When I see a glass pickle dish on the shelf, in a thrift store or perhaps at a sale, I have to look at it. I'm three-quarters of the way to buying it before I even pick it up.
I love these things, because I love to use them to serve pickles – for holiday parties, buffet dinners and other celebrations through the year.
Pickles take me back to times gone by. We would always have a relish tray for special events. Besides pickles, these would include some combination of deviled eggs, carrot and celery sticks, olives, radishes or other finger foods.
Aunt Gertie liked pickled watermelon rind, and the only time I remember having that is when she was coming, or brought it.
There is a candied sweet pickle mix that we get in a jar at the grocery store, or sometimes in the deli. It has small gherkins and chunk sweet pickles, cauliflower, red bell pepper and small onions, too. We like the Sechler’s brand, which is local in the Midwest and available online.
The pickle dishes that attract my attention are often vintage, though there are some new examples, made and sold to reflect subtle changes in our holiday menus, which as all olive dishes.
Dishes made for nuts, mints and candy are a cousin to the pickle dishes I’m partial to. (And I like those, too.)
I’ve got both china and glass pickle dishes, but the glass ones catch my eye quickly, whenever I’m out shopping.
What To Look For In Glass Pickle Dishes
I presume all glass has a defect, if it’s coming from a secondary marketplace, such as an estate sale or thrift store. Until proved otherwise.
So I carefully look it over and feel all over. I want to find any chips or cracks, and not cut myself. I may or may not purchase an imperfect piece, but I want to know its condition before I decide.
I also favor the retro examples. I determine this by color, shape and size.
The pickle dish in this picture, which I have yet to identify, is among those, because of the color of the glass, and the over-the-top oval shape, it’s almost a boat.
At 9 inches long, it could also be used for celery.
The indents around the sides are intended to be leaves, because of the creases in the center of each, vs. flower petals or thumbprints, which would not have this detail.
I’ve found other examples in the secondary markets, but those sellers did not know the pattern name or a maker, either. It’s not marked, one of the ongoing challenges of glassware.
When I round up all my pickle dishes – round, square, oval and rectangular – I’ll display them. It makes quite a collection.
And I’ll continue to rescue them when I see them in my travels. (We all know what happens to items that stay on the thrift store shelf too long.)
So much better to bring them home, enjoy looking at them in the light, and using them when the occasion calls for some favorite pickles on the side.
Whether you’re serving candy corn or pizza, some colorful dishes can bring sparkle to your table for Halloween, and for parties on the day or the weekend after.
It’s also an opportunity, once again, to play with mix and match table setting ideas.
Here I’ve brought in my very favorite Poultrygeist mug. He turns up around here in the strangest places, and not just on Halloween. Could there really be a ghost in the china?
The glass compote is vintage, in the King’s Crown or Thumbprint pattern, made by Indiana, Wright, US Glass and others. This example is plain clear glass, but there are pieces in this type and pattern in colors, applied gold edges, and ruby flash as well.
The mixed candy corn and pumpkins give it lots of color, and the open shape makes it easy to grab some as you pass by.
The ghost and pumpkin tea light holder is by Partylite. He’s got some soot, as well as some chips, but not too much to keep him from retaining his charm and usefulness.
He was so sweet, I had to rescue him from the thrift store. Maybe someone else would have, but we know that bad things happen to the stuff that stays on the shelf too long.
The pumpkin plate is new, from the Better Homes & Gardens line. These can be had at major department stores that carry that product in their housewares sections.
This size is handy for desserts or salads, and they make a larger one, too, if you need it for other dishes, or to use as a charger or serving plate.
Besides these examples, I’ve written about Halloween dinnerware before:
Halloween Dinnerware Tips
Classic Black and Orange
Halloween has turned out to be an eclectic holiday, second only to Christmas as the most-decorated-for event of the year.
Your table setting can be quirky and even eccentric for October 31, and many of the dishes can do double duty for Thanksgiving and other special dinners.
Why I won’t have a Downton Abbey dinnerware set, but you might want to.
I like mixing my collection of vintage dinnerware and glassware, to create different table settings. That doesn’t mean I don’t use classic china dishes, just that my party style is eclectic.
