Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Dinner Service Quirks of No. 3



Thomas Jefferson: Fastidious genius. Intellectual lion. Quirky entertainer.

Jefferson's mind could not abide a moment without stimulation. He was anxious for the conversation of dinner guests but had little patience to wait for them to take their seats at the table: When invited to Monticello, generally at three in the afternoon for aperitif (cocktails, loosely, in modern terms), the guests were advised of the impending meal by a first bell ringing promptly at three. The second bell, signaling a move to the dining room, beckoned promptly at four. While Jefferson waited in the dining room, he read while standing from a pile of books on the fireplace mantle in the dining room.



For a man who logged every minimal expenditure of his lifetime and kept copies of the 40,000 letters he wrote, he was not as committed to the rules of seating at his presidential table. Some guests were insulted at his inattentiveness to rank in seating the table in random assignments.



Once dinner arrived in the dining room at Monticello, Jefferson excused the slave staff and served the meal - and generally rather unusual and sometimes excellent wines which he imported from France - himself from dumbwaiters in the fireplaces. Slaves were unwelcome in Jefferson's dining room: He could not accept the possibility conversation might be interrupted or that one would eavesdrop and then repeat the business of the table.

Finally, while Jefferson did serve meat to his guests, and the White House dinners under his tenure were the most lavish then known, he was in fact largely a vegetarian. Concerned for his health and preferring food grown in the Monticello garden - populated with some 250 varieties of vegetables and herbs - he rarely consumed meat of any kind but consistently made it available to his guests.



Conversely, however, the dinner service he selected was not at all quirky. One of my preferences among the presidential dinner services collection both for his choice of his own iconic looping TJ monogram (we will not confuse the service with that of any other president) and its lively color, it remains available in reproduction today and is, naturally, handmade in the United States.

11 comments:

Marsha said...

We lived in Charlottesville for a time and among the things I miss most is being so close to this amazing house and property. Every time we went there was something new to learn, to see, to ponder. Just fantastic.

I had no idea that one could purchase that china today. On the heels of the breakage post, the thought of acquiring a piece or two is an interesting one!

A Flair for Vintage Decor said...

I grew up in Charlottesville. VA- so it was fun reading your post today on Thomas Jefferson. Thanks!!

Bluebelle said...

Thanks for the encouragement you left on my blog the other day - it's lovely to find a new blog to read! This was really interesting - I'm British so I know next to nothing about Thomas Jefferson and this was all new to me.

JMW said...

Wonderful post! I need to visit Charlottesville. And that service is lovely - gorgeous blue.

debi said...

Hi,
Thanks for stopping by my blog. I loved your bit of history today. It was great. So fun, I shared it with my husband.
debi
http://www.personalityispreferred.blogspot.com

Courtney said...

Your blog is just fascinating! I think Thomas Jefferson is now one of those people I'd give anything to have dinner with. What an interesting story.

little augury said...

Great post, I love the china, the Man and the house is still the quintessential in Classicism. The interiors, the innovation,all is enchanting-

Acanthus and Acorn said...

I'm glad I stopped by today. Facinating and I learned so much.

Maggie said...

I'm a HUGE TJ nerd, so this post thrilled me to no end. He's always my answer to the perennial "if you could have dinner with one person..." question, and I know even more why he's the best choice. Thank you!

Reggie Darling said...

Great post, Blushing, I enjoyed this. It is unfortunate we know so little of the Jefferson White House, except that he lived in it in great style. Damn those British, why'd they have to go and burn it?!
--Reggie

tina matilde said...

thanks for your comment! i'll definitely try my best to update anything in regards to style school