6 Reasons I Love My Fine China
Jennifer talks about a range of tantalizing topics, from fine china to bridal registries to teen magazines of yore. If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down for a transcript.
A couple of listeners have asked what my china pattern is. It’s Noritake Blue Hill. Here’s a picture I snapped a while back:
TRANSCRIPT: Episode 34: Six Reasons to Love Fine China
Hello, Sparklers. Welcome to Episode 34 of A Sparkling Vintage Life, where we discuss all things vintage and celebrate the grace and charm of an earlier era. I’m your host, Jennifer Leo, and it’s February first, 2022, as I record this.
In writing and publishing news, the novella collection Lumberjacks and Ladies comes out from Barbour Publishing on February first, so by the time you hear this, it may already be available at your favorite book retailer. Do check it out, if historical romance set in the deep woods during the nineteenth century sounds like your kind of story. There’s even an audiobook version available.
I’m also scrambling to finish writing Love’s Grand Sweet Song, also known as “the opera novel.” It’s due to go to the editor later in February, and I could use all of your prayers and well wishes to see me over the finish line. This one has been a challenge to write for lots of reasons, but once it’s done, I think you’re going to love it.
Today I want to talk to you about fine china, the kind your grandmother might have set the table with on holidays. Now understand that, through the magic of podcasting, I can see some of you listeners out there, rolling your eyes. You think that fine china is stuffy, out-of-date, and irrelevant to casual modern life. Well, as you can probably predict by now, I disagree, and I’m here to tell you why.
I own a set of fine china that I collected in my twenties. Back in those days, it was common for young women to choose a china pattern they loved and then register for it at a favorite store. Often they would register for silverware and glassware patterns at the same time. Family and friends who wanted to do so could purchase pieces for her as gifts, usually for a wedding or a bridal shower, but sometimes on other gift-giving occasions like birthdays and Christmas. Eventually she’d end up with a full set or near-full set of fine china, something of a marker of adulthood.
According to Wikipedia, the bridal registry or wedding registry is a service provided by a retailer that assists engaged couples in the communication of gift preferences to wedding guests. The Chicago-founded department store Marshall Field’s first instituted the practice of a bridal registry in 1924 at its Marshall Field and Company Building as a means for the engaged couple to indicate chosen china, silver, and crystal patterns to family and friends. Readers of my first book, You’re the Cream in My Coffee, will remember that Marjorie nearly had a panic attack in the bridal-registry department of Marshall Field’s, but that had more to do with the groom than with the registry.
Selecting items from store stock, the couple lists desired items and files this list with the chosen merchant. The list is then made available to wedding guests, either by the couple’s family or by the merchant. Upon the purchase of a listed item, the merchant updates the gift registry accordingly. In addition to providing valuable information for the buyer, the system helps prevent the receipt of duplicate or unwanted gifts, potentially saving time for both the giver and recipient.
I consulted the New Seventeen Book of Etiquette and Young Living, published in 1971, to see what it had to say about bridal registries. It says “By registering your china, silver, and crystal, duplications are reduced to a minimum, and you won’t have a lot of unmatched tableware. The registry is of equal service to your friends because it makes their shopping easier. It is wise to choose china, silver, and glassware early in your engagement since these are popular gifts for friends to give. Before you select any one pattern, think about how the three will look together. Since these are things you want to keep a lifetime, don’t decide hastily. Your tableware should express your individuality and the ambience you want your home to reflect, whether sophistication, informality, tradition, or a contemporary look.
Those words were written fifty years ago. Brides today don’t seem to be as stoked about china, silver, and glassware, but who knows. Maybe fancy tableware will cycle back into fashion someday, as these things tend to do.
On a cultural note, the New Seventeen Book of Etiquette and Young Living was written by Enid A Haupt, who was the longtime editor-in-chief of Seventeen magazine. It contains advice on things like making and keeping friends, getting along with your family, dining out with a date, belonging to clubs and sororities, hosting and going to parties, going to college, manners in the business world, and engagement and wedding advice. For kicks I took a look at the current website of Seventeen magazine. The biggest headlines these days seem to go to celebrity gossip, with another huge chunk of real estate to left-wing political causes like Black Lives Matter, Stop Asian Hate, and Are You Latinx Enough. The ubiquitous article about getting rid of acne, the bane of teenage existence from time immemorial, is titled “Your Pimple is Officially Cancelled.” And the article called “20 Kissing Secrets to Master the Perfect Smooch” featured a photo of two girls locking lips. Suffice to say, it is not your mother’s Seventeen magazine.
