I’ve become interested in oyster plates. Do I need another ‘item’ to collect? No, but they are so cool. Mr. MM (aka 10 Ounce) and I recently went to the Oyster House and loved the interior design, especially the oyster plates hanging on the wall.
During the 19th and into the 20th century oysters very abundant therefore inexpensive. Every socio-economic group ate them. They were prepared every which way from raw to pickled. Oysters were at their height of consumption from 1810 to 1870 and through World War I. Like all good things, we over harvested them and destroyed their natural habitat.
Although we’re used to having oysters served on the half shell resting on a bed of crushed ice, Victorians did not like the mess melting ice created. They preferred to serve oysters on a plate, either in the shell or just on the plate. And given that Victorian hostesses loved all the accouterments associated with entertaining, the oyster plate was born.
See the turquoise and orange plate to the left? For ages I thought that style was for clams. I was wrong. I saw a set of six of these in excellent condition for $300 at a flea market in upstate New York this summer. Well worth the price, now that I know more about oyster plates.
I just love the variety of shapes, sizes, configurations, and design! I would love to hang a few of these in our kitchen.
Oyster plates styles:
1. Geometric: a circular plate with six oyster molds around the perimeter with a space in the middle for sauce. (See the two outer plates in the middle row.)
2. Kidney-shaped plate with an asymmetrical configuration of oyster molds that are shaped like real oysters. These were produced most often by Union Porcelain Works.
3. ‘Turkey’ plates by Haviland & Company (Limoges, France) contain five oyster molds configured in a pattern that resembles a turkey. I’ve read that Rutherford Hayes (19th president) commissioned Haviland & Co to produce this style of plate. (See the first plate in the top row.)
Majolica oyster plates can be identified by the use of intense color. George Jones and Joseph Holdcroft first made the style popular in 1851 and Wedgwood followed in 1860.
If an oyster plate has a hole in the back for hanging or some other integrated hanger, it is most likely a reproduction as these plates were created as serving pieces.
Most oyster plate dealers strongly discourage hanging the plates on the wall as the hangers can stress the plates leading to damage. As with most of the items I collect, it’s not about resale value as it is about personal value. I love the look of the Oyster House and would display my collection in a similar fashion.