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The spoon and the bowl are the earliest known dining implements, and the plate came along much later. Initially, it was a hunk of stale bread, about 6 inches across and hard enough to hold hot food. Since it was cut from a loaf, it had rounded edges, and when earthenware plates started to be made, the pottery-makers emulated that shape by making the plates round.
The Chinese discovered the process of making porcelain around 600 A.D. They had a plentiful supply of the major ingredient - kaolin clay - and they developed the kiln techniques and glazing processes required to create translucent, hard-paste porcelain. When trade routes opened to China in the 1300's, porcelain objects, including dinner plates, became a must-have for European nobility.
However, it wasn't until 1708 when a German potter in Meissen discovered the Chinese process, that the great European potteries came into being. Many of the world's best known potteries were founded during this period - Royal Saxon (the original producer) in 1710, Wedgwood in 1759, Royal Copenhagen in 1775, and Spode, founded in 1776 in England.
Monarchs and royalty continued their traditional practice of collecting and displaying porcelain plates, now made locally, but porcelain was still beyond the means of the average citizen. In the 19th century, improved production techniques made porcelain more affordable. From 1815 to 1898, 17 new manufacturers started their companies in Europe and the United States. Among them: Bing & Grondahl, Haviland, Bareuther, Goebel, Heinrich, Kaiser, Rosenthal, Belleek, Royal Doulton, Gorham, Edwin M. Knowles and Lenox.
The practice of collecting "souvenir" plates became popular in the late 1800's. These featured transfer designs commemorating special events or picturesque locales - mainly in blue and white. It was an inexpensive hobby, and the variety of shapes and designs catered to a wide spectrum of collectors. The first limited edition collector's plate 'Behind the Frozen Window' is credited to the Danish company Bing and Grondahl in 1895. Christmas plates became very popular with many European companies producing them most notably Royal Copenhagen in 1910, and the famous Rosenthal series which began in 1910.
In the mid-1900's, European collector's plates arrived in the US. There was immediate interest form gift shops and department stores and the from the public. The growth of plate collecting and the number of companies producing them is very much down to the strength of interest in the US.
In 1965 Lalique introduced a lead-crystal art plate - this was the first plate introudced to the US market which was not blue and white, not procelain and not for Christmas. Since this time collector's plates have come in many different shapes, forms, colours and sizes. Plate manufacturers also started licensing the artwork of well-known artists, such as Norman Rockwell, to create new lines.
In 1973 The Bradford Exchange was founded by J. Roderick MacArthur. The company helped organise the collector's market and they even opened a trading floor for the buying and selling of collector's plates. Many new editions still sell out and there is continued interest in th early plates from the European porcelain manufacturers. It seems that the Western fascination with plate-collecting has continued unabated for centuries and will undoubtedly carry on into the new millennium.
Many top quality manufacturers produce special plates to commemorate events or dates. Some of these plates are made annually for many years, some of them are part of a series and others are a single issue. For example, Bing and Grondahl annual Christmas plates have been made every year since 1895, while Lenox Colonial Christmas Wreath plates were made annually for a series of only 13 years between 1981 and 1993 . The Wedgwood jasperware plate that commemorates the wedding of Lady Diana to Prince Charles was only made the year of the event, 1981.
Most collector plates are produced in a limited quantity and sometimes the demand for limited edition plates can dramatically increase the price of a particular plate after it has gone out of production.
Collector plates are generally sold individually, and sometimes come with registration papers and a box. The plates are intended to be decorative, so they should be displayed. Collectors may choose to display their plates on a stand, in a cabinet or hang them on a wall. The important thing is to be able to see and enjoy the beauty of the collection!
The History of the Bradford Exchange
Contrary to popular opinion, J. Roderick MacArthur, the entrepreneur and marketing genius who founded the Bradford Exchange more than three decades ago, did not invent collector plates. When, in a characteristically bold move, he launched what would become his Bradford Exchange by liberating his merchandise from his insurance-mogul father's locked warehouse, the first recognized collector's plate, Bing and Grondahl's "Behind the Frozen Window," was already seventy-five years old.
