By Nancy Armitage
In May 2022, my friend Lisa & I dressed up for “Afternoon Tea” & drove up to the Langham-Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, CA. We wanted to enjoy a relaxed formal afternoon tea. We had recently been working very hard on a art research project.
As I admired these “Cabinet plates” at the Huntington-Langham Hotel, I was always thinking….could these fine bone china & porcelain plates have been owned by Mr. & Mrs. Henry E. Huntington (Arabella)? There are numerous similarities to the Huntington’s huge amounts of porcelain plates at the San Marino Ranch & and at the Hotel Huntington. This hotel Mr. Huntington once owned.
I found a very long list of fine bone china plates in the Huntington Mansion Inventory book/list. The Huntingtons owned all of these plates show in the photos: French: Sevres, Limoges, & Haviland, English: Coalport, Minton, & Ridgeway, Ironstone, Mason’s ware; also Chinese Rose Medallion plates, & Japanese Imari plates, & Dutch Delt plates, too. Very Interesting Document: HEH Coll. MS 38/6 uncat (Huntington Mansion Inventory Book)
There is something so regal about this Huntington Hotel; so many fun memories and history attached to it. If you visit the Huntington-Langham Hotel in Pasadena, remember to go to the bottom level to the Terrace Café. They have many historic black & white photographs of the Hotel Huntington on display from the 1920’s.
The Huntington-Langham serves a lovely tea, just like the Ritz Huntington did before. A hotel guest might partake in tea (maybe Darjeeling, Earl Grey, or Orange Pekoe) & maybe champagne, too. This hotel is known for their elegant “Afternoon Tea”! At Christmas time, they often serve a wonderful Cinnamon-Orange Christmas Blend of tea.
Seeing these gorgeous Cabinet Plates inspired my imagination of what the hotel looked like at the beginning in the early 1900’s. Maybe they used these decorative plates to serve afternoon tea, luncheons, & dinners on some of these vintage plates.
In the early 1900’s, this hotel property was called “The Hotel Wentworth”, it was owned by Colonel Wentworth who had gone bankrupted. Mr. H. E. Huntington bought the Hotel Wentworth in 1911 with his Huntington Land & Improvement Co. H. E. Huntington renamed it “Hotel Huntington”, renovated the entire hotel & made it into one of the finest luxury hotel in America. They opened their doors in 1914 with great celebrations: a formal ball, afternoon tea reception and open house.
Today, the Huntington- Langham Hotel’s elegant tea is served on English Royal Albert “Old Country Roses” fine bone china plates. The maker of the plates: is Wedgewood & the Royal Albert have been making fine bone china since 1904. Wedgewood was another fine bone china company, Mrs. Arabella Huntington collected.
The Huntington Langham Hotel serves a most delicious & elegant tea service. They serve tea sandwiches, lovely cream scones, & fancy dessert dainties. The little lovely tea sandwiches (are usually chicken salad, egg salad, cream cheese and chive, & salmon). They have petit scones, served with raspberry jam & Devonshire cream. Ending this lovely tea ritual with sweet dainties like petit fruit tarts & sublime French macaroons. It’s been a long time since we went out to lunch or tea (since Covid-19 virus). So we thought it would be fun, we got all dressed up in our purses & pearls. But sadly, they were not opened for formal tea until June 2022, so we will just have to wait.
While we were walking around the Huntington Langham Hotel, I spotted some more antique plates. Collections of certain patterns of stunning fine bone porcelain plates in these gorgeous Georgian wooden elegant cabinets. I especially loved the creamy moiré/damask wallpaper behind the plates to show them off even more.
England Coalport Porcelain plates or French Sevres plates
Listed in the San Marino Ranch/ Huntington Mansion Inventory Book. We know that Mrs. Arabella Huntington owned a large set of Coalport plates with the colors: blue, white & gold; but I don’t know the pattern name. Could the plates (above) be one of Mrs. Huntington’s Coalport plates??
