As I write this column, I was wondering how many of you still have some of your old doll dishes or small children’s dishes you played with growing up?
European porcelain makers, like Haviland and Wedgwood, have been producing children’s tableware for hundreds of years, with some dishes dating back to the 1700s. These were not intended as toys for little people. In Victorian and Edwardian times, children took tea in the nursery with their nanny. This was done to teach children to watch their manners so that one day they could sip tea with the adults.
In the 1900s, more affordable Japanese imports became available, such as small-scale Japanese porcelain and the famous Lustreware tea sets which were quite expensive before World War II.
With its metal stamping and printing capabilities, an American company, Ohio Art, entered the toy business in 1917. As the American toy industry grew, the production of toys in ‘Ohio Art has expanded to include a hugely popular line of colored tea sets that are now a collector’s item. !
Among the many glassware companies of the American Depression that served children’s tableware was Akro Agate. This West Virginia company began as a marble manufacturing business, but competition in the 1920s brought it into the tableware market. A designer came up with the idea of recycling toothpick holder molds to create tiny tumblers and small pitchers from flowerpot molds, resulting in a set of “dotted band” glasses that was the company’s first venture into the toy tableware market.
Soon after, they added opaque dishes in boxes marked “Play-Time Glass Dish Set”. These sets came in a handful of patterns and a variety of solid and marbled colors. In today’s auction market, these sets can fetch up to $250 in excellent condition. Akro Agate’s children’s line flourished during World War II, when Japanese imports were banned in the United States. The company ceased operations in 1951.
Today, children still love snacks and you will find many books and creative ideas on the market. The books I like and share are “Let’s Have a Tea Party!” Special Celebration for Little Girls” by Emilie Barnes and “Fancy Nancy: Tea Parties” by Jane O’Connor.
Jodi Brom, owner of Goodview Haven nursing home, told Goodview: “My granddaughter Lola has been hosting tea parties for three years. She first used the set used by her mother. She usually invites her stuffed animals and dolls. His last tea was with Choo Choo’s grandfather, Erik Brom, who died suddenly last December. We made cut out teacup cookies and butter sandwiches. We used my Royal Albert tea cups of the month. Makes a lemonade tea that kids usually love. She also uses the American Girl tea set which had also belonged to her mother since 1998.”
Erica Thilges, Director, New Generations of Harmony, shared a story: “A client of ours recently shared how she was unable to see her young granddaughter in another country during the pandemic. She decided to send her granddaughter half of a vintage tea set and she was going to keep the other half. That way, they could host Zoom teas together. What wonderful memories they created!
“Right now we have quite a few children’s tea sets/dishes,” Thilges said. “Vintage children’s tea dishes and sets are full of nostalgia, fun to display and even more fun to use! You’ll find everything from complete sets of Ohio Art tin lithographs in original boxes starting at $80 to individual Akro Agate pieces from $8 to $45 a set.”
Owner of Sarah’s Uniques & Jim’s “Man”tiques in Saint-Charles, Sarah Kieffer said, “I don’t have any children’s china tea sets in the shop. The only children’s tea sets I have would be the Ohio Art pewter sets, which usually sell for between $6 and $20 depending on the set. Many women and their granddaughters love to collect these sets. They’re fun to play with and display with cute tabletop decor.
Sandy Erdman is a Winona-based freelance writer and certified appraiser who focuses on vintage, antique and collectibles. Send comments and story suggestions to Sandy at