Refinement on the half-shell. Oysters recall days spent at the seashore, listening to the waves gently lap on shore.

And while the kind of oysters you eat generally are best in the months with an “r” in them, the plates that served them always make me think of the sea and vacations spent at the seashore. In reality, oyster plates are beautiful any time of year!

I am not an ostreaphile { a lover or aficionado of oysters as food- yes, I had to look that up!} But I DO adore antique oyster plates.

 

There is nothing more beautiful to my eye than a gracious dining room, with a collection of antique oyster plates on display. Their very presence just whisper “refinement” – gracious hospitality” –  and “elegantly appointed home” to me.

 

 

Antique oyster plates are so decorative, alluring and appealing, who wouldn’t love them? Often hand painted, the variety of the plates is astounding, so it’s a collection that can grow and grow. Collectors are drawn to the aesthetics of the serving pieces.

 

 

 

HISTORY:

Antique oyster plates are highly collectable and a gracious way to add the rich history, lore and love of oysters to your home.  These days they are mostly displayed as the small works of art that they are, but from 1837 to 1901, eating and serving oysters was a true art form.

In the mid 1800’s, the oyster’s popularity and harvest was at its peak, and society hostesses delighted in serving them on beautiful specially designed plates to their upper echelon guests at grand fetes and diners.

All the grand French and other European luxury porcelain and faience companies created specialized, highly decorative plates, unusually with six wells {indentations} for the oysters to rest in, and a center condiment well in the center for lemon or a sauce.

 

The earliest plates or servers had large indentations, meant to hold a little shaved ice and an oyster in the half-shell. Unfortunately, because the oyster shells are quite abrasive, the shells scratched and damaged the costly and laboriously painted plates, so plates were re-designed to have smaller wells to hold a single raw oyster out of the shell.

 

 

Not to be left behind, silver companies designed a new style fork to use when eating oysters, with just two or three prongs. And of course scoops and other serving pieces in sterling, with vermeil bowls to make sure they were not damaged by coming into contact with lemon juice, an accompaniment to the oysters.

 

 

Originally only the aristocracy were able to afford such elegant extravagances, but eventually the middle classes caught the oyster fever for very, very special occasions and also desired to have the oyster plates and special flatware to eat them with.

 

 

Here in the states the American passion for oysters grew, and the wealthy on the East Coast entertained with lavish dinners where guests were served their first course on beautifully gilded oyster servers and plates.  The American and European porcelain manufacturers produced extensive ranges of refined oyster servers and plates.

Even though the oyster population declined due to over harvesting right after WWI, and the next “trend” in entertaining took the oyster’s place, oyster plates and silverware for eating oysters remain a coveted heirloom antique.

 

 

TYPES OF OYSTER PLATES:

Three types of oyster plates were designed in the 19th century for oysters.

1. Plates for serving oysters on the half shell with ice.

2. Plates for serving oysters on the half shell without ice.

3. Plates for serving shucked oysters, directly on the plate. {these are the most widely coveted.}

 

The first two variations are not often found in good condition, as the shells scratched the plates.  The third plate, designed to hold shucked oysters in their liquor, are the ones that have remained in good condition and intrigue collectors again and again.

 

 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR:

1. Quality.  These plates were made by the finest producers in the 19th century, and it shows. Hand painted plates are always going to be more collectable than transfer printed.

2. Condition.  While the painted or glazed top part of the plate should be as pristine as possible {no chips, cracks, or worn off paint}, the bottom of the plate usually should have some wear. These plates were used at the table, so the part that rests on the table should have signs of wear, as no wear at all could indicate it’s a new plate.

3. Marks.  Some, but not all plates will have at least one mark, the manufacturer’s mark, some have the decorator’s mark also. Plates can also have impressed mold numbers, and a handprinted signature of the artist. There are plenty of high quality antique oyster plates that were not marked in any way. Many of the majolica plates, for instance, have no marks but are known patterns and or molds to dealers and collectors.

4. Beauty. Buy what you love! There are so many gorgeous types of decorated oyster serving plates.  Add plates to your collection for their color, their design, or simply because it sparks your imagination or it’s an intriguing piece!

 

Prices for antique plates can range from just over $100 to over $3,000.  Some collector’s focus on one color, pink, for example, or aqua blue. Some collector’s only collect oyster plates with floral designs, some only want to have French antique plates in their collection.  Others only adore majolica plates {these are more often than not the most expensive plates} in bright, bold colors.

You can showcase your oyster plates collection on plate stands on shelves, or hang a few around your antique French mirror in the dining room. A few look marvelous, many make a grand gracious statement!

Each oyster plate is a rare treasure, with a story of its own.  An heirloom collection of oyster plates is so alluring when displayed on the walls or shelves in a gracious home, that the temptation to begin your own collection might overwhelm!

 

 

SHOP OYSTER PLATES >

 

SHOP OYSTER SILVER >

Next time, I’m reviewing my friend Jamie’s new book, filled with sweet projects you can do for your French Country style home!

à bientôt

Shop for the best in French Antiques, furniture with the patina of age, vintage accessories to delight you and your family & friends, and French Country utilitarian pieces. Treasures that make your home fresh, beautiful, inspirational and uniquely yours. Visit our shop FrenchGardenHouse.com

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