Thursday, April 30, 2015



The White House has announced that it has purchased a new china service!

I have a mild fascination with some White House china, most notably the Lincoln service (which I've written an article about) and the Wilson service.

The White House must order new china about once every 10 years, depending on wear and tear. Recent past colors have included celadon green (Truman), white (with flowers; Johnson), red (Reagan), gold (Clinton), and gold (G.W. Bush). Although dark blue has been used on previous orders of White House china (both the F.D. Roosevelt and Wilson services used it), this type of light blue has never been used before on American state china.


The new Obama service porcelain was designed by First Lady Michelle Obama, with assistance from her friend, the interior designer Michael S. Smith. Planning for the new china began in the fall of 2011, and Obama consulted White House chefs (past and present), White House staff, and the Pickard China company of Illinois on the design and style of the porcelain, pieces, and color. White House dinners are growing ever-larger in size. Existing White House china settings are often used together, mixed and matched so that 400-, 500-, and even 600-setting dinners can be given. Michelle Obama was constrained by the need to design a china service that mixed well with existing china, but which reflected the Obamas' own personal style and tastes.

The Obama china service made its debut on April 27, 2015. It was first used on April 28 for a state dinner for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Each setting has 11 pieces and there are 320 settings, for a total of 3,520 pieces in the entire service.

The "service plate" or "charger" is the largest piece in the set at 14 inches. A charger is designed to be a placeholder, so that each diner knows to "sit here". As the meal is served, additional elements of the service are placed atop the charger. The charger helps protect the tablecloth from spills, but it also helps act as an aesthetic backdrop to the other pieces of china. The Obama chargers feature a lip of gold gilt, impressed with a fret (Greek key pattern). There is a narrow band of plain gilt on the rim next to the lip, with the rest of the rim in fluted gold filt. A narrow band of plain gold gilt is placed just inside the well. In the center of the charger is the Presidential coat of arms in gold. The seal should be the first thing the diner sees when they are seated.

Each dinner plate is 12 inches in diameter. The lip of the dinner plate is plain gold gilt. The broad rim of the plate has an undecorated pinwheels and fronds in bas-relief. The bas-relief design was taken from an Empire-style china service purchased by then-Secretary of State James Madison in 1806. The bas-relief element is unique to White House china, which has never featured anything like it before.

The Obama china service also includes an 11-inch dinner plate, a 10-inch luncheon plate, a 9-inch salad plate, a 9-inch dessert plate, a 7-inch tureen plate, and a 6-inch saucer. Each of these plates has a lip in gold gilt, impressed with a fret-oval-and-dart motif. Each motif is separated by two dots arranged perpendicular to the lip. The rim of the plate is in a new color designed specifically for the Obama china service. This color is named "Kailua Blue," a bright blue inspired by the hue of the sea in President Barack Obama's home state of Hawaii. The fluted rim of blue is followed by a delicate inner line of gold gilt which completes the decoration. Only about half the rim is taken up by design and color. The dessert plate, the last plate the diner should see, also has the Presidential coat of arms in gold gilt in the center.

Each setting comes with a coffee cup. The cup has a lip of plain gold gilt, followed by a narrow band of gold gilt in a dart-oval-dart motif set perpendecular to the lip. This is followed by a band of fluted Kailua blue, and then a delicate band of plain gold gilt again. Each cup has the Presidential coat of arms; if held by the right hand, the coat of arms faces the guest.

Unique to the Obama china service is an individual tureen. Although large tureens have been part of White House china before, this is the first time an individual-sized tureen has ever been designed. The tureen reflects a more modern style of dining, which emphasizes soups, small entrees, or desserts requiring more than a bowl but not a large tureen. Each tureen is small, about 6 inches across. Handles on the side of the tureen are plain, consisting of a scroll with one acanthus leaf above and three below (helping to reinforce the scroll). Each tureen is about 4 inches deep. The lip of the tureen is plain. The rim is designed with the same plain pinwheels-and-fronds design in bas-relief. Below the rim, the side of the tureen is decorated with a narrow band of Kailua blue edged in a delicate line of gold gilt. The lid of the tureen is plain, with a mushroom-motif handle. The cap of the mushroom is fluted, with a botton topping the cap.

Pickard China produced the dinnerware. The tureen was incredibly difficult to make. It took workers more than a year and innumerable trials to produce the tureen.

The china service was paid for by the White House Historical Association -- a private foundation established by Jacqueline Kennedy to buy furniture, china, and decorative and fine art for the White House. The service cost $367,258.










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