Plate collecting was an established hobby with thousands of devotees in countries throughout Europe and America. In fact, this burgeoning market had suffered the consequences of a too-rapid expansion in 1972, resulting in a glut of inferior plates from short-lived makers. Rod MacArthur saw the potential in collector plates, realizing very early what the market could become.
What Rod MacArthur did was to understand the plate market in a new way. When the Bradford Exchange issued its first "Current Quotations" in 1973, listing the current market prices of all the most traded Bradford Exchange collector's plates, it re-defined plates as a unique art commodity that is actively traded, with uniform buy/sell transactions, on an organized market.
The original mission of the Bradford Exchange was simply to monitor the plate market, to make recommendations of product created by reputable plate makers around the world, and to facilitate primary and secondary market transactions among its clients. Market prices were initially determined by a review of resale transactions made through dealers and such devices as Swap-n-Sells.
The ideal, however, was to create an electronic bid-ask marketplace, operating much like a securities market, where transactions could be made instantaneously. In 1983, such a computerized marketplace became a reality. However, the new ease and increased volume of trading tended to depress market prices. The emphasis at the Bradford Exchange gradually shifted from monitoring the secondary market to creating and marketing an ever-growing variety of collectibles.
Bradford Exchange Plates - From Rockwell to China and Beyond
The explosive growth of the Bradford Exchange collector's plate market really began when the Rockwell Society of America launched a succession of blockbuster series featuring the American master's art. First Rockwell Christmas, then Rockwell Heritage, and finally Rockwell's Rediscovered Women took the market by storm, smashing records for primary market sales and skyrocketing in price. By the early '80s, Rockwell Society plates accounted for 60% of all collector plate sales.
In the last two decades, the story has been the diversification of the plate market. Bradford Exchange collector plates in a variety of media, reflecting a wide range of topics and interests, and celebrating important artistic developments from around the world, have come to dominate the marketplace.
Early Bradford Exchange experiments with sculptural plates included the ivory alabaster of Studio Dante di Volteradici's Grand Opera and Incolay's bas relief Romantic Poets series. These ground-breaking efforts by Bradford Exchange in the '70s led to the enormous variety of dimensional plates on the market today.
Bradford Exchange collector's plates have long celebrated icons of the popular culture. The early Gone With the Wind™ and Annie™ series led to a diverse pop-culture genre dominated by portrayals of Elvis and Marilyn.
With the release of The Cardinal, by Edwin M. Knowles China, in the mid '80s, no actively traded plate had ever before featured a portrayal of an animal. In recent years, Bradford Exchange plates have become an important way for the public to display its environmental interests. Horses, wolves, and eagles, in particular, have become enormously popular Bradford Exchange plate subjects.
Dramatic new Bradford Exchange releases, first from China and then from Russia, captivated collectors, as the collectible plate market played its modest role in breaking the trade barriers that characterized the Cold War.
From Bradford Exchange to Bradford Group
As the plate market continued to diversify in response to the increasingly sophisticated interests of collectors, it became clear that the existing plate makers were unable to fully exploit the potential of their marketplace by creating exciting new products.
The Bradford Exchange expanded its role, becoming in the 80s, 90s, and the new millennium, the dynamic marketer of an ever-growing array of collectible forms. Today, as the Bradford Group, we have become the recognized leader in new product development and sales of collectibles ranging from plates and dolls, music boxes and ornaments, to architectural villages, diecast cars, tabletop trees, fine jewelry, and more.
The Bradford Exchange remains a key component of this global collectibles enterprise. As the official corporate website of The Bradford Exchange, collectiblestoday.com provides your window to the vast and fascinating world of Bradford Exchange collector plates.
Edwin M. Knowles
In 1982, the Edwin M. Knowles China Company name was trademarked by a firm with the same name that is an exclusive supplier of products to companies in the Bradford Group, a company that includes the Bradford Exchange, Ltd., the world's largest source of plates for collectors (limited edition porcelain plates which display artwork).