July 1, 2010

Presidential Lenox China Patterns

Um, huh? Why am I talking about china patterns, for hell's sake? Because I'm multi-faceted, people. Get used to it. Yesterday it was blender blood and Asian girls, today it is fine tableware.

(Also, it is because I just finished this article and don't really have time to write a blog post.)

So, because I'm nice and because reading about china is boring, I'm giving you two options.

One: you can click on the Lenox China link to read the short version. This is the assignment that mandated a 500-word limit.

Two: you can click "Read the long, but exciting version!" link at the bottom. This is the version that I originally wrote and which far exceeded the limit. But it has lots of fun facts, some pictures, and even a passive-aggressive jab at George Bush. Hurray!

(Or, hidden option three: you can curse me, close the blog, and delete it from your Favorites menu. Please don't do that one.)

Lenox China

Read the long, but exciting version!

Presidential china has a long and colorful history, dating back to the first president. While George Washington imported china from, well, China, many of the subsequent presidents selected services from England and France. Despite congressional laws mandating that all furniture be produced in America, early domestic china was deemed subpar. Because of this, Theodore Roosevelt once lambasted, “We are dependent upon foreign factories for the very dishes from which the Chief Executive of the United States must eat.”

This changed in 1918 during Woodrow Wilson’s term, when the First Lady selected a set of Lenox china designed by Frank Holmes, thereby making it the first American china to be used in the White House. It had a dark ivory border surrounding a brighter ivory center, matte gold bands, and encrusted stars and stripes. The set of 1,700 pieces, bearing the presidential seal in raised gold, cost $16,000. The First Lady was so appreciative of the fine craftsmanship, she reportedly brought chocolates to the workers at the Trenton Lenox factory.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt took over the presidency, the country was facing hard economic times; as such, the dwindling china was not replaced until well into his term (and only then, because of the First Lady’s claim that the production of china would keep some American workers employed). They chose a Lenox design which consisted of a border of forty-eight stars, as well as the presidential seal against an ivory background. The 1,722-piece set bore personal touches, such as a marine blue color scheme (based on his nautical interests) and a scrolling adaptation of the Roosevelt family crest. The latter caused an outcry among citizens, due to its foreign nature. This set debuted at an important state dinner in 1935, in which all guests ate from a single service—a first in American history.

Due to the increasing price and quality of china, it was not necessary for each incoming president to pick a new service. It wasn’t until 1952, during Harry S. Truman’s term that the next service was picked out, reflecting the White House’s recent renovations. Truman ordered a 1,572-piece service by Lenox, a celadon green scheme with gold rims against an ivory background. Upon the plate was a raised presidential seal surrounded by forty-eight gold stars. The seal was a new, post-World War II, standardized version in which the eagle faced toward the olive branch. This gesture symbolized America’s renewed goal of peace. The set was debuted at a luncheon held for the Dutch royal family.

In 1982, the walls of the State Dining Room had again been painted, this time in a stark white. Wanting a design that displayed a “strong presence” for the increasingly large state dinners, Ronald Reagan opted for a Lenox set with scarlet bands of varying widths, both framed and overlaid with gold cross-hatching (a process which required extensive handling and nine separate kiln firings). The service consisted of 4,370 pieces—enough to accommodate 220 people—nearly twice as many settings as any other past service.

A new china service was created in 2000 to celebrate the bicentennial of the White House. Bill Clinton chose a Lenox service with a creamy yellow border, centered with images of White House facades. Furthermore, “each piece in place setting is decorated with a different pattern, with motifs derived from outstanding architectural elements found in the State Dining Room, East Room and Diplomatic Reception Room” (Lenox). Shifting away from tradition, this service did not feature a presidential seal. The 3,600-piece set was first used at a dinner, in which the Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush, as well as their respective wives, were in attendance.

Finally, just two weeks before his term ended in 2009, George W. Bush unveiled a new Lenox china service. The set featured a green basket weave border, based on a French dinner service believed to have been owned by James Madison. Though the 4,480-piece service was purchased with funds provided by the White House Historical Association Acquisition Trust (a private organization), the exorbitant price (approximately $493,000) spent during the beginning stages of a recession angered many struggling Americans.

In addition to the customized china created for six presidents, Lenox tableware is also used at the vice-president’s official residence, at hundreds of U.S. embassies, and at over half of all governors’ mansions across America. Being the forerunner of fine American-made china, Lenox collectibles are often given as gifts to dignitaries of the Congress and the Department of State, as well as to welcome incoming presidents.

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