Artifact Spotlight: A Candy Dish for Christmas

By Margo McCutcheon, Site Educator, Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site

There’s nothing wrong with having a little treat any time you want. Everyone deserves something for making it through the day, but of course you don’t need an excuse for why you deserve a sweet snack in order to have one.  

Although I don’t know for sure if the Rayburn family were as partial to candies as we are today, they certainly had enough dishes to use for candies, nuts, or anything else they might desire. ‘Tis the season for snacking and seeing all that fine china everyone has hidden away, so why not join me as I investigate the Rayburn family’s candy dishes…or maybe they used them for nuts…or perhaps mints? Let’s find out together. 

These six porcelain dishes each measure approximately 6.4 centimeters high by 7 centimeters wide. A gold border lines the rim of the dish as well as the handle, and a hand-painted floral design decorates the inside of this dish.  

The design shape of the dish appears to resemble a flower-shaped basket with a pointed handle connecting two sides of the dish. The makers mark indicates that these dishes are hand-painted Noritake Dresdlina from Japan. According to the Noritake China website, the company officially started in 1904 and began exporting its products in 1914.  

Mass-market production of the company’s products began in the 1920s. The “Dresdlina” part of this dishware probably refers to the flowers on the dishes, which likely reference the proliferation of Dresden china that featured floral imagery (you could also connect the Dresden quilt pattern to this design, which is typically shaped like a flower). 

What these dishes were specifically used for requires some guesswork, at least on my part. The candy dishes I know of are larger in size, and set basically anywhere for anyone to grab a candy or mint at any time. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a dish for sharing nuts of all kinds, but I’m not much of an entertainer (especially an entertainer that would have all kinds of little dishes to put out for my guests). However, it seems you could put candies, nuts, and/or mints in these Noritake dishes for after-dinner enjoyment, possibly with tea or coffee. 

Before I remembered that our files probably had information that could really help me research these little decorative dishes, I tried to find out about them myself—to no avail. The only lead I managed to find was that they resembled basket-shaped candy dishes.  

According to AC Silver, basket-shaped dinnerware (at least in England) was first made in the 1600s as a way for certain members of society to feel more cultured as well as for decoration and ease of service for some types of foods.  

These basket dishes could actually function as baskets, holding bread, fruit, cakes, and other items for guests to select. Basket dishes on the smaller side could also accompany epergnes and other centerpieces to fill out a host’s table (and it just so happens the Rayburn family has a gold-lined epergne decorated with a flower pattern that I previously discussed on our blog). With the Rayburns having at least six of these dishes, it’s likely that they were for individual guests during or after dinner, or at least to put in multiple places around the dining table or parlor.  

The Rayburns had quite a few pieces of china with floral patterns. Sam Rayburn’s sisters Kate, Lucinda, and Medibel (Lucinda and Medibel lived in the Rayburn house) all loved flowers and were members of garden clubs.  

Perhaps in addition to looking nice, dishes such as these allowed the Rayburn sisters to express one of their passions to the guests they hosted. Whether it was for candy, nuts, mints, or something else entirely, once a guest reached the bottom of this dish, a flower awaited them.  

What do you think these dishes were used for? Do you have any of your own, and if so, what do you use them for? Stop by the Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site and let us know. 

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