Skip to main content

What's Up Magazine

Antiques: Syracuse China

Nov 08, 2011 09:21PM ● By Anonymous
Created for use in restaurants and on trains, before anyone had heard of Styrofoam and paper plates, it was designed to withstand heavy use but had to look attractive. Unlike most of today’s china used in restaurants, which favors a plain white surface so as not to distract the eye from the food on the plate, the china often had a pattern. The commercial settings where hotel china was used provided the perfect place to test consumer response. If a traveler saw a pattern that caught their eye when on vacation, perhaps they would purchase a set of the same china in a lighter weight when they returned home.

Durable china in the 2lst century means china that can easily go from a cold refrigerator to the inside of a microwave oven for fast heating. It also means china that can easily withstand the heat of the dishwasher. Although hotel china was first made back in the 19th century, it is popular with today’s collectors because, although it cannot be easily replaced, it does stand up to daily use.

Today, younger generations who have inherited these old sets of china wonder as to the origin. They also wonder whether their particular set has any value. Such a set is owned by one of our readers who inherited her china from her mother. Decorated with the primary colors of red, green, yellow, and blue on a cream-colored background, this particular set has a phoenix in the center, a popular motif used by many manufacturers of china, stoneware, and porcelain.

The pattern is called Dewitt Clinton. It was made by the Syracuse China company in several variations, including versions with scallops and gold banding, with a white background, and in a lighter weight. It is available through replacement services that charge approximately $90 for a 5-piece setting, which averages to $18 per piece. Syracuse China is still in business today under the ownership of Libbey Inc.

Founded in 1871, as the Onondaga Pottery (O.P. Co.), after the county in which the plant was located, the company adopted the name Syracuse China in 1895. The name change heralded the success of the company’s new vitreous china which won the medal for translucent china at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. The chip-resistant, round edge shape introduced in 1896 was a perfect match for institutional use. Hotels became a major market for the company.

The old ivory-colored clay body, featured in the pattern pictured on these pages, was introduced in 1926. The Dewitt Clinton pattern was discontinued in 1937.

Syracuse China also made fine decorated translucent china for home use which was very popular. In addition to finding discontinued china online through matching services, there are often opportunities at yard sales, estate sales, and antique shops to find wonderful large sets of older china.

 The Dewitt Clinton pattern, made by the Syracuse China company from approximately 1897-1937, is sometimes referred to as railroad china because it was used in the dining cars of trains. With rounded, chip-resistant edges, it was popular for hotel, restaurant, and institutional use as well.

If you have a question related to this column or a previous column, email We also invite readers to send photographs and suggestions for future columns to 929 West St., Suite 208A, Annapolis, MD 21401.