Smith College Commemorative Wedgwood China
The Smith College Wedgwood china plates were first sold by the St. Louis Smith Club, beginning in 1931. The funds raised were given to the General Scholarship Fund.
The club presented the idea to the directors of the Alumnae Association, who declined to participate in the project directly, but encouraged the club to move forward with their plans for the plates on their own. The club decided that it was willing to put up the capital and assume the risks of such a venture, and they placed an ad in the May 1931 Smith Alumnae Quarterly (an issue dedicated to celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Alumnae Association). They needed to sell 300 orders in order to break even, and by June 1931 had over 700.
The original set included 12 dinner plates, featuring the following views in blue, green, or rose pink:
Grecourt Gates College Hall Observatory Dewey House Seelye Hall Lanning Fountain John M. Greene Hall Paradise Pond and Mt. Tom Smith College Library Great Tower in the Quad (this refers to the Wilson House clock tower) Sage Hall Sophia Smith Homestead in Hatfield, MA.
The price of the set of 12 10 ¼-inch plates was $15. Then-President of the college William Allan Neilson autographed each plate ordered before June 20.
Over time, the items sold and prices changed. The May 1932 SAQ listed both dinner and salad plates for sale (dinner: $15/12 and salad: $12.50/12). By November of 1932, an alumna could order either type of plates in sets of 6, 8, or 12 (dinner: $15/12, $11/8, $8/6 and salad: $12.50/12, $9.50/8, $7/6). Sometime between the original ad and November 1932 the dinner plate size increased to 10 ½ inches. Salad plates were 9 inches. The advertisement does not indicate how the views were selected for partial sets.
An advertisement in the February 1933 issue of the SAQ changes “salad” plates to “dessert” plates, retaining the same size and pricing. In addition, single plates were sold at the cost of $2, or $2.50 for an autographed plate (evidently they had some left by that time). Alumnae could also buy cups and saucers ($15/12) and bread-and-butter plates ($9/12). These did not feature any images, according to the ad—later ads dispute this.
A February 1934 ad warns of an impending price advance and notes that few autographed plates remained. By May of 1935, the prices had indeed risen and the types of items offered had changed again. This listed dinner (“service”) plates at $17/12 and “dessert or salad” plates at $14/12. No smaller increments were listed, though a later ad indicates that partial orders could still be placed. Bread-and-butter plates ($10.50/12), tea cups ($17/12), and bouillons ($20/12) were offered with “College Hall view only.” (A bouillon is a kind of two-handled teacup from which broth is consumed. A photograph in a later ad indicates that these also came with saucers).
The November 1936 SAQ ran a full-page ad (the advertisements had been shrinking steadily in size since the original full-page 1931 ad) including photographs of the items and introducing a Wedgwood ashtray featuring the College Hall view and selling for $1 each or $3.75/4. These were 4 ¼ inches in diameter. The ashtray was the last addition to the set.
In 1954, the Wedgwood supplier (Jones McDuffee and Stratton) withdrew from its relationship with the St. Louis Smith Club (the reason is not known) and all leftover china was shipped to the college. In 1977 the Boston Smith Club attempted to take over and revive the franchise and in 1980 the following dinner plates were offered, in blue only, for $175:
Grecourt Gates Paradise Pond Seelye Hall College Hall Neilson Library (the renamed Smith College Library) Quad Tower John M. Greene Hall Sage Hall.
It seems that the Alumnae Association and the college bookstore each picked up the inventory and sold the plates for a time in the recent past, though now they are no longer available through Smith College channels. The most recent known carrier of the plates (including the older versions and items) is The Victorian, a shop in Amherst, MA.
Sara Streett October 2001
Sources: Nanci Young, College Archivist, Email Subject: Smith College Wedgwood Plates Date sent: 25 Feb 2000 Smith Alumnae Quarterly