Birds of a Feather

The smeared effect on this 1910 "flow blue" plate from Stoke-on-Trent's Cauldon results from the cobalt pigment running during firing. While this flaw rendered the pieces unsalable in England, it caught on across the Atlantic. Such plates were big sellers here from the 1820s into the 1900s.Todd Coleman

Holiday and other celebratory meals have long called for their own sets of special dishes. In researching my book Dish: 813 Colorful, Wonderful Dinner Plates (Artisan Books, 2011), I was first charmed, then fascinated, by the history behind the turkey china produced for Thanksgiving Day feasts. Though the original all-American meal wasn't made a national holiday until 1863, the savvy potters of Staffordshire, England, who were particularly adept at identifying the tastes of the U.S. market, wasted no time afterward in providing their American cousins with special pieces festooned with the bounties of the season: borders ringed in grapevines, acorns, garlands of autumnal flowers, and plump, showy turkeys. They were an instant hit in the States, where china enthusiasts have been collecting them ever since.