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Using Antique & Vintage Dinnerware

If you collect vintage and antique dinnerware and kitchenware items, it helps to keep a few things in mind if you want to use them for preparing recipes and serving meals.  Washing these heirloom pieces after you're done is just as important as making sure they're adequately prepared for food before using them.  The items we spend a significant amount of time and money to collect should be properly taken care of, because we want to keep them in top condition for many more years to come.  Delicate china, glassware, stoneware, earthenware and ironstone that has survived decades can continue to do so in your very own home if you're cautious.

Over the course of my keeping home, entertaining and enjoying the antiques I own, I've had a few mishaps with my antique & vintage dinnerware due to simple errors on my part.  These accidents could have been avoided if I had just paid closer attention to what I was doing at the time.  When I look back at those instances I say to myself: if only.  Don't let that be you.

With these tips and things to consider whenever you want to use your antique & vintage dinnerware, you'll avoid the mistakes I've made and you'll enjoy your dinnerware, your serving platters, tureens and more, for many years to come.    

Warming Your Dinnerware & Serving Pieces

It's a very good idea to warm up whatever vintage & antique pieces you plan on using, before  you add food to them.  Even if these vintage items claim to be oven-proof or heat-proof, you'll be thanking yourself  if you take this small step.  I don't recommend warming them up in a hot oven because the thermal shock may actually crack them.

Taking this step is a must if you live in an older home like mine which gets drafty in the winter.  It's not wise to have a cold plate receive hot food straight from the oven or skillet.  Let me give you some examples.
This wonderful ironstone under tray for a larger tureen is one that I love using for salads, breads & muffins every once in awhile.  I once decided to use it to hold some hot food straight from a wok.  Big mistake!

Since I did not preheat this serving plate, as soon as the hot food hit the ironstone it cracked.  I heard a pop and a loud crack.  Can you see that hairline crack along the rim of the tray?

It's more apparent when you flip the plate over.  This is how big the crack became in a matter of seconds.  Very upsetting to have a perfectly nice piece of ironstone go from good to bad.    

Here's an example of a plate with a potential weak spot.  That metal pointer shows a flaw in the glass of this jadeite plate from the 1940s.  It is not a crack and it is not a hairline fissure either.  It's just a point in the glass which didn't mix smoothly running in an arch pattern; I have several dinner plates which have this flaw.  You have to really examine your plates for these types of weak spots so that you're aware of potential problems when using them.  

I didn't know at the time that it could lead to problems.

You don't have to worry about this if you're serving items at room temperature, but if you plan on serving something hot from the stovetop, preheat the plate.

Look at that awful crack!  This happened to me one evening as I was getting ready to plate our dinner. The plates were next to my stove, people were seated at the table and the chicken cutlets were ready to come off the saute pan.  As I began plating the chicken, I heard two loud pops.  I knew immediately what had happened.  Cold plate, hot food...not good. 

On the flip side, you can see how the crack just traveled down the entire length of the plate.  This jadeite dinner plate is completely useless to me now.  It had to get pulled out of the cupboard.

Gasp!  That evening, I lost 2 dinner plates.  One had several cracks and one just came apart on me.  It's awful isn't it?

A stack of perfectly fine jadeite dinner plates.  Some have those flaws in the glass and some do not.  If you're setting hot food onto vintage & antique plates, make sure you know what condition each piece is in.  I don't recommend using dinnerware that has a known crack or hairline fracture, because any type of heat will eventually weaken the piece even more and split it.

As for methods of preheating, I have one.  I now run the plates & serving pieces under warm water and then dry them off right before I'm going to use them for hot food.  I don't like the idea of putting them in the oven or a dishwasher to warm them up.  The heat from both of these sources may be too hot for your delicate plates.

Once you've dried your warmed plates, keep them next to the stove so that they're ready to go.

The same goes for tureens, platters, vegetable bowls and pedestal serving pieces that are going to hold hot food.  If you have very very old pieces of heirloom china, do take this extra step to ensure their safety.

 Hand Washing is Best

At the end of the day when you've finished using those cherished pieces of dinnerware, please hand wash them instead of using a convenient dishwasher.  My rule of thumb is that if my dinnerware is older than 20 years and they are pieces I love immensely, I hand wash them in sudsy water in the sink, the old-fashioned way.  

Here are two examples of milk glass.  The bowl on the left is pristine and white.  The set on the right has taken on a yellowed hue due to probably having been put in the dishwasher repeatedly (not my doing). Over time, a dishwasher with its harsh detergents and extreme water temperatures, may discolor your pieces of antique and vintage glass, earthenware or fine china.  Hand wash!

I keep a simple white dish rack set over a baking sheet when I do this.  After I've finished washing every single piece, I use fluffy cotton bar mops or flour sack cloth towels to dry up the dinnerware.  Drip drying overnight is not something I like because the pieces end up with water spots.  Maddening.

