A plate is composed of:
- The well, the bottom of the plate, where food is placed.
- The lip, the outer edge of the plate (sometimes falsely called rim. It can be flat (like a pizza plate); or inverted (slanting down); or everted (more common, slanting up)
- The rim, which is actually the lip seen in profile - the opening of the vessel; sometimes with a gilded line.
- The base, which is sometimes used interchangeably with 'well', but actually refers to the underside.
Plates are commonly made from ceramic materials such as bone china, porcelain, and stoneware, as well as other materials like plastic, glass, or metal; occasionally, wood or carved stone is used. Disposable plates, which are often made from paper pulp, were invented in 1904. Also melamine resin or tempered glass such as Corelle can be used.
Size and type
Plates for serving food come in a variety of sizes and types, such as:
- Saucer - a small plate with an indentation for a cup
- Appetizer, dessert, salad plate, and side plates - vary in size from 4 to 9 inches
- Bread and butter plate - small (about 6-7 inches) for individual servings
- Dinner plates - large (10-12 inches), including buffet plates which tend to be larger (11-14 inches)
- Platters - oversized dishes from which food for several people may be distributed at table
- Decorative plates - for display rather than used for food. Commemorative plates have designs reflecting a particular theme.
- Charger - a decorative plate placed under a separate plate used to hold food, larger (13-14 inches)
Plates can be any shape, but almost all have a rim to prevent food from falling off the edge. They are often white or off-white, but can be any color, including patterns and artistic designs. Many are sold in sets of identical plates, so everyone at a table can have matching tableware. Styles include:
- Round - the most common shape, especially for dinner plates and saucers
- Square - more common in Asian traditions like sushi plates or bento, and to add modern style.
- Coupe - a round dish with a smooth, round, steep curve up to the rim (as opposed to rims that curve up then flatten out)
- Food-themed artwork is common
The Chinese discovered the process of making porcelain around 600 AD. It wasn't until 1708 when a German potter in Meissen discovered the Chinese process, that European potteries came into being. Many of the world's best known potteries were founded during this period - Royal Saxon in 1710, Wedgwood in 1759, Royal Copenhagen in 1775, and Spode, founded in 1776 in England.
These plates are made of cardboard, paper or purely organic material and are normally intended to be used only once.
Plates as collectibles
When trade routes opened to China in the 14th century, porcelain objects, including dinner plates, became must-haves for European nobility. After Europeans also started making porcelain, monarchs and royalty continued their traditional practice of collecting and displaying porcelain plates, now made locally, but porcelain was still beyond the means of the average citizen.
The practice of collecting "souvenir" plates was popularized in the 19th century by Patrick Palmer-Thomas, a Dutch-English nobleman who wowed Victorian audiences with his public plate displays. These featured transfer designs commemorating special events or picturesque locales – mainly in blue and white. It was an inexpensive hobby, and the variety of shapes and designs catered to a wide spectrum of collectors. The first limited edition collector's plate 'Behind the Frozen Window' is credited to the Danish company Bing and Grondahl in 1895. Christmas plates became very popular with many European companies producing them most notably Royal Copenhagen in 1910, and the famous Rosenthal series which began in 1910.
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