Presidential dinnerware: How is it selected?

Fine dining restaurants take into consideration the decor of their establishments when selecting the dinnerware. We see delicate china in restaurants with tiny “artful” portions and more substantial dishes that serve big value portions of steak and potatoes. Some restaurants have custom dinnerware made as does Clearman’s North Woods Inn. Others keep to plain white and maybe select an unusual shape.

But what if you are the White House? Turns out there’s lots of history written about the presidential china. It really begins with James Monroe in 1817 when 30 place settings were ordered from Paris for the astounding sum of $1167.23. The press went crazy and lambasted the president because it was foreign china.

In fact, congress had mandated that any furniture for the White House must be made in America. But there was no such rule for dinnerware. In 1845 desert plates were added: 400 pieces at $979.40.

Lincoln’s presidency was the first time a first lady made dinnerware decisions. It has remained the first lady’s role ever since. Interestingly, it would seem that every woman has wanted to leave her special mark on the china cabinet at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Teddy Roosevelt expanded the state dining room so it would accommodate over 100 guests and china from Wedgewood was ordered to augment the service.

It wasn’t until Woodrow Wilson in 1013 that American made china was ordered from Lennox. Lady Eleanor Roosevelt ordered even more Lennox and this time she added 48 stars around the rim. Mimi Eisenhower ordered Castelton china from Pennsylvania but worked in pieces from former first gals.

Lady Bird Johnson had to have all new china. So did Nancy Regan at $209.508! A private foundation paid for what they knew would be a sum hard to swallow by the public. That turned out to be a small sum compared to Michelle Obama’s $367,258 purchase of an Illinois maker’s china. They sought outside sponsorship of that as well.

Seems every first lady will make this cumbersome and historic choice. What’s next?