The dish rack can be emptied of all that water, dried and get tucked into a cabinet so that it's not occupying precious counter space.  

Take care of  your vintage and antique treasures.  Whether they've cost you a small fortune or whether they've been handed down to you by a thoughtful family member, it's good to keep your dinnerware and serving pieces in top form.  I love setting a nice table with a mix of old and new.  Some of you do the same in your wonderful homes and I'm glad, because it's nice knowing that there are like-minded individuals who appreciate the old and the antique.  Enjoy using your antique & vintage dinnerware.  

Happy Entertaining!


  1. If only you could see the big 'ol smile on my face when you mentioned in this post about water spots.. "Maddening." Oh, David, David, David... we Martha types are SO much alike.. :-)

    We use our Jadeite daily. Mixing bowls to dinner plates.. it's all used and handled with extreme care.. I can't imagine NOT using it!

  2. You're hilarious Kenn, but you understand where I'm coming from re: water spots. Yes, we are cut from the same cloth when it comes to these household dilemmas. :)

    I think it's wonderful that you use your jadeite on a daily basis. As much as I try, I don't always get to use the pieces I own. I like to mix it around, but perhaps I should make more of an effort.

    Have a good one!

  3. Seeing the cracked ironstone and broken Jadeite plate is heartbreaking, David. I'm so sorry!

    I love your collection of Jadeite! I once owned a huge collection of Jadeite - Everything from dinner plates, chili bowls, berry and soup bowls, mugs, drippings jar, just about everything made back in "the good old days" - and I loved every piece! Although I used everything at least a few things, I owned it mostly for display so when I received an offer to allow it to go to someone else who was desperate to add it to her own collection, I let it go. I still miss it (I kept the cake stands!)

    I never imagined Jadeite could break! Fortunately, I never lost a piece in all the years I collected it. I'm thinking of starting a new collection (shhhhh... don't tell my husband!!) so I'm especially grateful for this information. As always, a great post and fantastic information!


  4. Janet,

    I can't imagine your having to part with an entire collection of jadeite!! I'd be depressed forever if I had to do that.

    BUT, you're on a mission, so I wish you well in your quest for jadeite!

    Enjoy Antiquing!

  5. I absolutely love this post! I have a collection of jadeite that I love but am scared to use. Now I will know what to do! What about jadeite/milk glass teacups or mugs? Can you put hot liquids in them as long as you preheat them?

    Thank you!

  6. It's funny you should mention the teacups and mugs, because I have found them to be quite durable. My restaurant ware teacups are very thick and don't really require prewarming, BUT, it is nice to reach for a warm cup early in the morning instead of a cold one.

    Use your jadeite and milk glass, and enjoy it!

  7. This is a very late post. But in just reading this. I have a lg collection. I always put some hot water or rinse my coffee cups of any type in hot water before pouring hot liquid in them. It does help to avoid cracks. Ex specially with delicate tea cups that are fine china.

  8. That is exactly what I've been doing, Coco. For some reason, though, I never thought of having to do that with my Fire King restaurant ware. I now have a rule that if it's 25+ years old, it gets pre-warmed.

    It's better to be safe than sorry.

  9. The last one looks so great. Nice to have one.

  10. David, hello!!

    I hope the new year has started off to be a lovely one for you. :D

    I wanted to ask your opinion as to what linen color, fabric, etc you'd recommend for daily use with my jadeite dishware?

    Thank you so much!

    1. Dorienne,

      I find the best linens for jadeite to be all cotton or 100% linen in muted tones, like off-white, parchment, mint, pale blues and even pale yellows. You can do prints if you wish: think, chevron prints, stripes or anything that isn't gaudy.

      Have a good week!

  11. Hi David. I have a question I cannot seem to find the answer to regarding ironstone. I have several antique ironstone pudding molds and was wondering if it is possible to bake in them without ruining them. I thought perhaps the famous English "figgy puddings" were made in these molds? Do you know if it is safe to bake in them? Thank you!!

    1. HI Kathryn,

      With antique ironstone, I would hesitate to put it under any extra stress, because it can easily crack and break. I've had the misfortune of cracking a nice platter simply because I didn't warm it up before adding hot food to it. The crack was instantaneous. Imagine what an oven or a stockpot (for steamed puddings) would do!

      Those ironstone molds were used primarily for aspic recipes, as well as some desserts. English figgy puddings may have been steamed in them, but I have a feeling that pudding bowls designed for that task were used instead. Although the ironstone molds may have been very sturdy to use for steaming when they were originally produced, I would not use them for that these days.

      Prepare a steamed pudding in a contemporary Mason Cash pudding bowl or one made from porcelain. You can always buy steamed pudding molds (aluminum) in a variety of shapes for these desserts.

      I hope this information helps!

    2. Thank you David. This is extremely helpful! I do have a couple of tin molds and will use those for my figgy pudding this Christmas. Best to you.


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