Chinese dinnerware patterns are gaining in popularity, but it often takes a certain amount of background knowledge to appreciate them fully.
Historically, while the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries yielded many hallmarks of Chinese porcelain in technique, color, and breadth of design, the Chinese later produced a great deal of over-decorated porcelain, much of it inferior copies of earlier types.
The China trade began as early as the 16th century, when the Portuguese landed in Canton. By the mid-18th century the Dutch, French, and English had established strong trade relations with the Far East. The American market opened in 1784 with the sailing of the ''Empress of China,'' just as the European demand for export porcelain was beginning to soften.
According to porcelain expert Mildred Mottahedeh, the lively interchange between East and West resulted in a great hybridization of styles. Wealthy Europeans commissioned chinaware made to order, often designed around their family crests. The Chinese were fairly indiscriminate in executing requested designs. In efforts to please European buyers, they attempted to paint figures with Western features and even used Christian motifs.
Chinaware created for export to America generally relied on more stock patterns, but sometimes incorporated symbols of the young country, including eagles and scenes of the Delaware River, New York Harbor, and Mount Vernon. The American demand for Chinese blue and white chinaware was particularly strong, and pieces of Blue Canton are now cherished heirlooms in many families.