Replacing Priceless Pieces of China

Tea China Patterns

With more than 275,000 china, silver, crystal, and collectible patterns in stock, Replacements, Ltd. (, in Greensboro, North Carolina, is uniquely suited to its mission of replacing the irreplaceable. Chris Kirkman, vice president of inventory and product operations, helps unravel the mystery of identifying those priceless patterns while explaining the finer points of replacing lost, damaged, or missing pieces.

Q: What do you think lies at the heart of the appeal of heirloom china, silver, and crystal?

A: I think there is something very emotionally stirring here. I think so many people feel or want to feel a connection between the past and present, their ancestors and themselves. The china, crystal, and silver that people have in hand have likely been in their families for generations. It has survived long after their loved ones have gone. But there is something in seeing and holding those same pieces that those before you did—drawing you into their history, connecting the ages—that really makes any such pattern priceless. It stirs memories.

Imagine sitting with your family at a table set with the very pieces your great-grandparents had set on their table, maybe in another country, so long ago. That’s what we’re all about—creating, honoring, and preserving traditions by connecting our customers with their most cherished memories.

Q: What are your most frequent client requests in terms of pattern identification with china, crystal, and silver?

A: We receive approximately 3,000 requests each week from customers who need help identifying their patterns or piece types. A little more than half of all the requests are for china (bone, porcelain, stoneware, earthenware, ceramic), and we get about equal numbers of crystal and flatware requests. We see such an array of company marks and patterns, many more than a hundred years old and many that have been produced only within the last few years.

Perhaps the majority of patterns from Limoges, Bavaria, Austria, and other European countries, as well as Japanese manufacturers, do not have the pattern name on pieces made prior to the ’60s.

Q: What kinds of personal and charming stories do you hear from your clients regarding the valuables about which they’re seeking information?

A: We hear all kinds of interesting stories, some sweet, some sad, some that are hilarious, and many that truly bring tears to your eyes. From Bob Page, the owner and founder of Replacements, Ltd., to everyone who helps answer the phones or read the mail, I think we all have some letter stored away because it was so touching and reminds us of why we’re doing what we do, such as this customer comment: “Thank you for providing me with the name of my dinnerware [Hazel by Scio]. My mother gave me a whole set in 1957, when I married at 17. Being 17, I thought they were cheap, and I did not like them. My husband was in the military, and [during] one trip to Morocco, the dishes were lost, broken, etc. By 1982 I had a platter, a plate, and a cup and saucer left. Guess what? By 1982, I thought the dishes were beautiful, and I was heartbroken I had been so silly. I have over the years found many pieces, but they are hard to find, especially not knowing what the pattern or maker’s name was. Thanks again for your help.”

There are funny ones as well. We all help on the phones here when needed. I remember one of the first calls I ever took was from a man in Georgia who was in a panic. He said he’d been practicing his putting in their living room and broke a favorite bowl of his wife’s. She was out of town, and he had the broken pieces in a closet and was afraid she would find out. He said she’d gotten extremely mad at him once before for golfing indoors! He said he could not go through that again and was basically begging me to help him. We did have their pattern, and he had us overnight the bowl to him. I wonder if he remembered to remove the broken pieces from the closet before she got home, though.

One of my researchers opened a customer identification request one day and was surprised to see that she conveyed the color of her pattern by including a picture of her or someone else’s lips. She said that the lipstick was the color she needed. That’s certainly creative, and it worked—we found her pattern.

Q: What information does a client need to provide so that Replacements can help them?

A: The more information provided by the customer, the faster most identifications can be made. The most important information is in the pictures they send. For china, a clear picture of the front and back of the pattern is desired, preferably of a dinner plate. For crystal, a clear picture and rubbing of the pattern, preferably a goblet or wineglass. And for flatware, a clear picture of a dinner fork and knife, including what is stamped on the back of the fork (or other place piece; the stamp on knife blades is not always best).

It also helps to indicate the size of the piece(s) in the picture, where they were purchased, or how and when they acquired the pattern. This type of information can really help narrow the search.

Q: What do you think is the most unique service your company provides?

A: I do think our free identification service is unique. You can e-mail, mail, or fax us pictures for identification. We have a great team of curators, and they really do well in helping customers know what patterns and pieces they have. Not everyone can take a great picture, and the curators have worked with everything from blurry pictures, to completely detail-free dark faxes, to not-so-good drawings (I can’t draw either), to even a sterling creamer example sculpted from tinfoil. They do a great job.


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