Bone Dish Set Artifact Highlight #52

This set of five china bone dishes was donated to our collection in 1977. The dishes are crescent-shaped, with white centers and pink borders with gilt edging. The edging is scalloped. The dishes are unmarked. They were purchased as a wedding gift at the Sacramento Breuners Home Furnishings Store in 1905 for five dollars.

Breuner's Home Furnishings, Sacramento, 1898. By Internet Archive Book Images - Image from page 15 of "Florida, its history and its romance" (1898), CC BY-SA 2.0

Bone dishes were used to separate fish or chicken bones from the uneaten food on the dinner plate. Most were crescent-shaped and were placed on the left side of plate, above the forks, and sometimes to the top of the main plate. They were made of porcelain and china and came in different shapes and patterns. They were a common wedding gift and could be purchased in sets.

Nashville Banner, January 25, 1910

Nineteenth-century formal dining was a complex affair. Elaborate tables settings included dishes and utensils for every type of food.

Bone dishes on display at the Bernhard Museum

Meat was relatively expensive, so fish and other types of seafood were often on the menu. Besides its nutritional value fish was considered “easy of digestion and creates little vascular excitement and consequently forms a light and wholesome article of diet” (Placer Herald, June 18,1898).

Image of seafood dishes from Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management by Isabella Beeton. First published in 1861.

The set of bone dishes was donated by Lillian Ballard of Napa. She was born in 1885 in the early California gold-mining town of Bodie. When she was seven her family moved to Auburn. In 1914, she married Myrt L. Ballard and the couple moved to Sacramento and later, to St. Helena and Napa. She was a 50-year member of the Order of the Eastern Star Crystal Chapter of Auburn. Lillian died in 1980.