I’m dreaming up a new tablescape for an upcoming project and I’m having so much fun playing with my collection of Tobacco Leaf. Although I love to mix and match all of my china, because it has over 27 colors in it, Tobacco Leaf is a favorite! There are so many ways to set it, from letting it stand out on a simple white cloth to layering it on even more pattern! The design is elaborate and the flowers and birds explode all over each of the pieces in a different way. Whether you collect original Chinese export pieces or want reproduction pieces designed for regular use, the collecting can become a bit addictive!
I received my first pieces from friends and family when Justin and I married and included Mottahedeh’s Tobacco Leaf Dinner Plates on our wedding registry. I added a few pieces here and there over the years when I saw them at auction or estate sales. My collection really took flight when I found 187 pieces of Tobacco Leaf, some new and some old, in a Christie’s Auction. I bid over the phone and “won!” (A word that must be in quotation marks when referring to an auction bid!) After it arrived to my home in Dallas from the auction house in New York, I cherished opening each box and unwrapping each piece and dreaming of dinner parties to come! The lot included a porcelain stool, vases, tureens in shapes that I hadn’t seen before and so much more! I’ve had some exhilarating auction buys before but this one will probably always be at the top of my list!
The pattern is thought to have originated in the 18th century in China for export to Portuguese and Brazilian markets. The original design is probably inspired by patterns used on 17th and 18th Century Indian textiles and damask fabrics. The leaves and flowers resemble the patterns found in these rich and elaborate textiles. Some say the leaves are Tobacco Leaves but others argue that the name is misleading as the leaves and flowers are actually more tropical! Who knows what really inspired the design. All I know is that I am not alone in my passion for it! There are many collectors including the late Bunny Mellon whose collection of Chinese export porcelain “Pseudo Tobacco Leaf” (c. 1775) went for $437,000, nearly double its high estimate in the 2014 Sotheby’s auction of her estate. Christies sold a large collection assembled by Peggy and David Rockefeller from their Estate for $1,152,500! This was well above the estimate of $200,000-$300,000! Click here to read more about their collection.
I love the unique spin that Jane Scott Hodges of Leontine Linens put on Tobacco Leaf in these two examples from her book, Linens: For Every Room and Occasion. She pulled unexpected colors out of the pattern and frames the plate in two completely different ways, truly showing off it’s versatility.
In stark contrast, Valentino used a simple white linen on a silver charger when he set a table with Tobacco Leaf dinner plates for his luxurious book on tablescapes, At The Emperors Table.
I loved reading about Mildred Mottahedeh’s passion for Tobacco Leaf in a 1989 article in the New York Times. Along with her husband, she co-founded the eponymous company that makes the best modern reproduction of the 18th Century Design of Tobacco Leaf. While showing her interviewer around she said, “Look at that. Doesn’t that make you smile?” She was referring to a porcelain reproduction that she was designing while they were touring her office. Mrs. Mottahedeh really summed up the reason that we love beautiful porcelain and appreciate a pretty tablescape. It is all to make our guests smile!