One important element of an authentic Downton Abbey table is that all the china match. Each place setting would have all the right pieces to serve any menu, literally from soup bowls to nut dishes.
And the ware would be made from bone china, not just ordinary porcelain.
Any glassware, flatware and other pieces would be in patterns and materials that complement the dishes: crystal, silver, gold and linen.
While I can appreciate the beauty of these fancy dishes, when it comes to what I own and use, it’d go another way.
That’s why I won’t have a set that’s true to the Downton Abbey era.
Planning for the Downton Abbey Look
If you want to create a table setting for a party or special event, using the Downton look as your theme, here are some tips to get you started:
Check the “traditional” box in your searches. Some fine china patterns in this category have sleek shapes, others are more ornate, but they all are classic and elegant. Bone china, embossed details, intricate shapes, and gold or platinum rims, are all elements used in traditional dinnerware designs that can help you create this style.
Two of the dinnerware patterns that appear on the Downton Abbey series – Stafford White (at the Abbey) and Blue Italian (at Crawley House), both by Spode – can be starting points if you’re beginning your collection.
The Stafford White pattern is the newest of these, as it came onto the market around 1990. The “newer” version of Blue Italian dates from the early 1960s. Blue and white transferware like this, and the Spode company itself, have far older histories, in harmony with the 1912 to 1920s Downton era.
Another recent dinnerware design, Sakura by Noritake, also has the right traditional look, though it is a more modern shape. The pattern dates from the late 1960s through the 1970s. It’s the kind of dinnerware the present-day residents of the Abbey might use.
Consider the pieces you’ll need to serve your menu and decorate your table. You will want to choose a pattern that is made in lots of piece types, so that you can set a full table of matching place settings and serving pieces for lots of different menus.
I see pieces with the right “antique look” in my travels, and they get snapped up quickly, probably by people with a permanent shopping list that has Downton Abbey party among the most wanted items.
That list isn’t limited to dinnerware, but includes glassware, table linens, napkin rings, candle sticks and any other items that can be used to create the right look on a tea table, buffet or centerpiece.
Collect samples to build your look. I suggest paint chips for color samples. For design ideas, try photos of candidate dinnerware, glassware and accessories from the web or magazines, single pieces that you buy to consider, and pieces from your existing collection.
A test arrangement on your buffet can help your ideas blossom, as you experiment and decide what to purchase in quantity for your complete set. It might take time to build your ideal, especially if you’re searching in secondary marketplaces, but the results will be worth it if Downton is your style.
For example, a wonderful flatware pattern called Vintage, by International Silver, is lavish and beautiful. It dates from the early 1900s. The pieces have an antique look and feel, with detailed grapes and vines on the fronts and backs of the pieces, even onto the bowl. Some teaspoons and salad forks in this pattern will contribute to your special table setting.
On to the Party
While I enjoy the thrill of the hunt, finding those special pieces, and using my cherished dinnerware, a full matched set is not on my list. Even so, it’s possible to create a charming style for a viewing party, when the time comes.
I’ll be using my Summer Chintz by Johnson Brothers, along with silverplate teaspoons and dessert forks, a fancy china 3-tier serving tray, and my best vintage white table cloth and napkins. Not all authentic to the time, but my table setting will convey the special look and feel to make my guests comfortable, as we enjoy our tea, TV, and the next chapter of the Downton Abbey saga.
Federal Glass was the maker of eye-catching, now vintage glassware, still fairly easy to find in secondary marketplaces.
I especially notice the drinking glasses, tumblers and coffee mugs that I see in my travels. Thrift stores often have long rows of glass items, displayed on open shelves.
Look for colorful clear tumblers or vibrant glass coffee mugs, and just check the bottom for the mark.
Most of the glassware you will see is not marked. But Federal often is. The mark is a capital F inside a shield. It can be large or small, in the bottom center, or elsewhere on the underside of the piece.
I like the glasses and mugs because they are easy to show on a window sill or curio shelf, handy to use for juice or coffee, and small to store in a box when I swap my collection on display. (I like to have pieces where I can look at them, but they won’t all fit my space at the same time.)
