Christmas plates. Just the word on its own can send a shiver down the spine of some Danes who’ve grown up with them! Memories of endless rows of blue and white plates with sugar sweet motifs on the walls at grandma and granddad’s can be all too fresh in the minds of some. For many years now Christmas plates have been out in the cold as far as trendsetters and other interior design aficionados are concerned.
But in the last couple of years there have been signs of a thaw. A single Christmas plate or two have sneaked up on the wall alongside modern art in a personal asymmetrical ensemble or have found their way onto the dining table serving entrées to dinner guests, placed on top of the popular modern Royal Copenhagen blue and white fluted plates, Mega Mussel. Used in this way the passé suddenly becomes kitsch or even outright modern.
The Christmas plate, during its more than 100-year lifetime has enjoyed the heights of popularity only to become incredibly unfashionable and now begin to climb its way back into the warm.
Back in the mid-19th century F.V. Grøndahl and the three Jewish Bing brothers started the porcelain factory Bing & Grøndahl in Copenhagen. Things went pretty well for them – the factory created the Seagull pattern dinnerware in 1892, dinnerware that has since been called Denmark’s national dinner service as it was to be found in around one in every ten Danish households. But B&G could much more than paint seagull wings on pale blue porcelain. In 1895 B&G designed the world’s first Christmas plate. Right away the plates proved to be incredibly popular and a new B&G Christmas plate has been added to the series ever since.
In 1908 the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory realized the golden opportunity the popular Christmas plate presented and so they too made it an annual tradition to launch a Christmas plate of their own. In 1987 B&G and Royal Copenhagen merged under the name Royal Copenhagen, but a Christmas plate bearing the B&G name continues to be made alongside a Royal Copenhagen one.
The scenes on B&G’s Christmas plates revolve around a Danish Christmas. Not necessarily with a traditional Christian Christmas theme, more the things we associate with Christmas – like snow-clad landscapes, deer and hares, birds feeding on ears of corn, a town silhouette at dusk, a Christmas tree, or a horse-drawn sleigh entering a farm courtyard. Romantic, but also looked down upon and dismissed by youth.
Up through the 20th century the walls in numerous Danish homes were plastered with these cobalt blue Christmas plates, arranged neatly in regimental rows. They were an enormous sales success – not least because shops were so good at telling the customers that in time the plates would come to be worth a lot of money one day. The opposite turned out to be true. Only the very early ones are worth any real money today.
The very first B&G Christmas plate is from 1895 – 400 were produced and then the mould was destroyed to prevent any more being made. They did this every year, but the number produced before the mould was destroyed naturally grew. So there are piles of the newer plates around and they’re still being sold at auction in large lots.
Is there a place at your dining table for a set of Danish Christmas plates? Or on your wall in your own unique “tableau”? Bid on Christmas plates at Lauritz.com here.