Speaking of mothers, my mother and grandmother also had their own sets of fine china, which they trotted out on holidays and other festive occasions. It helped to mark the day or the meal as special, versus “everyday.” Seeing a table set with fine china was downright mood-altering, signaling that “something special this way comes.”
The world is very casual these days. Most people no longer dress up for church or travel or restaurants or even weddings. Some people seem to pride themselves on foregoing fine china and other elegant tableware, perhaps as a critique of late-stage capitalism or some other statement, or maybe out of sheer laziness and desire for comfort.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love comfort as much as the next person. But I think that in cultivating an attitude of all casual, all the time, we risk starting to think nothing is special, nothing is worth an extra effort. Happily, recent research disagrees.
It’s long been known by behavioral scientists that our thinking affects our decisions about what we do and how we do it. Now, there’s a field of neuroscience called “embodied cognition” that says the reverse is also true: that our environment–what we do and how we do it–can affect our thinking more than was previously thought.
I’m extremely oversimplifying the concept, to be sure, but basically our hearts are affected or influenced by what our physical selves are doing. You can help create a feeling of specialness or happiness about a day or a meal by treating it as such. Pulling out the fine china can seem stuffy and pretentious, or it can seem celebratory and important. It’s all in your attitude. You get to choose.
Here are six reasons why I still love using my fine china.
- It’s beautiful. It pleases me to look at it, like a work of art. Happily my taste hasn’t changed over the last forty years. I still like the pattern and the colors. If you’ve inherited china in a pattern you dislike, or your tastes have changed since you first chose a pattern in your teens, you can be forgiven for not loving it. But realize it’s the style you dislike and not fine china in general. if that’s the case, maybe treat yourself to a some new dishes and let the old ones go. One woman’s hideous china from Aunt Louise may be another woman’s charming vintage breakfast set.
- China manufactured in recent decades is dishwasher-safe. A reason I frequently hear for disliking fine china is that it requires hand-washing, creating extra work. That may be true for some antique patterns, but my 1980s-era china has stood up beautifully to being cleaned in the dishwasher. I make sure to space pieces so they don’t bump into each other and chip, and I use a gentler cycle and allow them to air dry rather than heated dry, and it’s been fine. One thing that I can’t do with my china, though, is I can’t use it in the microwave. It has a silver metal band around the edge that is not microwave-safe. I understand that more recent china patterns use microwave-safe decorations. Even so, avoiding the microwave seems a small price for the amount of joy my dishes give me. If something needs to be microwaved, I’ll simply use an everyday dish and then transfer the heated food to the china serving dish. No biggie.
- Fine china elevates the everyday. Some days are just hard. And if it lifts my mood even a little bit to use a special plate to hold my mundane meal of leftovers, I see nothing wrong with that.
- Fine china is affordable, especially these days when it’s largely fallen out of fashion. Stacks and stacks of lovely dishes are available for a song at thrift shops, and on sites like Etsy and eBay. And remember, you don’t have to buy a whole set of dishes. Just a piece or two can elevate your tablescape and gladden your heart. In fact,
- You don’t need a matched set of china at all. Different pieces can blend together beautifully, some solids, some patterns, different color combinations all add interest and beauty to your table.
- Bringing out the good china is honoring to family and friends. Sure, I love that the people closest to me are fine with paper plates and plastic forks, and much of the time these are perfectly suited to the occasion. But also, once in a while it’s also nice to show these same people that they’re worth the extra effort of setting an elegant table, of ironing a tablecloth or putting together a pretty centerpiece.
And there you have it, Sparklers: six reasons to pull out the fine china. Do you have any pieces of fine china, either that you inherited or received as a gift or even purchased for yourself? If so, do you use it? Tell us about it in the Comments section at sparklingvintagelife.com. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a rating or review at Apple or Google or Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Reviews are very valuable for helping other like-minded kindred spirits find our quirky little podcast. As always, you can email me at email@example.com, or look for me on Facebook or Pinterest. Meanwhile, thank you for listening, and I look forwarding to talking with you again soon on another episode of A Sparkling Vintage Life.