The 1975 Boston Red Sox commemorative coffee mug is just one example of a classy Federal mug. Bright red on white glass.
The Florida mug has an orange coating applied over white glass, then further decorated with detailed line art in black.
The orange juice glasses have a charming two-color pattern. I also have a mold-blown carafe that matches these, but is not marked, as well as slightly larger juice glasses with a modified version of the design, made by Anchor Hocking.
Like lots of other vintage glassware, these pieces are fun to mix and match, to create your own special breakfast set.
Federal also made other glassware piece types associated with the kitchen, too, like mixing bowls and batter bowls. One of popular reference books by Gene Florence includes pages of examples. Depending on the purpose for your collection, there are more choices to fill out a vintage-style kitchen or retro home decorating theme.
If you get far into the world of Federal, be sure and do some research on the pieces and patterns. For example, Federal’s Windsor pattern was only made by them in clear glass, but when the company closed, Indiana Glass purchased some of the molds, and made pieces in blue, green and other colors.
Federal Glass operated in Columbus, Ohio, from 1900 to around 1979. Eighty years of manufacturing means there are lots of beautiful Federal pieces out there to help you make a unique collection of charming vintage glass.
Ever uncover a vintage find and say, “That’s mine” out loud? An outstanding china coffee pot did it for me. Mount Vernon, Harmony House by Hall.
This piece is not like my usual thrift store finds. It must have just been put on the shelf when I saw it. Fluted and scroll details, gold rims and footed shape.
That coffee pot was in my cart for review in seconds. Coupons helped me take it home at a very good price.
When I looked it up later, I found that the Mount Vernon pattern was made for Harmony House by Hall, in the 1940s and 1950s.
Harmony House was a brand made for Sears, and besides dinnerware, included home furnishings and accessories, linens, paint and carpeting.
It was designed to help the homemaker coordinate all the elements of her home.
I’ve seen quite a few Harmony House china patterns over the years. Sheraton comes to mind, as well as Autumn, Moderne and another called Vintage. Those are made in lighter porcelain, not the heavier restaurant ware like Mount Vernon.
The Check for Condition
I knew I was taking this home as a display piece. But I had to check it anyway.
This piece is imperfect. First, there is wear on the gold, notably on the lid. This could be from use, or perhaps from the clear shipping tape that some stores use to keep pieces together.
When you’re purchasing pieces that have gold or platinum rims, and there is any doubt, soak the tape off rather than pulling it.
No matter what they might say, sometimes that tape will take off the metallic rims. (I’ve even had it take the glaze off certain types of dinnerware.)
Second, this piece is cracked on the inside bottom of the pot section.
This damage is not obvious on the outside of the pot. It could have been caused by adding water that was too hot to a pot that had not been pre-warmed with a swirl of hot water, prior to filling.
Neither of these imperfections matters for my purposes.
I really enjoy this piece – a charming dinnerware serving piece that’s older than I am, well on its way to becoming an antique.
What vintage dishes would work well for a student going off to school?
I was poking around a thrift store recently, in company of some folks who were looking to outfit a grandson for his first college apartment.
They were shopping for cookware. Someone else had the dinnerware checklist.
A lot of people are looking to go second hand when it comes to items for their students. The same might be said for a first apartment for a graduate as well.
Attributes For Back-to-School Dinnerware
- Practical. The dishes should be the right piece types to go with the foods they like best. Soup mugs can go for soup, stew, chili and similar meals. Dinner plates work with spaghetti, burgers or a big salad.
- Easy care. Dinnerware that can hold up to the dishwasher, or washing by those attempting to multi-task, will make cleaning up as easy as possible. With classwork and tests on their minds, they should have to be concerned about what will and won’t go in the dishwasher, or delicate pieces that require gentle handling.
- Durable. A small number of pieces used over and over, these dishes should hold up to frequent use, stacking and unforeseen hazards to chips, cracks or crazing. Dinnerware made to endure rough handling means that they probably won’t have to replace dishes, at least for the current school term.
What Would Be My Picks?
My first thought, Corelle. This has been the “first home” dinnerware choice for more than 40 years, including mine. I had Corelle's Meadow pattern, back in the day.
