The world of china dinnerware is vast and varied. There are thousands of manufacturers, hundreds of thousands of patterns, and many pieces to each pattern. To acquire a comprehensive knowledge of this industry requires a lifetime of study. However, there are some china basics that are easy to learn and remember, but are still unknown to many people who could benefit from this information. Learning some common china terms can clear up much confusion and improve your ability to buy, sell or enjoy china dinnerware.
There is much uncertainty with regard to the names of different china pieces. As there are no official, uniform guidelines, confusion is the inevitable result. What one person calls a salad plate is referred to by others as a side plate, a creamer is called a milk jug etc. It is also difficult to determine proper nomenclature when there are different sizes involved. For example, if a 7 1/2 inch plate is a salad plate, is a 8 1/2 inch plate a luncheon plate or is it still called a salad plate? When is it a Cream Soup set and when is a Bouillon set? This is particularly important to many who are interested in purchasing china and would like to know exactly what it is they are getting.
To attempt to name and explain every piece ever made is near impossible. Over the years there have been thousands of different piece types made by hundreds of different manufacturers. Even a comprehensive digest is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, let us focus on some of the more common pieces available. There is no right or wrong when it comes to piece names, we are just going to list the more commonly used ones.
The standard unit is the Five Piece Place setting, which usually consists of the following pieces: Dinner Plate, Salad Plate, Bread & Butter Plate, Cup and Saucer.
Dinner Plate – Flat, usually round, ranges from 9 3/4″ to 11″ in diameter
Salad Plate (side plate)- Flat, usually round, ranges from 7 3/4″ to 8 3/4″ in diameter
Bread & Butter Plate (dessert plate, cake plate) – Flat, usually round, ranges from 6″ to 7 3/4″ in diameter
Tea Cup (coffee) – Comes in many different styles and shapes (Leigh, Peony, Footed or Flat etc.) ranges from 2″ to 2 3/4″ in height
Saucer – Flat, round, with indentation for the cup
These additional pieces, while usually not included in the place setting, are often part of the formal table.
Luncheon Plate (often confused with the dinner or salad plates) – Flat, usually round, ranges from 9″ to 9 3/4″ in diameter
Soup Bowl – comes rimmed or coupe (no rim), ranges from 7 1/4″ to 9″
Fruit/Dessert Bowl – comes rimmed or coupe (no rim), ranges from 4″ to 5 3/4″
Cream Soup & Saucer – two handled cup, usually short and wide, indented saucer (bouillon soup cups are narrow and tall, also with two handles)
Cereal Bowl – comes rimmed or coupe (no rim), ranges from 5″ to 7″
Demitasse Cup & Saucer (after dinner, chocolate) – Much smaller than regular tea cups, come footed and flat, saucer usually indented
Mug – Tall, large cup, no saucer, flat or footed, occasionally differs slightly in design from the rest of the pattern.
Charger – (often confused with the dinner or chop (12″ serving) plates) – Flat, usually round, ranges from 11″ to 12″ in diameter
Serving pieces also come in a wide range of piece types, sizes and shapes. The following are some of the more common pieces:
Creamer (milk jug) – handles with spout for pouring, many different sizes, often even for the same pattern
Sugar Bowl – usually with a lid, occasionally open, almost always with handles.
Oval Vegetable Bowl (salad bowl, serving bowl) – rimmed and coup (no rim), used for salads, pasta etc., ranges from 9″ to 10 3/4″
Round Vegetable Bowl (salad bowl, serving bowl) – rimmed and coup (no rim), used for salads, pasta etc., ranges from 8″ to 10 3/4″
Oval Serving Platter (meat platter) – comes in many different sizes, starting from 10 all the way to 19″ in length, occasionally bigger (length is the determining factor, not width). When referring to platters, actual size is important. “Big” or “small” mean different things to different people. Use the actual length to clarify what you are referring to.
Gravy Boat & Under plate (platter) – Under plate comes separate or attached. Sometimes with handle, occasionally with double spout.
Tea Pot with Lid – short and stout
Coffee Pot with Lid – Tall and thin
Covered Vegetable Bowl – Round or oval, double handled, often confused with soup tureen, which is much bigger
Tureen or Soup Tureen – Large round bowl with lid, usually footed, occasionally with under plate or nook for ladle
Knowing what you are looking for will go along to ensure that you actually get it and not some similar-but-not-what-you-wanted piece which will not suit your purposes. A little knowledge goes a long way.