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  • James Colburn

Can you tell me why everybody calls their best porcelain table service "china"?

There's an excellent and historical reason why we refer to Mom's best Thanksgiving porcelain dinner plates and service as "china." Up until the middle of the 18th century, the West and the New World (us) didn't have a clue how to make that marvelous ceramic that is a clay but, after firing, is amazingly strong yet has glass-like properties -- including translucence!

The secret formula for making porcelain was the sole domain of the East. In fact, in China it was a state secret. They kept it so well that Americans and Europeans were dependent upon China if they wanted genuine and unique porcelain services for their households.

It could take up to three years to order, manufacture, pick-up, and deliver a service to its new owners! That's a good part of the reason that Chinese Export Porcelain (as it is classified and known) was so very expensive.

Kings and Emperors were so enamored with porcelain that many spent a good deal of their fortunes to obtain hundreds -- even thousands -- of pieces. One European monarch nearly bankrupted his treasury in pursuit of porcelain. The emperor of China couldn't have been much more for the imperial coffers in trade tariffs and duties!

Hence, today, your best porcelain table service is, of course, your best "china." (Even if it was made in Syracuse, NY.)

Illustrated here are some China Trade examples of Chinese Export Porcelain from the large collection at The James Dempsey Mansion (The Dempsey Manor), Manistee, MI.

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