Paula Collects: Oyster Plates

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Paula Collects: Oyster Plates

By Andrea Goto

Once upon a time in Victorian England, hostesses honored their guests with the fashionable flavors of the world’s most revered bi-valve: the oyster. But in true Victorian fashion, oysters couldn’t be served slipping and sliding around a plate like a fish out of water; they needed a special platter to keep things neat and tidy. Specially designed plates came to the rescue, offering hostesses an attractive way to serve oysters.

Paula’s beloved oyster plate collection reflects the variety of colors and forms that characterize most collections. Plates come in three basic styles: deep-well plates for oysters in the half shell with ice, deep-well plates for oysters in the half shell without ice, and the more common plates for oysters without shells. Today it is difficult to find deep-well plates in good condition because over the years the rough shells have scratched and damaged most china. Oyster plates also vary in their number of depressions. For example, five or six depressions are most common, but some plates have as few as two or as many as two-dozen. Like Paula, many people collect oyster plates in their various styles, but some collectors prefer to display only certain styles, dictated either by the number of wells, shape, origin of production or material (while most plates are china, some were made from pressed glass or silver).

One of the most popular and distinguishing oyster-plate styles is Majolica, which can be identified by the use of intense color in the plate’s design. George Jones and Joseph Holdcroft first made the style popular in 1851 and Wedgwood followed suit in 1860. Victorians adored decorating with the brilliant jewel tones and colorful opaque glazes, but the style fell out of fashion in the 20th century when it was seen as gaudy and ostentatious. Today, antique oyster plates in the Majolica style are the prime collector’s choice and can fetch thousands of dollars.

Oyster plates were generally produced by well-known European china factories, such as Haviland, Limoges, Minton, Quimper and Wedgwood. But the first plates made in the U.S.—bearing the marking “UPW” or Union Porcelain Works—are also highly collectible. In addition, the 19th president, Rutherford Hayes, commissioned Haviland Limoges to produce a special collection of oyster plates, referred to as “turkey” plates among collectors because the shells decorating the wells resemble the outline of a turkey. A single oyster plate from this collection is worth around $3,000.

Lesser-known china factories also produced oyster plates, many of which are unmarked and, consequently, the least costly to collect. Oyster plate reproductions also saturate the market. These can sometimes be identified by small holes on the back for hanging. As a general rule, plates under $75 are usually reproductions. And because the price of antique oyster plates begin around $90, it’s best to invest in a reliable guide before beginning a costly collection.

While the use of oyster plates is on the decline, their popularity as collectibles continues to rise. Over-farming and rising costs have put the hey-day of oyster eating behind us, but beautifully decorated oyster plates remain a testament of our culinary history.

Andrea Goto lives and writes in Savannah, Georgia. Her kitchen experiments (known as “cooking” in more conventional homes) most often end with a mushroom cloud of smoke or a call to Poison Control. In spite of this, she’s deeply loved by her husband who prefers neon-colored cereals to all foods homemade, and her 5-year-old daughter who will eat almost anything, as long as you call it “chicken.” Need more Andrea? Follow her at www.andreagoto.com.

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Reader Comments:

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I have 5 oyster plates that I would like to sell. They are Wright Tyndale & Van Roden and one of them is chipped. Are they worth anything? If so, what value do you think they have. I am a senior who is trying to clean out my house and earn some money while doing that.

By Judith A Kitz on June 12, 2012

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Do you know the value of the oyster dish in the featured photo that is shaped like a fish? I just bought a set of six (that look just like the one in Paul's photo)for $75at a yard sale. The back says Allemagne.

By Marian on May 19, 2012

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Hi Paula! First of all, I am a HUGE fan of yours... even have one of your autographed books! Out of millions, however, you wouldn't remember me! I think your oyster plate collection is so nice! And, I have a very important question about other plates of yours. I've seen on your show these beautiful 'hunter' green (if you will) plates that are like a bunch of leaves. I LOVE THOSE PLATES!!!! Where in the world could I get the same plates. When I was a little girl, my grandma in Missouri had plates very similar to the ones I see on your cooking shows (which by the way, are set to 'record' every time one airs!)??! I have looked everywhere over the years for plates similar to those! PLEASE, PLEASE let me know where to find those plates! Thank you so much for being such a down home inspiration to me and my four girls!! I sure do hope to hear back from you! Hugs, Angie Snow smile

By Angie Snow on September 26, 2011

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Love your collection of Oyster plates. I collect deviled egg plates and have 29 at last count. My 3 grown children think I am crazy, but I can now say if Paula can collect Oyster plates, I can collect deviled egg plates.

By Deborah Armstrong on September 26, 2011

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dear Paula, i saw some plates at an antique sale, they were $425.00. i could not believe it. i buy my stuff at Sid's inn Moultrie and i got an oyster plate for about $20 i think. it was plain, but pretty. i enjoy reading about you on facebook. i have been to the "lady & son" and bubba's. i enjoyed them both. i have the pic to prove it. luv ya, happy cooking mj

By mary jane burgess on September 25, 2011

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I've never seen an oyster plate at the Annual Oyster Festival in Arcata, California, but it's a great idea! We've got the Victorian houses and the oysters!

By Humboldt County California on September 23, 2011

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Hi Paula, Love your oyster plate collection and I do the same thing. I have sold a lot of them to collectors from all over the USA and other places! If you feel the need to have more, just contact me at www.virginia-antiques.com and check out our selection! Thank you and I met Uncle Bubba on Jekyll Island a few years back and ate at his restaurant on that trip too...... and of course we have been to your place! Steve

By Steve on September 22, 2011

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Dear Paula, looks like you need a proof reader, I am sure that Turkey Shank braising recipe did not actually mean 15 to 20 minutes in the pot! Then George Jones and Joseph Holdcroft style did not date from 1951-60, but the 1850's. I would proof read for you, on line! and you would be perfect.

By Penny Mason on September 20, 2011

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Paula: I appreciate your writing about oyster plates. Although they can be simply serviceable and/or sometimes gaudy, many are among some of the loveliest and elaborate items from the Victorian era. The Victorians had a special items for every specific & individual use. My husband and I live on the East Coast and of course oysters are a delicious fare here. When we are in route to Ocean City, MD our habit is to stop at Fishermen's Inn for lunch or dinner ... each way:) If ever, you have the opportunity to visit our area then you must delight yourself in stopping my one of our favorite haunts ... Aside from their enormous collection of oysters plates (many w/the history and all housed behind glass throughout the massive dining rooms)you will have the distinct pleasure of dining on the fruits of the Chesapeake Bay - our renowned blue crab is king - to name a few are steamed, fried, stuffed, imperial,Chesapeake, Cream of Crab Soup & of course tomato based Md Crab Soup). Oh and the oysters ... yum, chowder, Rockefeller, steamed, half shell - you name it. The list goes on ... lest you think I have a personal interest in the restaurant I do not. Were just fans that frequent Fisherman's as oft as we are able. So, if you're ever on Rt. 50 and near Kent Narrow in Grasonville, Maryland do your eyes and taste buds a favor! (they are on Facebook and the web) Wow, I'd love to be there if you do go ... what a hoot! Blessings, Carole

By Carole B. Strumsky on September 20, 2011

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