Dessert plate, soft-paste porcelain, Chelsea Porcelain factory, London, 1759-1769
Width: 21.59 cm
British Galleries, room 118a
Porcelain plates specifically designed for dessert were first made in the 1740s. They were usually more delicate in their form and decoration than dinner plates. Gilding, applied after the last enamel firing, is often associated with plates reserved for soft desserts and fruits, as they were less likely to be scraped by cutlery. [27/03/2003]
The waved edge, elaborate enamelled decoration and lavish use of gilding all suggest that this plate was used for eating stewed or fresh fruit, or other sweet foodstuffs, during the dessert course of a grand meal. However, tablewares of the same design could be used for serving both savoury and sweet courses, even in some of the most elaborate services. For example, a sale of Chelsea porcelain of 1770 included a set of ten 'fine desert, or second-course dishes'. The distinction between dinner and dessert wares may therefore not be as rigid as often thought. At the time that this plate was made, soup and dinner plates were usually set out before the start of the meal and clean plates were brought by servants when the dessert was served.
The Chelsea porcelain factory aimed at the top end of the market. A sale of Chelsea porcelain held in London in 1770 included several sets of 'Twelve fine desert plates, with gold ornament edges', which were sold for between £3 9s and £5 10s, and another set with enamelled and gilt borders, which reached £3 18s. The same sale included a dessert service of 'seventeen dishes and compoteers [bowls for stewed fruit], and twenty-four plates' which were sold for the very large sum of £134 4s. In the mid-18th century shopkeepers and skilled craftsmen might earn around £1 a week.