Treasures: Royal China Plates Aren’t What They Seem


This is pretty, but not highly desired on the current market.

This is pretty, but not highly desired on the current market.

Dear Helaine and Joe:

What is the worth of two Royal China Warranted 22k gold plates? Markings are Eggshell Nautilus USA E40 N5 and E46 N5. Were these plates part of a set or were they made for decor — or possibly as stand-alone collectibles? I believe they were both made in the 1940s.

Thank you,

A.T., Wasilia, Alaska

Dear A.T.:

In many cases — not necessarily this one — what people see when they observe a ceramic mark such as the one noted by A.T. is the notation “22k gold” was used to decorate their piece, be it a plate, a vase or something else.

Some people suppose this means the piece has value because of its precious metal content, but in the vast majority of cases, nothing could be further from the truth. In almost all cases, there is not enough gold present to fill even a small cavity on a gnat’s tooth.

In so many ways, the piece is not what it appears to be. The mark clearly reads “Royal China,” which was the name of a prolific company located in Sebring, Ohio. Royal was founded in 1934 during the aftermath of the Great Depression. In the beginning, its employees worked for free until the company started making money.

The gamble paid off, and during the first year of operation almost 8 million pieces of pottery were made. But we do not think these two plates were actually made at the Royal China facility. Instead, we believe the “Eggshell Nautilis” mark, which is stamped underneath the Royal China mark, means the plates were made by the Homer Laughlin China Company.

The pieces were actually made in Laughlin’s plant in Newell, West Virginia. The name “Eggshell” refers to a type of lightweight body with a thin chinalike edge that was first produced by Homer Laughlin in 1937. “Nautilus” was the name of the first shape made using the “Eggshell” body, and Nautilus was followed by other shapes, including “Swing” in 1938, “Theme” in 1940 and “Georgian” in the same year.

It is our opinion that Homer Laughlin made the plates, but sold them undecorated to Royal China. Royal China then added the textured wide gold rim around the outside, the filigree, and finally the floral print in the center. They were then sold as “service” or “place” plates to be used in setting a fancy table before the actual china was employed.

We cannot be absolutely sure of this because A.T. failed to tell us the diameter of her pieces, which should be no less than 10 inches and probably closer to 12 inches across. These would have been luxury goods, and the dates from the 1940s suggest they were made only after prosperity began to return to the United States at the time of World War II.

Originally, there was probably a set of eight or 12 of these. It appears from the dating that the plates were probably purchased one or two at a time whenever the original owner could afford to buy them. For insurance purposes, these should be valued in the $40 to $60 range for the pair.

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