Why Spode's Christmas Tree Pattern Is an American Classic

Christmas Tree By Spode
Photo: Laurey W. Glenn

For many Southerners, Christmas means setting up the tree, putting up the stockings, hanging a wreath on the door, and pulling the Spode Christmas Tree dishes out of the china cabinet.

While Spode is best known for their classic blue-and-white Italian patterned dinnerware, the ceramic company's Christmas dishes are an evergreen (pun alert!) favorite. The china is lined in fir green, which sets off the red bows on the beautifully wrapped presents and highlights the Santa-topped Christmas tree sitting at the center of the plate and emblazoned on the front of the tea cups. Whether you inherited the festive dinnerware or bought them for your own holiday celebrations, there's no denying the pattern is an elegant ode to Christmas joy.

Spode Ceramics Have a Storied History

Spode is one of the oldest ceramics factories in the world. Josiah Spode set up his first factory in the English town of Stoke-on-Trent around 1770 and quickly earned a reputation for creating exquisite tea, dinner, and dessert services and as a trailblazer in the development of bone china in the 1790s, according to the Spode Ceramics history. The Christmas tree pattern, though, wasn't invented until 150 years later.

It came about thanks to an ingenious sales representative in the U.S. According to the blog Spode History, in the 1930s, Spode had started to sell its wares in the United States through one sales agent—Sydney Thompson. Thompson was based out of a shop in New York City selling Spode china to the well-heeled customers who strolled Fifth Avenue. Once a year, Thompson would travel to the Spode factory in Stoke-on-Trent to work with Spode's art director Thomas Hassall to create new china patterns that they hoped would appeal to the U.S. market, poring through old Spode pattern books for inspiration.

The Start of Spode Christmas Dishes

In 1938, Thompson decided that Americans were ready for a new design for the Christmas season. The Spode pattern book had many holly jolly designs, but none seemed quite right, so Hassall told one of his staff designers, Harold Holdway, to come up with something appropriate for Christmas. His design with its inviting Christmas tree decorated with ornaments and tinsel and topped with merry old Saint Nick was an instant classic, which has stuck around to this day.

It was a great addition to the company's collection. The salesmen were swamped with orders from the moment it was introduced, according to the Spode History blog, and the pattern was so popular in the U.S. market that it helped save the Spode company during hard times on more than one occasion. It's easy to see why: for some Southerners, Christmas dinner just wouldn't feel right on any other dishes.

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