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Trash or Treasure: Chocolate set piece of the past


We take chocolate and its many forms for granted today, but it wasn’t always so readily available.  “When the Spanish first introduced the treat to Western Europe in the 17th century, there was really only one: hot chocolate. It was prepared in its very own vessel, the chocolatiere, or chocolate pot,” explains a fascinating history published in 2015 in the Smithsonian magazine (smithsonianmag.com). “At the time, drinking hot chocolate was the easiest and tastiest way to indulge in this luxury import.”

The article credits Anne of Austria, who married French monarch Louis XIII in 1615, and her enthusiasm for the drink for its eventual spread to other parts of Europe.  “Each country interpreted the vessel according to their own tastes. Vienna became known for its elegant chocolate and coffee sets,” it explained. The article also points out, surprisingly, that “chocolate was associated with the bedroom, as it was popular to drink first thing in the morning as well as in the evening before bed.”

Katherine Harris brought a piece of that long history to a recent appraisal at DuMouchelles downtown, where Catherine Page took a closer look in an effort to tell her more about both its history and its value. 

 Harris added some background in her email to the column asking for an appraisal. “I am in possession of what I believe to be a scarce 19th-century early Royal Doulton six panel bone china chocolate set. It belonged to my late mother-in-law who inherited it from a maiden aunt decades ago. The set consists of 36 pieces.”  Included is a chocolate pot with a lid, one waste bowl, one sugar bowl (larger in size to accommodate sugar cubes, Harris explained), one creamer, one large cake plate, four cake plates, nine chocolate cups and saucers, and nine larger saucers. Marked “R d Pattern 82546 R d Shape 82402,” the pattern is a two-tone brown design with gold trim.

 “All pieces remain in very good vintage condition with the exception of a chip on the bottom of one cup,” she continued. “I deal with a local resale ship and after showing them pictures of the chocolate set they advised me to find someone to appraise it as they believed it was probably worth far more than something they would normally deal with,” she added.

Page identified the set as an example of transferware, adding that Royal Doulton, an English maker, was in existence when chocolate was in vogue in the 18th century. She agrees that Harris’ set probably dates to the 19th century, probably the mid to late 1800s. 

“Unfortunately, this is definitely something of its time,” the appraiser explained, adding “no one uses these anymore.” That also affects value, since there is little demand. “Unfortunately, tableware sets, especially during COVID, have fallen.”

While the set has “great historical value,” she said, it has less value on the auction and resale market, appraising it at $100 to $300 at auction. She said it’s still useful for chocolate fans, but always check to make sure it’s food safe, she said, adding one final tip when dealing with fine china. “Never, ever, put it in the dishwasher,”

Despite this, Page was happy to see the set. “It’s really cool to see that such an artifact survived,” she said.

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About this item

Item: Royal Doulton Chocolate set

Appraised by: Catherine Page, DuMouchelles

Owned by: Katherine Harris

Estimated value: $100 to $300 at auction

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