Antique Plates & Chargers

What is a Charger Plate?

I love this job… I just keep learning.  The only trouble is  (if you’re going to be sensitive) that you might feel silly or at best ignorant that you never knew before you knew… (I could become the US Secrtary of State at this rate.) So today I found out what a charger plate was. (Mostly thanks to Wikipedia…)

So, a Charger plate or a Service plates (and they are often called underplates or chop plates) is larger than your dinner plate – visbly so when topped with your dinner plate. They are the under plates used to dress up dinner services and the dinner tables at fine dinners or at special events and as such are part of a dinner setting. They are usually decorative (as that’s really their purpose, though they are functional too). From an antiques point of view, the best bit is that while these charger plates have been around since the 19th century, they recently became popular again (since the in the late 1990′s?) which means that the antique charger plates are selling…

And more good news is that because one’s food is not served on chargers, they remain in good condition. (I have Minton plates from the 1970′s which have had their pattern worn away by eager daily eaters). they are nnot always made of ceramic, as they do not need to be watertight or food-proof. They are most often made of china, but theycan be made of wood, metal (gold, silver, copper, pewter), glass or even pearl! One word of warning though if you choose to use a charger plate as a plate… They may be toxic as the material or the decoration may not be food safe as a plate would be.

Charger plates can be part of a dinner service or in some cases separate items (which may be more decorative than the china used with them).

The Etymology of “Charger” Plates

The word “charger” originated in the 13th Century in the Middle Ages from the Middle English “chargeour” – from the French. Formerly, a charger signified either a large platter or a large, shallow dish for liquids.

The Etiquette of Charger Plates

The exact use will vary from household to caterer to restaurant. Some professional caterers take away the decorative charger/service plate as soon as the diners sit down. Sometimes the charger plates are used for the soup and first courses as a base on which other plates or dishes are placed. If, especially when the design of the charger plate is very decorative and makes the dining plates and other dishes look good (and adds more style to the procedures), they are kept on the table throughout the dinner (or lunch?). Rather boringly and contradicting the last sentence, most people take away the charger plates for dessert.

Nowadays a charger plate will also be used for a centre piece (flowers say) of for nibbles or delicacies (nuts or jellied sweets, for example).