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
- Lunch plates (typically 9 inches)
- 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 was not 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 1839, Royal Copenhagen in 1772, and Spade, founded in 1732 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.
Of course when Limited Editions arose on the marketplace, there was great speculation about how limiting the quantities of given plates would effect the value of those plates.
In the mid 1900s the Bradford Exchange began aggressively marketing Limited Edition Collectible plates as a good investment opportunity. The Bradford Exchange helped Limited Edition Collectible plate owners exchange their plates through auctions. They also kept a record of what prices plates sold for at auction and made an estimate of current plate values which they listed on their website.
As a result, thousands of Limited Edition Plates hit the marketplace and were bought up by collectors, some of whom never even displayed the plates, but kept them in mint condition in storage.
Most of the Limited Edition Collectible plates that were created displayed art works from famous artists who licensed the plate producers to reproduce their work on porcelain, bone china, pottery, metals, alabaster, etc.
The plate producer would then get a plate manufacturer to create the plate and also a transfer maker to create a template to make decals that would transfer the original art work onto the plates. Of course this was covered by a hard glaze and fired so that the transfer became permanent.
Various border designs were used including some in 14 or 24 carat gold. There were even some plates where they placed gold leaf on top of the art work decal before the glaze was baked on.
To keep track of all of the thousands of plates that were on the market so that they could be listed on the Bradford Exchange, a universal numbering system was devised. These numbers were called the Bradex numbers. Some manufacturers included it on the back decal and some did not, but all Limited Edition Collectible plates were assigned with Bradex numbers.
The Bradex number is divided into three sections: The first section tells you the country the plate was produced in. Next you will see a dash, then you will see a letter followed by a number in the second section. This is the code for the plate producer. Next you will see another dash followed by a number, a decimal point, and then another number. This code tells you which of that producer's series the plate belongs to and the number after the decimal point tells you which edition of that series that plate is.
For example: Bradex: 84-B10-18.2 means that the plate was produced in the USA by the Bradford Exchange and it was the second edition plate of the 18th series. The "84" means USA and "B10" means Bradford Exchange. The third plate in the series would be 84-B10-18.3 (Quoted from the article "Demystifying Limited Edition Plate Identification" on ThePlateLady.com website at http://theplatelady.com/sandraplates.htm#21 )
Because there was no system set up for how plate producers could number their plates, other than the Bradex system, the serial numbers on the plates became irrelevant to identifying the plates. Since the same serial number could be used by two or more manufacturers and no public records were kept of which serial numbers belonged to which plates.
The Bradex number remains the only conclusive way to identify a Limited Edition Collectible plate. However, you can also match the following information off the plate's back decal: 1) the manufacturer's name 2) the artist's name 3) the series name 4) plate's name
Of course sometimes the series name will be missing, but if the other three match and the picture matches it is most likely the same plate.
However, be aware that matching only the art work can lead you to a mismatch because art works were often licensed to more than one manufacturer.
For more information about Limited Edition Collectible plate identification, please refer to the article "Demystifying Limited Edition Plate Identification" at http://theplatelady.com/
1. The Bradford Book of Collector's Plates 1987, Brian J. Taylor| Chicago, IL
2. Glockson, Lillian| Demystifying Limited Edition Plate Identification| http://theplatelady.com/sandraplates.htm#21
Displaying Collectible Plates
Many of those who collect plates enjoy keeping them on display rather than in the boxes in which they came packaged. Even more common are collectors who have many plates that they display seasonally. It is always best to retain all packaging that came with any collectible plate, and if displaying them, to do so safely.
Plate hangers, plate stands and plate frames are all different methods used to display plates so that they may be enjoyed safely. A plate hanging rack is one that is secured to a wall appropriately depending on the wall surface material. The plates are then put onto the rack. Plate stands are display easels that can stand on shelves, tables, counters, etc, while holding a collectible plate. They are available in many different sizes to accommodate plates as small as 2" in diameter up to larger platters. Plate frames are similar to picture frames except they are round. They are typically made of wood or composite materials that look like wood. Some plate frames include glass, offering maximum protection for the plate displayed. More information on how to use plate hangers, plate easels and plate frames to display collectible plates can be found on the blog, Display Days, specifically on this post called, "Collectible Plates...How Do You Display Them?" http://www.displaydays.com/2013/03/collectible-plateshow-do-you-display.html
1. Djakov, Lyenochka | Collectible Plates...How Do You Display Them? | http://www.displaydays.com/2013/03/collectible-plateshow-do-you-display.html 
- Venable, Charles L. et al (2000). China and Glass in America, 1880-1980: From Table Top to TV Tray. New York: Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 0-8109-6692-1.
- Sizes estimated from products available on amazon.com and crateandbarrel.com, 2 Dec 2011.
- The Bradford Book of Collector's Plates 1987, Brian J. Taylor, Chicago, IL
- Glockson, Lillian: Demystifying Limited Edition Plate Identification  ThePlateLady.com 11/25/13
- Djakov, Lyenochka: Collectible Plates...How Do You Display Them? 03/08/13
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