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White House China

In 1967, Lady Bird Johnson worked with Tiffany & Co. to design a wildflower-themed service for 140 guests for just over $80,000, funded by the White House Historical Association. Dessert plates featured the hand-painted state flower of each of the 50 states.
View the slideshow above for an inside look at the White House's fine china through the years.
When Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, first lady Nancy Reagan had to combine the Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry Truman patterns to have enough place settings. So naturally, she ordered her own. The Lenox pattern of 19 pieces for 220 settings cost $210,000 and was paid for by a private foundation. Her chosen red-rimmed pattern required nine firings in the kiln, according to the Lenox company.
Hillary Clinton also worked on a new china pattern while her husband Bill Clinton was in office. The pieces incorporate the architecture of the White House to commemorate the building's 200th anniversary as the president's home. The White House Historical Association footed the $240,000 bill for the 300 12-piece place settings. The dishes made their debut at a dinner attended by former White House occupants Gerald and Betty Ford, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, George and Barbara Bush, and Lady Bird Johnson.
In 2009, just before her husband George W. Bush left office, Laura Bush unveiled two new china patterns: a traditional Lenox gilt service and a White House first: another service to be used in the president's private residence. The private set features large, hand-painted magnolias, butterflies, and dragonflies. The more formal service of 320 14-piece place settings cost $492,798, and was privately funded.
Presidential china patterns date all the way back to the nation's fifth president, James Monroe (or, more likely, his wife Elizabeth Kortright Monroe). Some first ladies, like Rosalynn Carter, don't commission a china pattern of their own, while others delight in the activity. So far, the Obamas have eaten off reproductions of Abraham Lincoln's place settings at the inaugural luncheon and the Woodrow Wilson pattern, which Michelle Obama chose to mix with pieces from the 1939 World's Fair for the administration's first state dinner on Feb. 22, according to a White House memo. Asked before her first hostessing duties at the White House whether she would get to work on a china pattern, Mrs. Obama replied, "I think that's part of the job."
The first china created specifically for an American president was made in 1817 for James Monroe. The 30 place settings cost $1,167.23 and featured an eagle and the national motto "E Pluribus Unum." Monroe took a beating in the press because the dishes were ordered from France.
Congress was so peeved that during the administration of John Quincy Adams, the next president, it passed a bill "that all furniture purchased for the use of the President's House shall be as far as practicable of American or domestic manufacture," according to the National First Ladies' Library. Even still, first ladies continued to import their china.
In 1846, James K. Polk and his wife Sarah ordered 400 pieces of colorful china from France for $979.40.
A few years later, Abraham Lincoln's wife Mary personally selected the red-bordered "Solferino" pattern used often to keep up appearances during the Civil War.
The public has been purchasing reproductions of presidential china since at least since the 1870s, when the controversial pattern of President Rutherford B. Hayes featured original paintings of North American animals on oddly-shaped dishware.
Despite all these patterns, Theodore Roosevelt's wife Edith was the first to gather samples of presidential china in 1904. She collected what pieces she could from the previous 25 presidents and displayed them in specially-made cabinets in the White House.
In 1918, first lady Edith Wilson commissioned more 1,700 pieces of American-made Lenox china for just over $11,000. The plates featured the presidential seal in 24-carat gold. Mrs. Wilson also created the White House China Room as it is known today.
During the Great Depression, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt angered many people by purchasing 1,722 pieces of china featuring aspects of the Roosevelt seal for $9,300. A subsequent state dinner marked the first time that each course for each guest was served on matching china, according to the Lenox company. In 1951, Bess Truman bought a similar grouping of pieces for $28,000. The green band on the plates matched the paint color on the walls of the State Dining Room.
Dwight D. Eisenhower's wife, Mamie, collected missing china patterns from all past administrations to complete the China Room in 1957. For those presidents who had not ordered new china, she acquired a piece of their personal dishware. Instead of ordering a complete new set for herself, she got service plates to complement the existing Truman pattern.
For more White House facts and fun, check out Post Presidential Homes and First Ladies In The Home.

Photo Credit: flickr/high tea for alice

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