, Charles’s oldest son, Jean, chose to leave Haviland and Co. and move to Germany. He legally changed his name to “John” (“Johann” in German) and built a china factory in Waldershof. Unlike the companies Theodore Haviland, Limoges, and Haviland and Co., Johann’s factory produced casual china and hotel ware with the “Johann Haviland” backstamp. The new company grew rapidly. Within a few years, Johann Haviland was successfully marketing his china throughout Germany and the United States. The company endured great hardships during World War I and World War II. Ultimately the company was purchased by Rosenthal, and the Johann Haviland Waldershof factory remained open through the 1980s. The company’s patterns were very popular in the U.S., many of them acquired piece-by-piece as grocery store premiums.

While the Haviland Sea Life; oyster plates in our museum are not for sale, we do have a variety of oyster plates and other Haviland items available for purchase in our inventory; be sure to browse our web site. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you'll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles! Our 500,000-square-foot facilities hold more than 12 million individual pieces in more than 400,000 patterns! Our showroom and museum are open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm ET, 7 days (except holidays); free tours are available from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm ET, 7 days. The showroom and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!

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