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Daily Herald: Antioch's Pickard China creating Obama pieces

Published on January 19, 2009
Writer: Vincent Pierri

Whether it's campaign buttons, posters, historic front pages of newspapers or bobblehead dolls, it seems anything with an image of President-elect Barack Obama is a hot collectible.

E-bay power-sellers are saying "Yes we can," when it comes to making some dough off our new president.

But maybe you're looking for something with a little more class, more presidential, if you will. A local manufacturer of fine china with a historic link to the White House has rolled out a line of limited-edition Obama inaugural plates and gifts.

The Antioch-based Pickard China company has been busy designing and producing pieces since election day.

"These items are flying off our shelves," said company President Andrew Pickard Morgan. "There's a big demand for any Obama-related pieces."

Pickard is selling bowls, cake plates, desk trays, mint dishes and small ornaments. Some pieces are trimmed with 24k gold paint; all feature the official inaugural seal as the centerpiece.

The company's connection to Washington, D.C. goes back to World War II when it produced gravy boats as part of the war effort for the U.S. Navy. Originally a Chicago company, Pickard China started in 1893. It moved to Antioch in 1930.

In 1977, Pickard was chosen by the U.S. State Department to provide the official china service used at all U.S. embassies. Pickard also produces custom china for Air Force One, Camp David and Blair House. That's not to mention two of its other customers - the Queen of England and the King of Saudi Arabia.

Just this month, outgoing first lady Laura Bush chose Pickard to produce the china to be used at private White House dinners. The magnolia-patterned set designed by Anna Weatherly was inspired by trees around the White House. The $74,000 set was not purchased with taxpayer money, Morgan said.

Many of Pickard's pieces are on sale in the upscale shops around the Capitol. Morgan says his china is often the choice for "protocol gifts" between government dignitaries.

"We supply the United States House of Representatives Gift Shop and the United States Congressional Historical Society with inaugural giftware. Political dignitaries use our pieces in their gift exchanges," he said.

Pickard has bids out to supply china to any one of the more than 12 official balls planned.

"This is always last-minute decision-making for these people," Morgan said. "But that's OK with us."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Antioch Review Reports on President-elect Barack Obama’s China Gift Plates for the 2009 Inauguration

Pickard China gets ready for inauguration - Dec. 4, 2008
Antioch Review

Artists at Pickard China in Antioch are carefully affixing a presidential
lithograph or decal to pieces of fine china in preparation for
President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Pickard China, 782 Pickard Avenue, Antioch has been family run for four
generations. The company employs about 40 people who have created the china
for Air Force One, Camp David and for U.S. Embassies around the world.
Pickard pieces have been used in the White House through several
administrations, and Andrew Pickard Morgan of Winnetka, company president
and chief executive officer.

The current pieces with the official inauguration lithograph will be sold in
gift shops in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives for the Jan.
20, 2009 inauguration.

“This inauguration will be huge,” said Morgan. “People are hungry for some
sort of keepsake piece.”

Pickard China has produced keepsake pieces for generations, supplying
everything from federal and state government agencies, including Illinois,
to high-end custom china for private jets, yachts and corporate boardrooms.
The company was founded by Wilder Austin Pickard in 1893 in Edgerton,
Wisconsin. Pickard China Studio moved to the north side of Chicago in 1897.
Many of the artists were from the Art Institute of Chicago, according to
company history.

In 1937, the business relocated to Antioch as it expanded from hand-painting
imported china to manufacturing its own lines of fine china.
“My great-grandfather had an eye for shapes and color,” he said, giving a
tour of the display cases with china from 1898. “Look at this square bowl,
and this intricate sugar and creamer set. We had a punch bowl set that was
valued at $10,000. Many of these pieces are priceless.”
Antioch offered the perfect location for the company, Morgan said, a
fourth-generation leader.

“They wanted to settle in Antioch because they were looking for a European
labor force, mainly to find artists from England and Germany who had worked
for companies like Wedgewood. There were a lot of Germans in Antioch at the
time, so they located here.”

The factory has been in operation ever since.
During World War II, times were lean and Pickard China had to reinvent
itself again. The company was saved by securing a contract with the United
States Navy in 1942 to make basic, somewhat clunky gravy boats.
“Because of these gravy boats, we were able to get fuel rations that kept
the kilns running and survive the war,” Morgan said, holding a sample of the
basic piece that is a far cry from the beautiful, ornate china pieces for
which they are known.

Since 1977, Pickard China has maintained a government contract to produce
all of the china for U.S. Embassies around the world. The special place
settings are produced, catalogued and inventoried and kept in a separate,
locked pen in the factory.

They created a line of dishes for First Lady Barbara Bush last year. Artist
Anna Weatherly hand-painted the pieces in Budapest with nature scenes from
the Rose Garden.

“Every first lady adds something to the White House,” Morgan said. The
pieces were paid for by a grant from the Jacqueline Kennedy Endowment, and
they will become the property of the White House when the Bush’s leave.
The government division is one of the largest of the four divisions,
including retail, food service and custom commercial, and awards and
executive gifts. People who want to see the historical displays or purchase
china can visit the Pickard China Outlet store attached to the factory.
“We say that our seconds are better than some people’s firsts,” Morgan said.

The Obama gifts are available by clicking here