The Tea Leaf Collection

Melissa SandfortAgricultural Anthropology

Before we got married, we went to the store and registered for gifts we thought we needed as a new couple, some of which included two sizes of plates, matching bowls and coffee mugs. I think a place setting totaled about $8, if memory serves me right. The coffee mugs have never been used – I guess square plates are okay, but square mouths on coffee mugs is just on oddity, according to my husband.

However, if you visit my Grandmother’s house, you might notice four china hutches stacked FULL of fancy dishes. First entered in the British Registry in 1856, white ironstone china became very popular in England and was soon exported to America in 100-pound barrels, sometimes used as ballast for merchant ships. This display is the “tea leaf” pattern, part of my Grandmother’s collection, which has been a popular special display at the local museum. Her mother started the collection when she was given a sugar bowl by her grandmother. In the 1940s, relatives and friends added to the collection and my Grandmother inherited the collection in the 1960s. She has added various pieces from many sources and now there are more than 300 pieces of the fine china.

I’m guessing that a place setting is more than $8. The art of china hutches packed full with great-grandmother’s dishes is lost … but somehow, my Grandma has managed to salvage not only a beautiful set of dishes, but a large piece of history.

Until our next history lesson…