The authors personal collection of porcelain.
A weakness for porcelain has always been a bit suspect. Beginning in the late 1600’s certain collectors were labeled as having the maladie de porcelaine, or “porcelain sickness,” an overwhelming desire to acquire more and more pieces of the material being imported from China. In 1602 Daniel Defoe criticized Queen Mary of England for the extravagant amounts covering every surface at Kensington Palace. Savoy’s ruler Augustus II’s 1717 trade with Prussia of a regiment of six hundred soldiers for sixteen large Chinese vases and other porcelain items has long raised the eyebrows of those not similarly afflicted.
An excessive love of ceramics wasn’t just seen as silly, but could also be seen as having low moral standards. In the opening scene of Edith Wharton’s 1920 Novel, The Age of Innocence, upon sighting the disgraced Countess Olenska at the Opera, snobbish Laurence Lefferts sums up the nasty character of her estranged husband: “Well. I’ll tell you the sort: When he wasn’t with women he was collecting china. Paying any price for both, I understand”. Alice Morse Earle, author of the 1896 book China Collecting in America, called her annual china hunting expeditions a “midsummer madness” and spoke of the fever induced by stalking an elusive piece.
When Sotheby’s auctioned off Andy Warhol’s collection in 1988 sophisticates were struck dumb by the multitude of Fiesta ware pieces and Russell Wright-designed dishes he amassed .These days, you’re more than likely to be competing against a self proclaimed “dish queen” male or female, for that Oyster Plate or World’s Fair souvenir plate online. So take heed as the new dawn of collecting fever arrives and we are no longer morally loose. Perhaps we are finding a new appreciation for the artistry of the past and re-thinking what is so valuable and desirable about that good china that our Mothers fretted over each holiday. It seems very easy to agree with the essayist Charles Lamb, who in 1823 admitted that when he visited great houses, he always asked to see the china closet first!