The True Cost of China-painting: 1887

hand painted cornflower plate

Limoges plate, hand-painted with cornflowers.


A Fair Young Decorator’s Husband Deals in Facts and Figures.

“What do you think of it?”

A young housekeeper was exhibiting to an investigator a handsomely decorated plate which leaned against a neat easel on the mantel of her pretty drawing-room.


“Guess where it came from?”‘

“France, perhaps.”

“No. I bought the plate down town and decorated it myself.”

“An excellent idea! You can now have as handsome a dinner set as there is in New York at a mere trifling cost.”

“That shows what you know about it,” interposed the husband of the fair artist, with just a trace of sadness in his tones.

“I don’t see why you say so, John,” retorted the latter.

“Let’s figure the cost. I probably have kept a closer watch upon that department of the business than you have done.”

“Well, begin.”

“In the first place, the plate itself cost you $3?”

“I know,” returned the artist, with an air of triumph; “but you can’t cut a decorated plate like that for less than $5.”

“That may be so,” continued the husband cruelly. “Next you bought about an ounce of liquid gold, which cost $3.75. You used about half that amount.”

“Not all on that plate, John. You know I spoiled about as much as I used.”

“I know you did, my dear, and you ruined about $3 worth of carpet with the stuff; but I didn’t intend to reckon that in this table. Then you bought a book of instruction which cost $2.50 more. And you took six lessons on the design you painted, at $1 a lesson. If you paint any more plates, you will have to take more lessons. Isn’t that so?”

“Yes, but I will only need one or two on each plate from this time on.”

“I haven’t mentioned the paints and brushes you bought They cost $10 more, but will probably answer for some time to come in your future work. I’ve not finished yet. It cost $1 to have the plate fired. Now, let’s see what the cost is:

Plate………. …$3.00


Carpet spoiled…$3.00





TOTAL             $27.37

“That is just shameful, John. You know my next work won’t cost me nearly so much.”

“We’ll see about that,” continued her husband. “Your plate will cost $3; gold (barring accidents) say $1, lessons $2. paint, say $1, and firing $1. That makes $8. Pretty high price to pay for a $5 plate, eh? This doesn’t include the expense of a headache, backache and loss of temper which a painting always produces in you. Neither does it take in the amount of vexation your illness always causes me. No, my friend,” added the husband, in conclusion, as he turned to the investigator, “I find it cheaper to buy my china. I am afraid a whole dinner set would leave me nothing to buy food to dine on.”

Monongahela [PA] Valley Republican 3 November 1887: p. 1

hand painted fairy plate

Meissen plate probably hand-painted by an amateur china-painter from a published design.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: China painting was touted as a genteel hobby, eminently suitable for ladies’ delicate hands and aesthetic sensibilities, although its proponents elided over the costs. Importers of fine china were also less than sanguine about the craze and had their methods for dealing with enthusiasts.

The China-Painting Craze.

“You say the price of this beautiful hand-painted dinner set is $175?”

“Yes, madam.”

“And the price of this plain set of the same ware if $171, only $4 difference/”

“Yes, madam.”

“Then, how can that be real hand-painting? Surely it must cost more than $4 to decorate a set like that. The figures are exquisite.”

Both dinner sets were of Limoges ware. They were displayed in a Broadway crockery house. The decorated set had delicate figures traced on each of the hundred or more pieces.

“I assure you, madam, that it is genuine hand-painting,” he replied. “The slight difference in price does not arise from the cheapness of the painting. It comes from the highness of the tariff.

“Well, I thought so,” said the lady. “I’ve done some painting on china, and I know such beautiful work as that could never be had for $4 a set.”

“Just as I thought, too,” said the dealer, when the lady had gone. “She is one of them.”

“One of what?”

“The women with the china-decorating craze. I told a little fib about the tariff, or rather, stretched the meaning. It is our tariff on customers, and not the customers tariff, that makes the small difference in price. We charge within a trifling amount of as much for plain Limoges and other high-grade chinas as we do for the richly-decorated sets, simply to keep the plain sets out of the reach of persons (principally women, by the way) who otherwise would buy them and make their own hand-painted decorations. Few persons can tell real art-work from dabs on china, any more than they can on canvas. If we gave the china-decorating cranks a chance we’d soon have the market flooded with real Limoges ware, hand-painted by home talent. By making the plain sets almost as expensive as the imported hand-painted sets, we shut out these amateurs. This course is pursued by the trade generally.”

The Jewell County Review [Mankato KS] 1 December 1887: p. 7



Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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