The ABCs of Alphabet Plates of Yesteryear

Article excerpt

Q. I've enclosed photos of an old ironstone ABC bowl. The mark on the bottom indicates that it was probably made in East Liverpool, Ohio. I estimate 1850s to 1880s. Can you tell me the maker, age, value, etc.?

A. ABC (or alphabet) plates and mugs have been around for a long time. They were most popular between the 1820s and 1860s, but they actually originated in late-18th-century England and continue to be made to this day.

Our ancestors wanted everything a child encountered to be an educational experience, either religious or secular. ABC plates and mugs were designed not only to hold food but also to teach the little tykes their alphabet while they ate -- and played with -- their food.

Many times, these ABC items also had moralistic sayings designed to deliver the double whammy of teaching reading skills and instilling values at the same time. Other ABC objects skipped the platitudes and offered entertaining images of games (baseball, cricket or marbles), animals (dogs, cats, donkeys, chicks, stags, lions or elephants), nursery rhymes, foreign scenes, flowers, Civil War images and pictures from books such as "Robinson Crusoe."

Still another series had a large letter in the center of the plate such as a big "B" and the phrase "B is for ball" (and so forth). ABC pieces can be found made from pottery (creamware, pearlware and ironstone), glass and tin with the pottery items being the most desirable as a general rule.

A large number of pottery makers located in Staffordshire, England, made these alphabet pieces, but late in the 19th century, American versions became available as well. …