There are lots of piece types and patterns, either in the new or secondary marketplaces. You might even find pieces in the pattern you keep in your cupboards at home, to remind them.
Next, restaurant ware. These dishes are made for commercial use, and they work very well in a dorm or home. They are heavier than Corelle, but they made up for it in the cozy comfort look and feel. I often find Buffalo, Hall and Homer Laughlin in my travels.
Another option, Grab It. These pieces were made as bowls and plates, with big tab handles. Most of them are white Corning ware, but some bowls were made in Pyrex in amber and cranberry.
These pieces are great for a big cup of soup with crackers, or a gooey grilled cheese sandwich – lots of snacks and simple meals. When it comes to vintage ware, I find the bowls more often than the plates, but both piece types are out there (as well as new bowls in white).
Any of these wares can go in the microwave and the dishwasher. Their classic shapes, practicality and durability make them likely to last long enough to follow your student through the years of school, and even further.
Shown in the photos: Corelle dinner plates in the Spring Pink (this one is new, not vintage) and Country Violets patterns. Green band restaurant ware plate by Buffalo. Classic white coffee mug by Homer Laughlin. Stack of Grab It, bowls and plate by Corningware. (Mine are vintage.)
Something Special, Too
One last tip…especially for the more artistic or design-conscious students you might have: Consider a wonderful piece of Mid-Century Modern china (such as Lazy Daisy or Vision by Ben Seibel).
Or, a funky retro ‘70s glassware (perhaps a chip and dip set in Soreno by Anchor Hocking, Accent or Impromptu by Libbey) or stoneware (like these pieces by Midwinter).
Any other stylish piece that they can use and enjoy for its style alone. Round chop platters are common thrift store orphans, or two-part casserole dishes -- that can be used and enjoyed for their style alone, when you find the right ones for your creative-minded student.
Dinnerware can always be practical and fun, no matter who it’s for or how they’ll use it.
Even if you know of the book, The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, you might not know that this classic inspired a dinnerware set, made by Noritake in the 1980s.
The book was a publishing hit, when it came out in 1977, in a facsimile edition of the naturalist diary of Edith Blackwell Holden (1971-1920).
Originally the book was called Nature Notes from 1906. She was known in her lifetime as a teacher, watercolorist and book illustrator. This 1977 edition was a publishing success.
It would have been expected for a naturalist at that time to keep a sketchbook of samples, to record details of plants and animals seen in the wild. The beauty of these particular illustrations, and the diary overall, a gem. Fortunately, the book came to light and was made available.
The span of the Edwardian era is usually given as 1901-1910, the years King Edward VII reigned in England. Sometime the period is extended to 1912 (the sinking of the Titanic) or 1914 (the start of World War I), which includes the storyline of the Downton Abbey television series.
Art and Tradition, Combined in Dinnerware
Out of that history, a dinnerware pattern was born after 70 years.
Classic design never goes out of style.
The colors and shapes of the Country Diary dishes are traditional, and also fit in with the popular styles of dinnerware in the 1980s. The success of the book showed there was a market.
In addition, Noritake was creating patterns like Peonytime, Kilkee, Tipperary, Ivy Lane, Shannon Spring, New Hope, Yesterday and others that featured the beauty of nature in Ireland, where the china was made.
The cups and saucers of this pattern are decorated with crab apples, leaves and branches, as you would see them in the fall – primarily muted tones of brown, green and ochre yellow on a pale almond background.
The verse by Spenser is on the saucer: “Then came October, full of merry glee.”
Other pieces in the dinnerware set feature fruits, flowers and birds from other seasons.
It appears there is a later edition of the Country Diary dinnerware pattern – also by Noritake but produced in Sri Lanka – which replaced the sentiments with small floral motifs.
Today this dinnerware is old enough to be “vintage,” and it is finding some new fans who love traditional wares, especially those sets like Portmeirion’s ever-popular Botanic Garden, which feature different motifs on the various piece types.
The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady is still available, if you want to see this beautiful source of inspiration.
I’m very happy to have a few pieces of this classy, nature-inspired pattern in my dinnerware collection. It can mix and match with my other traditional pieces that feature leaves, fruits and flowers, depending on my color palette and the overall look I want for my table setting.