Antiques dealer and auctioneer Martin Willis told me that he’d always believed this myth, one that he heard from his father decades ago, a man who was also in the auction business. Then he looked into it and learned it was false. He’s right on the money about that!
The story goes that in 1890, the McKinley Tariff established the requirement that all imports show their country of origin. Porcelain dinnerware was coming mainly from China and was marked accordingly. So far, so good. Here comes the myth in the punchline . . . So that’s why Americans refer to their dishes as “china,” because it said China on the back.
Americans do call plates, cups, and saucers “china” but not because of the McKinley Tariff. Historians find the word “china” in inventories from the 18th century. It became shorthand among early American settlers because much originated in China or was made in England to approximate Chinese wares, not because pieces were stamped CHINA.
Rosedown Plantation SHS says:
December 16, 2012 at 2:23 pm (Edit)
Reblogged this on Rosedownplantation’s Blog and commented:
December 21, 2012 at 12:13 pm (Edit)
Quite right. No good New Englander would fall for that one, I hope, since the fortunes of Salem and many other towns were founded on their importation of goods from the east including “Canton ware.” In fact there is a town in Massachusetts called Canton. Visit the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem for much more….
Mary Miley says:
December 21, 2012 at 12:20 pm (Edit)
No good New Englander, perhaps, but plenty of auctioneers seem to fall for this one.
June 7, 2013 at 2:06 pm (Edit)
You’ve introduced another myth. Americans do not call all dishes china. They call china china. Dishes that are not made of pocelain and ridiculously overpriced, well… they are called dishes
Mary Miley says:
June 7, 2013 at 2:49 pm (Edit)
I stand by my original generalization. Americans call their dishes china. As in “my everyday china” for earthenware, for example.
March 22, 2015 at 11:52 pm (Edit)
Thank you B. P.
Also, no offense, but this is stupid.
OK, so it’s not called China because it is “stamped China”. But according to your own argument against the myth, most if this type of tableware was produced in and imported from China. Hence, “china”. You even point out that what England produced was an effort to compete in that market by making their own tableware “like” what China was producing. It would be of more interest to know if porcelain table ware “originated” in China. At any rate, table ware that comes from China would be china, same as Champaign is so called because it is a product of Champaign, France. And, no doubt, the first country to produce it at least to gain notoriety fir it. If it is not produced in Champaign, it may be a similar product but it is not called Champaign. It is called sparkling wine. So a product that is similar to the Chinese product but not made in China, is not really china. It is fine porcelain tableware, made elsewhere. Porcelain tableware made in Canton, England would not be true china. Understanding this, it is redundant to say “fine” china. Chinaware, by it’s nature is fine. If someone is of the opinion that the tableware from England is finer, then they should call it “fine porcelain” from England, not china. I’m thinking THAT would be wherein the “myth” lies.
They could call it “england”, but that just sounds weird. And, finer or not, it is a knockoff, a copy if something China, perhaps, is credited for introduce to us.