News & Politics

An Inside Look at Opening Night of the Washington Winter Show

Wares on display this year include a one-of-a-kind porcelain plate used by both JFK and Jackie.

Alice Cowie, Carolyn Jones, Doug Jones, Leslie Jones, Gouverneur Siegel, and Lauren Duffy. Photograph by Jeff Martin.

Slideshow: Opening Night of the Washington Winter Show

Even with 44 exhibitors offering antique wares for sale, probably the most talked-about item at the Washington Winter Show on opening night was a plate that’s not on even the market. The one-of-a-kind Lenox porcelain dish, white with a yolk yellow border, has a historic and intriguing backstory—had President Kennedy not been assassinated it could well have been the chosen pattern for the Kennedy White House china service.

Both JFK and First Lady Jackie Kennedy ate off the plate, taking turns, as they decided whether it should be their White House pattern. The legend is they liked it and wanted to go with it. But due to the President’s death in 1963, the full service was never made, and only this one plate remains.

At the antiques show’s preview party we asked the plate’s owner, Set Momjian, how he came to acquire it for his collection. He said he bought it from a White House maid, who got it from the Kennedy’s White House chef. That’s a doozy of a provenance.

Momjian had other plates on exhibition—from the Rutherford B. Hayes, James K. Polk, and Woodrow Wilson administrations—but the one that drew the most attention was the Kennedy plate. It perfectly encapsulated the theme of this year’s antiques show: “Treasures of the First Families.” Caroline Kennedy lent her name as the honorary chair of the event, whose official chair is Bush White House social secretary Amy Zantzinger.

The exhibition of White House items through the years, ranging from Mamie Eisenhower’s raincoat to George Washington’s saucer, is set up at the entrance to the Katzen Arts Center, and will run through Sunday. Tickets are $20 per person and can be purchased online through the event’s Web site

The preview party serves as the kickoff for Washington’s winter social season and attracts both older and younger collectors, including many of the city’s so-called “cave dwellers”—a name that accurately describes their tendency to avoid big, splashy social events, with the exception of the antiques show.

The principal focus is the stalls set up by antiques dealers from up and down the East Coast and beyond, displaying furnishings, decorative arts, and vintage jewelry, porcelains, ceramics, and silver. While some of the prices prompt sticker shock—an 18th-century ceramic horse priced at $36,000, for example—there are good deals to be found. Some of the exhibitors include the Philadelphia Print Shop; A Bird in Hand from Florham Park, New Jersey; Antique American Wicker from Nashua, New Hampshire; Polly Latham Asian Art of Boston; the Artemis Gallery of North Salem, New York; Spencer Marks of Southampton, Massachusetts; R.M. Worth Antiques of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania; and Charles Edwin Puckett of Akron, Ohio.

The preview party attracted 600 patrons, who each paid $275 a ticket. The principal sponsors are PNC Bank, the Katzen Arts Center, the Lemon Foundation, Ellen MacNeille CharlesMarcia V. Mayo, and the Wilmington Trust.

There are a variety of related events today through the weekend, including a lecture on “Thirty Years of Flowers, Six First Ladies” by former White House chief florist Nancy Clarke. Former White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier will lecture on “All the President’s Pastries.” There is a jazz night on Saturday. Proceeds benefit five local charities, including THEARC and the Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys.

Those on the guest list included the event’s matriarch, Hannah Cox; also Jacqueline Mars, Frank Randolph, Ruff and Susan Fant, William Curtin, Stancliff C. Elmore Jr., Jonathan Willen, Magruder Dent, Alex and Betty Boyle, Wiley and Janis Buchanan, Beth and Robin Roberts, Robert L. Montague IV, Malcolm Matheson III, Lee M. Sessions Jr., Foree Biddle, Charles and Betsy Rackley, Townsend Burden III, Ken and Dorothy Woodcock, Marion Ballard, Jesse and Karyn Booth, Elizabeth Powell, David Deckelbaum, Edward M. Symes III, Adam Ozmer, Nancy and Tony Gould, Mike Harreld, Jean Perin, Lindsey and Ethan Drath, Jackie Rush, Maral Skelsey, Swift Martin, Richard Mattingly Jr., Jane and Tim Matz, John Irelan, Nancy and Tony Gould, Rodion Cantacuzene, Michael and Lizzie Cantacuzene, Robert and Dunn Bellinger, Carolyn Miner, Elizabeth Powell, Albert Small, C.F. Muckenfuss III, John J. Rosenthal, Julie Rienzo, Kate Markert, Leslie Buhler, Christopher Campagna, Julio E. Heurtematte Jr., Pamela Jenkinson, and Neil and Ann Kerwin.