Given that I am a single woman who lives alone and only on occasionally sets a table for more than herself, I have a lot of china. Definitely more than I need and probably more than any sane person should need.
And this is only the fancy and/or super old stuff.
At last count I had three eight-piece place settings' worth of fine china and two of every day dishes. Not including all the glassware.
It started simply enough. My mother inherited my grandmother's china upon her death. It then fell to me.
Oddly enough, Grandmother's Havilland bone china is a kind of metaphorical match to my grandmother herself: distinctly formal, from another era (it was ordered directly from England during her betrothal in the 1920s and came over on a steamer), incredibly delicate and requiring special care. I love it, especially the pretty flower sprays, but it terrifies me. I am convinced I am going to break it every time I open the china cabinet -- which, too, is similar to the effect my grandmother had on me.
Then, there's my mother's china:
Given her many marriages and divorces, that she did something so traditional and hopeful as register for formal china I find really interesting. Also, she was always a bit of a wild thing, so her choice of pattern -- plain ivory porcelain with a platinum band -- strikes me as terribly restrained. It's like it was what she thought a married person should have, and way outside her usual tastes, so maybe even at that point in her marriage to my father she was trying to play a role. But it is beautiful and sets a lovely, simple table. I'm not nearly as scared of it as I am of my grandmother's stuff.
For my own formal china, I've gone a fairly nontraditional route (shock) and collected a table's worth of chintz china.
Chintz is distinguished by a wallpaper-like pattern that covers the pieces. It's fairly old (my pieces date from 1920 to about 1960), but I think fresh and oddly modern. I love that none of my collection matches and that when it's all put out, the table is just a whirl of color and floral pattern. Here's a pretty tea cup:
And this is probably my favorite pattern of the dozens out there. I loved it so much I bought a tea pot in it -- and I don't drink tea!
All three of these are far too delicate for the rough and tumble of everyday use, though. After her death, I inherited my mom's everyday stoneware, Franciscan Rose. I tend to use this when I have company over for an evening:
Look at the cute salt shaker that matches the pattern:
The stuff I use for myself for every day is called Jadite. Produced from the mid-'30s to about 1970, it's made of a heavy glass tinted the color of jade. It was often given away by grocery stores and with various products.
The kind I collect is called restaurant ware (it was widely used in restaurants and diners due to its durability), but there are many types. I love the simple lines of the restaurant ware design help its glossy, lovely color really stands out. I held one of the chili bowls up to the light so you can see jadite's beautiful translucency.
It's even dishwasher safe, which is rare in a collectible, making it something I can enjoy every day. And, as an aside, here's a comparison of dinner plate sizes. Look how much smaller dinner plates used to be (as compared to the Franciscan Rose, which was purchased in the last decade or so):
A portion of the obesity epidemic becoming clear?