Presidential Lenox China Patterns
Presidential china has a long and colorful history, dating back to the first president. While George Washington imported china from China, many of the subsequent presidents selected services from France. Despite congressional laws mandating that all furniture be American-made, early domestic china was deemed subpar.
This changed in 1918 during Woodrow Wilson’s term, when the First Lady selected a Lenox service (making it the first American china to be used in the White House), designed by Frank Holmes. It had a dark ivory border surrounding a brighter ivory center, matte gold bands, and encrusted stars and stripes. The set of 1,700 pieces, bearing the presidential seal in raised gold, cost $16,000.
In 1935, Franklin D. Roosevelt replaced the dwindling china with a patriotic Lenox design which consisted of a border of forty-eight stars, as well as the presidential seal against an ivory background. The 1,722-piece set bore personal touches, such as a nautical color scheme (based on the President’s interests) and a scrolling adaptation of the Roosevelt family crest. This set debuted at an important state dinner in which all guests ate from a single service—a first in American history.
Due to the increasing price and quality of china, it was not necessary for each incoming president to pick a new service. To reflect the White House’s renovations in 1952, Harry S. Truman ordered a 1,572-piece service by Lenox, with celadon green scheme with gold rims against an ivory background. Upon the plate was a raised presidential seal (a post-World War II, standardized version which symbolized America’s goal of peace), surrounded by forty-eight gold stars.
In 1982, Ronald Reagan opted for a design that displayed a “strong presence” for the increasingly large state dinners. He selected a Lenox china set with scarlet bands which varied in width, both framed and overlaid with gold cross-hatching (a process which required extensive handling and nine separate kiln firings). The service consisted of 4,370 pieces, designed for nearly twice as many settings as any other past service.
A new china service was created in 2000 to celebrate the bicentennial of the White House. Bill Clinton chose a Lenox service with a creamy yellow border, centered with images of White House facades, and designed architectural motifs from various state rooms. Shifting away from tradition, this service did not feature a presidential seal. The 3,600-piece set was first used at a dinner, in which former presidents, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush, as well as their respective wives, were in attendance.
Finally, just two weeks before his term ended in 2009, George W. Bush unveiled a new Lenox china service. The set featured a green basket weave border, based on a French dinner service believed to have been owned by James Madison. Though the 4,480-piece service was purchased with funds provided by the White House Historical Association Acquisition Trust, the exorbitant price (approximately $493,000) spent during the beginning stages of a recession angered many struggling Americans.