Hayes White House Dinner Service Duplicate Set
Theodore Russell Davis, designer
Haviland & Co., manufacturer
United States and France
Porcelain with enamels and gilding
Bequest of James and Sallie Dooley
Maymont Mansion Collection (25.179.001-88)
A ruffed grouse amidst fiddlehead ferns, a red snapper leaping out of the water, a shad caught in a golden net, a Baltimore oriole, Concord grapes, buffalo in a snowstorm, bears in a bee tree, a blue crab, and a howling wolf – the list goes on and on. It’s quite a menagerie of wildlife intermixed with native plants. Where are we? Not out in the wild, but in the Dining Room of Maymont. All of these scenes of American flora and fauna, and many more, are captured in a large set of Haviland porcelain that was originally created as a new dinner service for the White House during the Rutherford B. Hayes administration (1877-1881). Maymont’s set is what is said by Haviland experts to be the largest assemblage of this famous design on view to the public – all 88 duplicate pieces acquired by James and Sallie Dooley and left as part of their bequest of Maymont in 1925.
The boldness of the designs, the flamboyance of the striking images, the innovative shapes, and the strong colors characterize the set as a distinctly American creation. Its designer, Theodore Davis (1840-1894), was an artist and outdoors man who had trekked across the country as an illustrator and news correspondent for Harper’s Weekly, depicted battles of the Civil War, and later rode the plains with Custer. One day in 1879 he happened to meet Mrs. Hayes in the White House conservatory as she was selecting botanical specimens that might be suitable for the design of a new set of presidential china. Haviland & Co., based in New York City with its porcelain factory in Limoges, France, had just received the contract, but the design had not been finalized. Davis seized the opportunity to suggest American flora and fauna as alternative theme, and Lucy Hayes was immediately convinced. Soon thereafter, Davis was appointed designer of the new service to work in collaboration with his friend, Theodore Haviland. Setting up his studio in Asbury Park, New Jersey, Davis worked throughout the spring and summer of 1879, painting 130 different designs. Once the watercolors arrived in France, an elaborate process began involving various artisans. What resulted is perhaps the most unusual of all White House dinner service sets. (1)
The complexity of Davis’ designs, the production process, the creation of new forms for nine different courses, and the addition of a large number pieces resulted in a significant cost overrun. To make up for their substantial losses, Haviland received permission from the White House to make several duplicate sets for sale. These were marketed in the United States at three high-end retailers in Washington D.C., New York City, and in Boston. No records survive to tell us where the Dooleys acquired their duplicate pieces. Like the originals, marks on the reverse of the duplicates include Davis’ signature, the Haviland & Co. name, and the United States coat of arms. While the originals bear the date 1879, the duplicates were marked with the patent date August 10, 1880. (2)
Of all the Dooleys’ six-course set, many Maymont guests favor the oyster plates with ribbons of green seaweed floating around the shells. There are also the game plates; dinner plates; soup bowls in the shape of Mountain Laurel blossoms, some featuring scenes of the ingredients—one with a large okra plant and a chicken; the fish plates with scalloped edges; and fruit plates in the shape of an apple leaf, one depicting Davis’ studio on the New Jersey shore and another showing a snow scene with the now extinct American chinquapin, a type of chestnut. The tea cups are decorated with the pink blossoms of the tea plant and the demitasse with bamboo shoots. In addition, there is the fish platter with its gilded and curled corners (said by Davis to have been inspired by birch bark), a sauceboat, the game platter, titled “On the Chesapeake,” and the turkey platter with the grand striding fowl against a sunset in the background. (3)
While the originality and flamboyance of Davis’ designs stirred debate among critics, its richly ornamental style and representations of the natural world appealed strongly to Victorian taste. Today the Hayes White House Service and its duplicates at Maymont continue to attract attention, appreciated for its fascinating depictions and as a celebration of the bounty and variety of American flora and fauna.
- Margaret Brown Klapthor. Official White House China, additions and revisions by Betty Monkman, William G. Altman, Susan Gray Detweiler. Harry N. Abrams, 1999.I
- Haviland & Co., The White House Porcelain Service, Designs by an American Artist, Illustrating Exclusively American Fauna and Flora.
- Special thanks to Robert Doares for sharing his extensive research and insight, some of which is presented in his article “On the Trail of a Canadian Dinner Service in the President Hayes Design,” American Ceramic Circle Journal, XVIII.
Written by Dale Wheary, Maymont Curator and Director of Historical Collections and Programs, this post is part of a blog series commemorating Maymont Mansion’s 125th anniversary. Each post in the series will detail significant objects, from sculptures and paintings to furniture and fine porcelain, in the Maymont Museum Collection. Read all posts in the series here.
Visit Maymont Mansion to see the Haviland dinner service set and more from the mansion collection.