Monday, April 26, 2010

French Service

Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 1960s, we lived an upper middle class life. My brother, sister and I attended private school. We enjoyed eight weeks of summer sleepaway camp. Our father bought a new Buick every five or six years. We accompanied our parents to the theater, opera and the occasional weekend in the Catskills.

But of all the affectations of upper crust living, the one I most remember for its qualitative impression of upward mobility was what our mother called her “French Service,” the practice of placing a decorative cabinet plate at each place setting which was removed before any food was served. She reserved this noble gesture for just a handful of celebratory meals each year, for which she’d bring out from storage 10-inch scalloped plates with idyllic scenes of courtship by the 18th century French painter Fragonard. Here’s a picture of what the plates looked like (the sample is pink, but the plates came in a rainbow of colors): http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=380224731353&rvr_id=&crlp=1_263602_263622&UA=M*F%3F&GUID=b2c9d68b1250a0b5833359e3ff833377&itemid=380224731353&ff4=263602_263622

In case you didn’t scroll down, the ebay seller accurately described the plates thusly:

“This beautiful Kuba Porzellan Bavaria Germany cabinet plate measures 10 inches in diameter. The plate features a courting couple in the center with smaller scenes of the courting couple around the border. Each scene around the border is different. The scenes are framed with a gold band that has raised tiny beading. The center scene is bordered with an ornate design in gold with a band of tiny beading below. The center is pink with a gold floral design around the border. The detail on this piece is wonderful. The rim is also trimmed in gold. . . The bottom is marked as shown in the photo and the front is signed Fragonard. A nice piece.”

We have 36 Kuba Porzellan cabinet plates. They haven’t been used since a few years before our mother died in 1996 when she no longer had the stamina or wherewithal to host family get-togethers. Each of her children were to take a dozen plates, but tastes having changed over the years, no one really wanted them. They were a little, okay, more than a little, ostentatious for the type of entertaining any of us did. So they sat in my brother’s basement, waiting for the day one of us would bring a plate to an appraiser and we’d discover untapped inheritance. PBS’ Antiques Roadshow fueled the imagination.

A few weeks ago I took a plate from my brother’s home, determined to discover the truth behind our bequest. A quick Internet search revealed their worth. About $1,000 for all 36 plates. Not an overwhelming find. Especially when one considers the sentimental value behind the plates.

We’ll probably try to sell the plates. No use keeping them boxed in storage. Perhaps they will provide memories for another family.

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