Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Gaetan and Delphine

Sharon Wildwind

When my parents married, my mother’s Uncle Wilton gave them this set of china.

My mother, who I suspect had aspirations the rest of her family never shared, loved to tell how this was a one-of-a-kind, hand-painted set from France.

This china became a part of every holiday meal, and there were rules.

  • It was for high holidays only: Thanksgiving; Christmas; New Years; maybe Easter, but it always seemed too heavy and ornate for spring; birthdays; and my parents’ wedding anniversary.
  • No acid food, like tomatoes, were served on it because my mother feared the acid would dissolve some of the gold trim and poison us.
  • It never went into the dish washer, but was always hand-washed, hand-dried, and put back in the cupboard immediately after the meal.
  • You couldn’t ask to leave the table until you’d eaten enough that Gaetan and Delphine — our names for the two people — looked back at you.

Decades past.

I became Gaetan’s and Delphine’s guardian. We never did find either cups or soup bowls when we cleaned out my mother’s storage unit, but we did find almost thirty pieces, much of it chipped and worn, but still serviceable; a few pieces, like this bread-and-butter plate, in great shape.

My husband and I have finally admitted to ourselves and to each other that we have too much darn stuff. We have embarked on a long-term major housecleaning. Last week I stood in the kitchen looking at thirty pieces of china we rarely use.  Was time to keep a couple of pieces for memory’s sake and let the rest go?

I’ve asked other family members if they want the china. No one does and were clear that I could do whatever I wanted with it. I figured if I was going to sell it, I should at least try to track down some more concrete information about when and where it was made.

Guess what?

It is not a one-of-a-kind set; it was not made in France; but it’s likely at least some of it was hand-painted.

This is one of several Eggshell Nautilus patterns produced by the Homer Laughlin China Company of Newell, West Virginia. It was made in May 1944, though I haven’t yet been able to track down in which of the Laughlin factories. I’m fine with that information, and I’m also glad my mother got to keep her illusions all her life.

It has some connection with the Bromley China Company. Their pattern BRM4 also has Gaetan and Delphine on it, but it has a dark red rim. Since the Homer Laughlin and the Bromley marks appear to have been added at different times, I think that Laughlin might have manufactured the china then sent it to Bromley to be gilded.

I posted photographs of the front and back of the bread-and-butter plate on a China search site, and asked if anyone knew anything more about this particular pattern. Here’s the back of the plate.

A woman kindly sent me e-mail that said since the plate was made in 1944, and the back of the plate said War Painted, likely it was painted by German prisoners of war. I hated to tell her that it really said Warranted — which refers to the 22-karet gold used — but that the second “r” on this one piece had worn so that it looked like a “p”. Darn, that would have made a great addition to the Gaetan and Delphine family stories.

Let me encourage you, while you still can, to ask family members about precious possession that have fostered and nurtured family stories over the years. Photograph those pieces. Write down the stories people tell you. Don’t worry if they are true or not. You can always research later, but first try to capture what these special objects mean to people.

So are Gaetan and Delphine going to show up in a story? Likely. It's even more likely despite our major housecleaning that I will hang on them for a while. They have a few more holiday meals left in them. I just wish we could have found those cups and soup bowls.
Quote for the week
And then it occurs to me. They are frightened. In me, they see their own daughters, just as ignorant, just as unmindful of all the truths and hopes they have brought to America. They see daughters who grow impatient when their mothers talk in Chinese, who think they are stupid when they explain things in fractured English. They see that joy and luck do not mean the same to their daughters, that to these closed American-born minds "joy luck" is not a word, it does not exist. They see daughters who will bear grandchildren born without any connecting hope passed from generation to generation.
~ Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club


Sheila Connolly said...

I have my great-grandmother's "good" china, which, like your family, comes out only for important holidays (preferably one with admiring guests), and has to be hand-washed. Not to mention 14 teapots and 69 tea-cups. My daughter, an only child, faces some real challenges in her future.

And you're right: take pictures, and write short notes about where the pieces came from and who owned (and loved?) them.

Beth said...

I run a small antique shop and have see n this pattern (without the handpainting) a number of times. I have also seen it with different company marks. I think, in those days they might well have sold the designs to other companies as I have seen that happen with other patterns. I also had an aluminum tray with that pattern attached in the center. This was also a fairly common thing at that time.

As to family china, I received some pieces of Haviland China my grandmother had. She was from Virginia and North Carolina so I didn't understand about the mark on the bottom indicating that it had been purchased at a department store in Scranton, PA. Then I found out that her grandfather was from that area... so it much have come from him.
I often wonder about the stories the items I sell in my shop might have to tell!!

Sharon Wildwind said...

Sheila, I'd offer to adopt some of the 14 teapots and 69 cups, but my husband asked pointedly recently, "How many tea pots do we need?" We have 5.

Beth, thanks so much for the additional information. I agree with you about selling the pattern. Also the china company went through several splits and mergers, so maybe the pattern went with different factions as well.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

My mother's good china, lovingly brought out for special occasions, including company for dinner, was Wedgwood Senator (discontinued in 1988), white with a gold laurel-leaf pattern around the rim. They had a set of 12 (sans soup bowls) and some serving pieces, but I only inherited 50%--very frustrating if more than six sat down to Thanksgiving dinner. Over the years, I've gradually added the set back up to 8 of some items, 10 of others just in case, and I finally found the soup bowls at an almost-reasonable price recently. The best place to find parts of sets and check current prices is Replacements.com, physically located, I believe, in North (or South?) Carolina. Not sure how much less they pay sellers than buyers pay them, and lately the prices in general have come down (or gone down, depending on your perspective). I know my son doesn't care about my dishes, but I hope eventually at least one of my granddaughters will.