The Most Stunning China Patterns Commissioned By U.S. Presidents—and First Ladies—Over the Past 200 Years
These presidential plates serve, no pun intended, as a living history of the White House and everything it has represented for over 200 years. We might seat a new President of the United States every four to eight years, but the legacies live on. The White House belongs to the American people, after all—and so does that mean the china does to? We call dibs.
During each administration, both historic and newly commissioned sets of the state service china are used in countless state dinners, First Lady luncheons, and holiday affairs. Former First Lady Laura Bush summed it up well: “One certainty for all new First Families is that they will be dining on someone else’s dishes.”
Admire these pieces, some showcased in The Official White House China: From the 18th to the 21st Centuries, that have been introduced to the White House as far back as 1786 (George Washington, we're looking at you!). Here are the most stunning presidential china patterns commissioned by U.S. Presidents and First Ladies throughout history.
George and Martha Washington acquired these pieces during the late 18th century. The dinner plate with the blue "Fitzhugh" border was purchased for Washington by General Henry Lee in 1786.
This dessert plate was part of a state service made by Pierre-Louis Dagoty of France in 1833. It features blue marbling on the border and a gracious nod to the Great Seal of the United States.
James K. Polk
Though the dinner plates are of simpler design—gold-rimmed and white—the Polk administration's dessert plates really made the collection sing with a pastel green rim and botanical design. Almost every piece features a unique shield behind the national motto on a floating banner.
They are America's royalty, after all. The Lincoln administration selected a wonderfully regal pattern in a shade of purple that Mary Todd Lincoln chose herself. The banner reads in Latin, "Out of many, one," and the eagle is meant to represent President Lincoln.
A more dramatic service, these plates feature an inky blue border and 44 gold stars, which represented the number of states in the Union at the time it was ordered for the White House in 1892. This same service oversaw the presidencies of William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, as well.
Ulysses S. Grant
You might notice the disparity in style between the scalloped botanical plates and what are affectionately referred to as the "fish plates." There's a reason for that: President Grant and his wife, Julia Boggs Grant, went on a grand tour of Europe where they selected the unique pattern to pair with the more traditional china pattern back home in the United States. Only 24 fish plates were ever in service.
These are the breakfast dishes commissioned by First Lady Frances Cleveland during her husband’s second term in the White House. Made in 1895 by Theodore Haviland of Limoges, France, the white plates are adorned with soft pink roses to fit the more casual purpose.
This stately blue-and-gold set was the first to be manufactured in the United States (by Lenox of Trenton, New Jersey!) and was decidely more ornate than some presidential china patterns before, using 3-D gold on the rims and insignia.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Made by Lenox in 1934, this handsome service is bordered with "America blue" and gold stars (one for each state). The presidential seal is encircled by gilt roses and plumes, selected by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt as a nod to the Roosevelt family crest.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
President Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, chose this ostentatious pattern in 1955. Each service plate is rimmed with pure gold (like that used to make gold coins) in a special embossed diamond design. Instead of commissioning an entirely new set, first lady Mamie Eisenhower ordered 120 plates to coordinate with the Truman set.
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lady Bird Johnson wanted her state china pattern to be something outside of the norm. Nearly five decades had seen only simple dinner plates rimmed in one color (usually gold) and designed with an American eagle in the middle. She instead chose to wreath the eagle in wildflowers to make it appear both patriotic and botanical. The china pattern reflected her passion for nature preservation, which she championed in her First Lady role.
Harry S. Truman
Made by Lenox in 1951, this porcelain china features rich celadon green detailing to match the newly decorated White House State Dining Room at the time. The heavy gold rim and presidential seal favored many past presidential services. This particular state service was also used by the administration of John F. Kennedy.
With a bright scarlet red border, gilded rim, and delicate crosshatch pattern, this state service is one of the most striking ever designed. It was also the most expensive. First Lady Nancy Reagan commissioned 4,370 pieces from Lenox after hosting a large dinner for which she was ill-equipped. The cost of $209,508 was footed by an anonymous donor, but the famous red color was chosen exclusively to match Nancy Reagan’s favorite color.
To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the White House, President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton chose this yellow china pattern as a breath of fresh air. Since then, yellow has become even more popular in the White House, due to its calm and agreeable disposition. The service plate showcases the White House, which is the first time that particular image had been used on state china.
George W. Bush
These two pieces commissioned during President Bush's administration were made to be testaments to both heritage and history. The plate on the left, designed by Anna Weatherly, depicts a Southern magnolia, which is now found on the White House grounds. The service plate on the right was inspired in tribute to former pieces of presidential china and was suited for more formal hosting.
This particular state service was created in 2015 by Pickard China of Antioch, Illinois. The design includes a departure from the commonly used primary colors to a unique color called "Kailua Blue," chosen by First Lady Michelle Obama to symbolize the blue waters of Hawaii, President Barack Obama's home state. The plate is tied together by the traditional Presidential Coat of Arms.