Pickard China gets ready for inauguration - Dec. 4, 2008
By MARCIA SAGENDORPH
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
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
“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