We know of 3 sets of fancy plates that Mrs. Huntington (at her San Francisco Mansion) she commissioned artisans to make her a large sets of porcelain/ fine bone china plate “service sets”. It is interesting, that she had all 3 of these sets of fine bone china made in San Francisco. This is when she entertained for many guests at a time at her Nob Hill mansion. We know of several of her large “entertainments” in that mansion. In the 1890’s, Collis & Arabella Huntington entertained 110 dinner guests for a 16-course dinner for the Southern Pacific Co. Annual Dinner usually in May.
We know Mrs. Arabella Huntington ordered a large set in Minton plates service set (gold, white, & turquoise with a Greek or Roman motif on the rim). This very large set of Minton fancy plates was written up in the San Francisco Call Newspaper 1903.
Mrs. Collis Huntington (Arabella) also had a huge set of Roman looking plates hand-painted (by the famous painter: Cabanel) for the Huntingtons. Their Roman plates had a light maroon/mauve band around the rim & with a figurative image in the center. The image was a standing robed Roman lady serving a plate of food to a seated Roman robed man. These Roman plates were especially made for her San Francisco mansion made by Alexandre Cabanel (the same artist that did her long length portrait in a red dress). Document: San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts. These plates could have been made between 1880’s & 1890’s.
Also in San Francisco, Mrs. Huntington had a beautiful set of gold French Sevres knives with porcelain handle of pheasant & roses. I feel Mrs. Huntington had to have a “full service” set of Sevres plates to go with these fancy gold knives. They were also dark blue, gold, & white. These gorgeous blue, gold & white pheasant plates (above) would have matched those Serves gold knives perfectly. There is also a possibility that the pheasant plates above were made by Sevres company also. Document: San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA
Cabinet Plates or Presentation Plates:
These antique plates were called “Cabinet Plates” or “Presentation Plates”. Often, they have a singular flower or bouquet of flowers & those are called “Botanical Cabinet Plates”. Those plates were very popular in the Gilded Age. There must be at least 8 different sets or patterns of fine bone china plates, bowls, teapot, sugar & creamers, compote dishes, etc. at the Huntington-Langham in Pasadena, CA.
Cabinet Plates defined could be luncheon or dinner “service set” placed in a beautiful cabinet. Sometimes, this elegant plates were decorated with 22 karat gold on ivory background. Some plates from Coalport, Minton Stoke-on-Trent, England, or Sevres from France.
Displaying Cabinet Plates
I took so many photos of the beautiful antique cabinet plates. So many different kinds of plates. I wish I could have seen the back of the plates to see who made them. Some looked like Coalport, Chinese Rose Medallion, Regency Davenport, Mason’s ware, Blue pheasant plates…. Does it remind you of any of the plate collections of Mrs. Arabella Huntington?? I thought the same thing. By the way, Mrs. Huntington owned so many these patterns of porcelain plates.
It was between 1911-1913, when Mr. H. E. Huntington had renovated the whole Hotel Huntington in Pasadena, CA. By 1914, he & his team opened the hotel up to the public. Doesn’t it make sense that Mr. Huntington’s brand new wife, Arabella would have helped him with décor of this new hotel? Or these plates could have decorated the hotel cottages for the wealthy and the royalty.
HEH Coll. MS 38/6 uncat (H. E. Huntington Mansion Inventory Book) Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
Menu of Southern Pacific Co. annual banquet at Palace Hotel or later at Collis and Arabella Huntington mansion located at 1020 California Street, Nob Hill, San Francisco, CA In the 1890’s, Collis & Arabella Huntington entertained 110 dinner guests for a 16-course dinner for the Southern Pacific Co. Annual Dinner usually in May.
San Francisco Call Newspaper 1903. (Mrs. Huntington buys Minton Full Service of plates; gold and white with Greek turquoise band)
Document: San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts. These plates could have been made between 1880’s & 1890’s. Plates:gold and white with mauve band around the rim
Gold & Blue & white Blue, Sevres enamal “gold knives” located at the San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts owned by Mrs. Huntington. There had to be a large service set of Sevres plates to match these handsome Sevres, gold knives.