August 17, 2010

Collecting Butter Pats

 Haviland Pansy

Some friends found themselves up against the wall with work, planning and other life stresses and I offered to drop a little blog entry their way if it would help. The more I thought about it, the more I decided to just go ahead and bite the bullet and do one on Victorian butter pats. Mainly for 2 reasons, it is an interesting subject and I need the practice in writing. 

The butter pat is something one frequently finds in Great Aunt Mildred’s china cabinet when one is cleaning out the house, and often they are found lurking in antique shops. Like any other dishware, they come in a number of sizes from 1 inch to about 4 inches with 3 inches being the industry standard. In some circles they are called butter chips. Their purpose is to provide safe haven for the butter that you will be putting on your bread during dinner, isolating it from the breadcrumbs. As we all know, if the butter were to mingle with the breadcrumbs it would cause a scene of the greatest indelicacy.

Minton Faisan

No wait, you are correct, that seems like overkill, a separate plate for the butter? A British dishware and cutlery catalogue from the Victorian era lists a standard Tea and Dinner service of dishware for 8 as follows:

12 Meat Plates

12 Soup Plates

12 Tart Plates

12 Cheese Plates

12 Butter Pats

12 Dessert Plates

4 Low Comports

2 Tall Comports

12 Tea Cups

12 Tea Saucers

12 Coffee Cups

12 Coffee Saucers

12 Demi-Tasse Cups

12 Demi-Tasse Saucers

12 Saucers

12 Small Plates

1 Tea Pot

1 Coffee Pot

1 Slop Basin

1 Cream Jug

2 Bread Plates

12 7” Plates

12 Egg Cups

1 Milk Jug

1 Hot Water Jug

1 Sugar Basin

1 Covered Muffin Dish

Bates Gildea & Walker Melbourne

1 18" Dish

1 16” Dish

1 14” Dish

1 12” Dish

1 10” Dish

2 9” Dishes

1 Soup Tureen with Ladle and Stand complete

2 Sauce Tureens with Ladles and Stands complete

2 Vegetable Dishes

2 Butter Boats

Wedgwood Ivanhoe
This is pretty much the minimum for the average well stocked middle class Victorian Household of about 1875. One would likely have other items for service such as the Ham Stand, the Cheese Dome, the Sardine Box, the Salt Cellars [Master and individual] and the Mustard Pot. You don’t’ want to see what utensils they provided for fine dining- the list is vast- but here are a few choice ones: Cheese Scoops, Sardine Forks, Sardine Tongs, Grape Scissors, Crumb Scoops, Tartlett Servers, Asparagus Tongs, Ice Cream Forks, and Preserve Helpers. They give you twelve of everything assuming clumsy kitchen maids.

Doulton Oceana

Why all this armament you may ask? With the rise of the middle class in England, the dishware and silverware manufacturers began developing additional plates and utensils that were specially designed to perform a single function. This mania for additional service pieces and cutlery stems from a deeply ingrained desire by the new English middle class to rise above their station. The thinking being, the more elaborate your dinner service and the more dishes you have for singular use the better class household you maintained.

So an elaborate service meant that you were more refined. 

Bates Gildea & Walker Satsuma
Another thing to consider is that we are in the full bloom of the Industrial Revolution and still have the convenience of child labor. This leads to greater utilization of mass production and tailoring dishware to the clientele with numerous designs and color ways. Bates Gildea and Walker would design “Satsuma” in 1878 and thus far your humble blogger has found 23 color ways.

Coalport Japanese Grove
Now, back to butter pats, they can be a remarkable collector’s item on their own. Being small and easily portable, one can pick one up at the local rummage sale and come home with it in your pocket. When you get home you can place it on the table top with the other 6 butter pats and leave room for more. I defy one to put 40 dinner plates on a side table without stacking them- impossible! For those in trying economic times their being small, usually means a tiny price tag is as well. The super rarest bringing seldom more than $150 and most of the popular patterns clock in at around $50 - $75.

Powell Bishop and Stonier Miako

The artistry used on many of them reflects the potter’s desire to synthesize the pattern’s look down to its essential elements. This results in one being able, in most cases, to be able to identify the pattern at first glance. There are exceptions; the Minstrel Wamba plays his lute as he strolls across Thomas Allen’s Ivanhoe pattern for Wedgwood, Charles Haviland turns his into a pansy blossom, and sprigs of bamboo appear alone without much in the way of attribute, leaving one unclear as to who the potter was much less the pattern.

Wedgwood Panama

The endless variety, the low cost, and the wonderful way these itty bitty little old butter pats can lighten the heart make them the ideal starting point for the beginning collector. They make collecting fun and help one to learn the pattern names and manufacturers with ease. Happy collecting and hope you will find something just wonderful for you!