What did Oscar Wilde say about being able to resist anything except temptation?
I went back to the little shop off Camden Passage where I found my milk jug. I was supposed to be on my way to the garden center, but then it was raining and I thought, well, I could either go back to the flat and get my umbrella . . . or pop into the shop with the old lady and see is she has any new dishes that might be interesting.
She remembered me right away, of course, and asked about the jug (we’re friends now, you see) and whether I was still happy with it. I said I was perfectly delighted with it and did she have anything else in a similar vein? When she missed her cue to try to sell me something (seriously, it’s a wonder she’s still in business), I helped her out by picking up what looked like a serving bowl with a blue-and-white pastoral pattern and asked her about it. She clucked and said it was a fruit bowl and that if I was interested in that sort of thing I should have a look over here (indicating a teetering pile of dishes opposite). After a few minutes of precarious unstacking, she pulled out a somewhat larger bowl with a striking Italianate maritime pattern.
Wedgewood! she exclaimed. Beautiful pattern called Ferrara. From the 1880s.
She then went on to explain that Wedgewood, based in Staffordshire and dating back to the mid-1700s, has long made some of the finest English pottery, and that any Wedgewood is worth hanging on to. It’s still in operations, though apparently it went through some dark days after an ill-fated merger with the Irish glass-maker Waterford.
From there we looked at a few more pieces. One, in particular stood out for its novelty. It was a dish from the 1820s with a blue-and-white camel pattern called Rogers. It looked like a dinner plate sitting atop a serving bowl, with two little spouts on either side. Apparently it was a sort of chafing dish: you poured boiling water into the dish through the spouts, and then the hot water was supposed to keep the food on the plate warm. Unclear how effective these dishes were, but apparently they were quite a collectors item for a while and are now difficult to find.
The oddity of the warming dish (plus the unusual camel pattern) was appealing, but it seemed to have very little practical use. So I went back to the Victorian Wedgwood fruit bowl. The pattern really was striking, and although it was larger than I need for a fruit bowl, I can imagine using it as a serving dish for other things at a party.