It's true that heirloom sets of delicate china are no longer in vogue. Brides aren't putting china on their gift registries, and all those place settings that were hand-washed with care, lovingly displayed and protected are no longer worth much, by and large. But that doesn't mean there isn't a market for certain pieces, namely teacups, silver teapots and spoons, and delicate linens.
Here are some ways to use your existing pieces, or create a sweet collection of mismatched pieces that bridge the gap between the past and today's tables.
Some of us grew up in a time when everyone wanted (or at least owned) "good" china. Few of us used it, most of us displayed it, and a lot of us didn't think too much about it - it was just part of our homes and lives.
But starting a generation or two ago, brides began bucking the trend of picking out formal dinnerware for their registry, opting instead for more casual and sturdy plates, mugs and bowls.
Now, our grandmothers' cherished fine china is often found roughly shoved into boxes at yard and estate sales, and sold for pennies. There is hope for it, though not how our grandmothers would have dared use it. You can mix-and-match patterns to create subtle or vivid tablescapes with layers of solids and patterns creating texture and interest. (And if a piece gets damaged, it's easier to replace it with something else instead of hunting down old patterns.
Teacups can be used for tiny potted plants (real or faux), and even the damaged pieces can be re-purposed into bird feeders and mosaics. They may be used in ways that grandma would not approve, but she would probably concede the practicality of using them, even in unconventional ways.
Cleaning and caring for fine china
The dishwasher is no place for delicate china. Handwash, preferably immediately after use. If your china has yellowed, try soaking in hot, sudsy water with mild dish soap. You can also try making a paste of baking soda and vinegar, or even hydrogen peroxide in extreme cases. (Test on the backside first in an inconspicuous area.) Do not use chlorine-based bleach; it's too harsh and may damage the design.
Storing fine china
If you must store it out of site, use cushioned boxes designed to cradle pieces and store in cool, dark, dry conditions (that rules out basements and attics). An interior closet is best. Otherwise, display your china, even if only select pieces.
Where to find china
Thrift stores and estate sales abound with odds-and-ends pieces of china along with complete sets. Today, there are no set rules for collecting or using unmatched pieces: if you like it, buy it and use it every chance you get.
Identifying china patterns
Many websites have back stamp and pattern lists to help you identify your china and its origins, and possibly put a value on it. But except for the rarest patterns, your dishes' value is measured by how often you bring it out, use it and enjoy it.
All photos courtesy of Re-Invintage and Pinterest. This article was originally published in the Busy Bee Trader, a regional guide to antique and vintage shops in middle Tennessee and surrounding areas.
WHO WRITES THIS STUFF?
I'm Terry Lea, owner of Re-Invintage Home, a vintage home goods shop just south of Nashville in Murfreesboro, TN. A lifelong passion for vintage picking led me to open a shop with my picking pal, Sherri in 2017. Come see us!