It used to be that you set your dinner table for guests with a matched service, the same pattern of china for every course and matching cups and saucers for coffee after. Nowadays, it is the fashion to combine different patterns according to your own taste, and so complete services are much less popular and are harder to sell. A classic French dinner service used to include 24 dinner plates, 12 soup plates, 12 dessert plates, and assorted serving pieces; coffee services were separate, usually 12 cups and saucers, a coffeepot, a creamer and a sugar, and perhaps the matching serving tray. When classic Quimper services come up for auction, they can be a very good deal; there are also some unusual and special services that continue to be more expensive. Let's have a look at some services that were sold this past week at various auctions! (Note: prices noted are the gavel prices - the auction houses add a buyer's fee of about 19%.)
Here was an Henriot service from about 1930, classic Breton figures, classic borders. It included 36 dinner plates, 12 soup plates, 12 dessert plates, 3 round platters, a vegetable bowl, a salad bowl, 3 oval platters, a fish platter, two raviers, a double salt, a sauceboat, 3 footed compotes, and a soup tureen. Its gavel price was 550 euros. At the simplest calculation, that works out to less than 10 euros apiece ... my goodness!
This service, featuring the arms of Brittany and ermine tails, was manufactured by Henriot around 1940. It included 10 dinner plates, 12 soup plates, 9 dessert plates, 2 round platters, 2 oval platters, 1 footed compote, 1 sauceboat, and 1 vegetable bowl. Its gavel price was 700 euros, not quite as much a the bargain as the previous service, but it has some historical value: this pattern is the one of the service that was offered to General Charles de Gaulle during one of his visits to Quimper.(If you are ever invited to dinner at the Préfecture in Quimper, they may set the table with the same pattern!)
Of course, this is oyster country here at Land's End, and Henriot manufactured a splendid oyster service in the early part of the 20th century, with three stacking platters for serving oysters and the sauceboat on top (for vinegar and chopped shallots). It is unusual enough to find the serving set intact, but this service was particularly outstanding because it also had 12 oyster plates with it. Its gavel price was 750 euros, and I hope somebody bought it to use!
The Quimper manufactures have produced a number of fish services, with different forms of platters and plates. This service was designed by Etienne Laget, the artist from Arles, and it was manufactured by Henriot around 1930. It included the fish platter (a form still produced today), the sauceboat with its langoustine handle, another fish serving piece that is like a tureen with a colander inside, and six plates. This is a very unusual service and it is not surprising that its gavel price was 700 euros.
I may have to take another look at what I'm setting my table with!