By Glyn T. Davies
Diplomatic negotiations typically occur in a conference room, but diplomacy itself is often best conducted over dinner. That’s why so much attention is paid to setting the scene for diplomatic dining: proper protocol, enticing fare, elegant atmosphere, and a dignified table setting. For generations, senior American diplomats have used china porcelain––plates, platters, cups, and saucers—bearing the Great Seal of the United States. Carefully inventoried every year, these sets are destroyed at the end of their useful life. But one historic set in Warsaw escaped that fate, serving generations of ambassadors, and even surviving Adolf Hitler’s order to demolish Poland’s capital.
The story of this nearly century-old set of official chinaware began in 1925 when John B. Stetson Jr., son of the famous hatmaker, was appointed by Herbert Hoover to serve as minister to Poland. As was common then, Stetson personally financed the purchase of custom-made bone china bearing the American eagle and stamped it with his name. He purchased the set from the Lenox company in New Jersey, which had a reputation for quality and craftsmanship. President Woodrow Wilson ordered 1,700 pieces from Lenox for White House use in 1918––the first American-made Presidential china––likely influencing the purchase of Stetson’s set.
From the roaring twenties to the internet age, Stetson’s chinaware was used by his successors in office for nearly a century, surviving not only World War II but the subsequent upheaval of the communist era. Now on view in the chancery lobby and ambassador’s office—in displays designed by the Office of Cultural Heritage—the elegant table setting is a permanent reminder that fragile objects, like peace among nations, can only be preserved if properly cared for.
Glyn T. Davies is the senior program advisor to the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ Office of Cultural Heritage.