Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I Gave Up Disposable Dining

About a decade ago, I started to collect depression glass during my phase when I was a new mother, and building my "nest".  There's something about functional nostalgia that I am drawn to.  Perhaps it's because I can remember my grandmother at some point having some of these dishes and I long to connect with her grace and hospitality.  Maybe it's kinda strange for this rock n' roll mom to be so into this stuff, but I decided a long time ago to just be who I am.  Back then I was a huge Martha Stewart fan and Martha had a thing for green depression glass.  I started to look for it at flea markets and on ebay in the beginning of 2000, and have been collecting green, lemon yellow and gold depression glass ever since.  My auntie Anita had a collection as well.  She had some green glass, but mostly milk glass and ruby red.  These dishes are very heavy and fair quite well for parties.  I pull them out whenever we have a lot of people over and my everyday dishes just won't do.  You can bid on pieces individually on ebay anywhere from pennies to a couple of dollars per item.  Sometimes they are sold in sets, sometimes by serving set, and sometimes you'll find a replacement piece such as a lid or a saucer... I don't think I've spent in total more than a couple hundred dollars on my collection.  I have enough to use for parties where I entertain up to a hundred or more people.  You might ask yourself, why I would use these for parties.  As I've said, they are pretty durable, I've only had a couple of them broken over the years. More importantly, to me at least, is the fact that I don't want to use paper or styrofoam plates.   I try to avoid the use of disposable paper and styrofoam whenever I can.  It's unhealthy for our bodies and for our earth and it's definitely more expensive in the long term.   Even for everyday dining, we don't use paper napkins.  Instead I've invested in cloth napkins and collected enough of them over the years to use them for every meal and toss them in with the laundry at the end of the day, to be washed each week with our laundry.  It is, I admit a way of living that takes getting used to.  It means dishes to wash.  But even for parties with a hundred people, we can get away with about 3 loads in the dishwasher, and/or recruiting friends to help wash and dry at the end of the night.  It's not that big of a deal, seriously.  And people appreciate the elegance and sturdiness of real dishes.  I enjoy taking people back to a time when hostesses were more graceful, actually cooked, and made an effort to show their guests that they care enough invest some time in their comfort.  I don't have the patience to be particular about pattern or brand, so long as they are good quality and in the colors that I like, I collect them.  Some people will prefer a uniform set.  But for me mix and match is the way.  I should be said the other kind of collecting takes a lot more time, patience, and willingness to pay higher prices. Antique and vintage dealers know that if you're looking for a particular brand or pattern to match what you're collecting, you'll pay more.  So I just look for certain colors, pattern, and quality of craftsmanship.   It adds a bit of funkiness to an otherwise fancy spread, to use mix match dishes in lovely jewel tone colors.  Perhaps that is the rock n' roll in me that thinks funky belongs with fancy.  Each year I choose a dish type to focus on.  In the last few years I focused on pitchers.  So now I have 6 depression glass pitchers that get used quite a bit for holidays at our house.  I also collect old silver as well.  I keep it stored in vintage flatware chests I found at the flea market, and polish it up for use on holidays when family and friends come through. 
I keep my much vintage dishes in an old pie safe (see below right), the rest in high cabinets, and only take them out when we have company. 
Some of the favorite things in my collection of dinnerware and glassware is my set of hand-painted artist signed blue clayware dishes from Tonalo, Mexico.    I found the set in a flea market many years ago and paid about $80 for something like 100 pieces, including place service for eight (dinner plate, salad plate, tumbler, tea cup/saucer, cocoa mug, soup bowl, small bowl), soup tureen, salad bowl, platter, coffee server, and more.   This is not about pretentiousness.  It's more about grace.  Every time I take them out to serve guests people get this pleased look on their faces like they are getting the royal treatment. Even the guys are flattered. They have no idea I paid less for the entire set of Mexican dishes than I would have paid for the same amount of not-as-impressive dishes purchased in the local Target.  I wouldn't trade them for anything in  a high end department store either.  I mix and match this set with my green depression glass and, as you can see in this picture,  1950's and 60's ceramic pitchers. 
If you love to entertain, investing in vintage will pay for itself.  Over the years the money I've saved on disposable ware alone has more than paid for what I've collected, and who knows how many trees I've saved. 

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