Dinnerware: Ready, Set, Eat

Plates. Everybody needs them, and everybody needs to eat off of them. But did you ever question just where the plate came from, and how it came to be? These days, plates are usually made from ceramic such as stoneware. Of course, there are also unbreakable versions, specially useful for those that have children, for example.

However, what happened before the plate was conceived? In fact, plates were first used about the 15th century, in Europe. Before that, samples called "trenchers" were used in lieu of plates. These were first developed as pieces of stale bread, hollowed out, specially baked and harden so that they would hold food without dissolving. Once the food was eaten off of these bread trenchers, they could be given to dogs are pigs, or might be offered to peasants outside who were hungry. In many cases, wooden trenchers underneath them supported these bread trenchers. However, wood decayed and couldn't be kept very clean.

China, in fact, preceded Europe by a couple hundred years with regards to the invention of the dinner plate. China lead the way with the use of porcelain by about 600 A.D., and began to trade porcelain objects including dinner plates in about the 1300s. Because of this, European nobility soon saw porcelain dinner plates as objects of desire to be had. In 1708, a German potter exposed how the Chinese made pottery, launching Europe's expertise in porcelain making itself. In fact, many of the best known potteries were formed about this time. For example, in 1710, Royal Saxon was founded; in 1759, Wedgwood came on the scene; and in 1775, Royal Copenhagen made its appearance. Spode was founded in England in 1776. But again, although royalty could clearly afford these plates, they were still out of reach of the common person.

In the 1800s, so-called "souvenir" plates became popularized by a nobleman of Dutch and English ancestry named Patrick Palmer Thomas. He amused Victorian audiences with elaborate plate displays and started the art of actually collecting porcelain dinner plates for display. By this time, of course, dinner plates had evolved from wooden trenchers hard to keep clean to durable metal and tin plates, which were easy to keep clean, traveled well, and were strong besides.

The dinner plate carries on being a staple on the dinner table, of course, and today it's available in a variety of materials and designs at very modest prices. What that means for the average person, of course, is that you don't have to be terribly wealthy to have an elaborate dinner party with top-notch dinnerware. Nonetheless, the practice of collecting plates started in the United States by Patrick Palmer Thomas continues to this day. In fact, Christmas plates became very popular, and European collectors plates began to appear in the United States in the mid-20th century. Plate collecting remains popular to this day and is much easier to do in some ways, because of the advent of the Internet.

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