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To eat like a gentleman

To eat like a gentleman, or a lady! For many centuries, you were either born into a class that could afford scrumptious meals, or not. You could perhaps dream of better food, but you wouldn't dream of changing your position in society. In the 19th Century, all this changed with the Industrial Revolution. Suddenly anyone with a clear mind and a bit of starting capital or financial backing could build themselves a business and rise up in society. Social mobility was born with the "dark satanic mills" of 19th Century England, and it brought unprecedented wealth - and poverty alike.

But for these new industrial leaders, suddenly not being poor anymore was, of course, only the beginning. You not only wanted to eat what gentlemen ate, you wanted to eat like a gentleman. So you needed proper tableware!

This is where taste matters. The "old money" taste of the "landed gentry" was often a few decades behind; people had inherited wonderful houses full of treasures including gorgeous large hand painted dinner and dessert services. These sometimes came from abroad, purchased at some honeymoon or brought in as dowries. But as a "nouveau riche" industrialist, your taste would not be the same. You'd love to show off your success to your peers by hosting lavish dinner parties, but the new Staffordshire middle class was frugal; they didn't want to spend too much on their porcelain, and probably didn't have enough staff who knew how not to break it in the kitchen, an essential requirement in those days.

This is where a new style developed in Staffordshire, the centre of porcelain making and a place full of up-and-coming industrialists with very new preferences.

Miles Mason was a clever porcelain maker; he profited when, in response to him and his friends wrecking the London porcelain auctions with their racketeering, the East India Company decided to cease all imports of porcelain from China. He bought a kiln in Staffordshire and started making his own porcelain. He was acutely aware of the new developments; the changing taste of his customers, the need for showing off without spending too much, and also, among many newly rich industrialists, an attachment to the old "Chinoiserie" designs that they had been brought up with in their modest childhood homes.

Mason heard about two brothers, William and John Turner, who had invented a very stoney kind of earthenware that was much like the Chinese imported porcelain, and when the Turners went bankrupt he bought the patent off them. This was the beginning of the famous "Mason's Patent Ironstone China". Ironstone is as strong as porcelain (actually, it chips less easily) but can be fired at a lower temperature, which makes it cheaper. It does very well with transfer-printed designs thanks to its slightly blueish colour. In 1813, the Mason factory started creating a line of Patent Ironstone China transfer-printed dinner and dessert services.

Mason used examples from the Chinese porcelain that British customers were used to and gave them his own very British twist. This fabulous and slightly strange dessert service from between 1835 and 1840 is such a service; the shape can be seen in 18th Century Chinese tableware, the pattern has elements of Chinese design, but the technique of transfer-printing the basic design and then colouring that in by hand is entirely English.

And who said antique tableware is traditional? Even though this service would have appealed to those sticking to Chinoiserie designs, with its interesting leaf shapes it is adventurous to say the least; the new middle class consisted of people who took great risks in their lives, so they weren't going to eat off boring tableware.

You can find this wonderful service here in my shop (and you can see all my dinner and dessert services here), and if you always want to see the latest additions, follow me on Instagram... I post pictures and a story every single day 🐚🧜🏻‍♀️☘️.

Enjoy your weekend!


This week's new treasures:​



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