China settings historically important to U.S. White House

Jo Fredell Higgins
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The federal government appropriated funds for a house in New York City when George Washington began his presidency in 1789. Washington had a tulip-shaped glass etched with stars at Mount Vernon in Virginia for use with his claret or chablis. Before Congress provided funds for china after the 1814 fire in the White House, presidents used a mix of both personal and common china. Sixteen of the 44 presidents have ordered china due to continued breakage.

President James Monroe ordered the first dinner service for official use from Dagoty and Honor of Paris. The 30 specially-decorated place-settings and matching dessert service cost $1,167.223. Fast forward to the George Bush presidency and first lady Laura Bush ordered a set of official china from Lenox for a cost of $492,798. That amount was paid for in private funds raised by the White House Historical Association Acquisition Trust.

In 1934, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt ordered a new Lenox set that contained 1,722 pieces and cost $9,301.20. The dinner plate had a narrow blue rim bearing gilt stars for the 10 48 states lined by gilt roses and plumes interrupted by the presidential arms in enameled colors.

During the Kennedy administration the Truman china was used along with gold service plates that had been ordered by first lady Mamie Eisenhower in 1955. First lady Jacqueline Kennedy wanted to order a new china set, however, an order for new china was not placed.

In 2000 a Clinton presidential service was added to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the occupancy of the White House. The plates accommodated 300 12-piece place settings and incorporated architectural motifs from various White House rooms into their yellow and gold borders and some show images of the mansion which was a first for White House china.

Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark. is a setting of fine china to reflect a state dinner. Jo Fredell Higgins photo
Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark. is a setting of fine china to reflect a state dinner.
Jo Fredell Higgins photo

The set was purchased by the White House Historical Association for $240,000. When in Little Rock, Ark. on a book tour, I had time to visit the Clinton Presidential Library and one room was set up to reflect a state dinner with all the table accoutrements. The table setting was stunningly beautiful.

Since the James Monroe fine china, which had a red trim and bald eagle carrying a red, white, and blue banner with the national motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” each occupant of the White House has decided what the pattern will be and who will make it. The White House Historical Association established by Jacqueline Kennedy provides funds for the purchase of the White House china.

Portions of all china services created for the White House are in the China Room collection. Some of the older china services are used for small private dinners in the president’s dining room on the second floor.

First lady Melania Trump selected Imperial Porcelain Manufactory, the famous Russian porcelain company, to create the Donald Trump administration’s official set that is used at state dinners. She selected the cobalt net pattern made famous during the Catherine the Great’s reign.

When asked specifically about her choice of the cobalt net pattern, she replied,” This pattern does not reflect the web of connections between this administration and Russia. Instead, it is a tribute to Catherine the Great. She is an example of what one nation can do if they give their power to one single leader and put all their faith in them.”

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