Thumbs up to this collection of thumb plates

Ken and Jill Weyenberg have a collection of a unique kind of dish they call “thumb plates.”

By Jef Rietsma

Collector? Jill and Ken Weyenberg.

Collection? “Thumb plates.”

What is a thumb plate? “I don’t know if ‘thumb plate’ is the actual name – though we’ve heard the name ‘nappy dish’ – but ‘thumb plate’ is what Ken’s grandma had always called them. They feature scalloped edges around the perimeter and then a flat, circular area in the middle. Some of them are hand-painted and others have decals. We’re really not sure why they were made but we think they are meant to be a serving dish.”

Weyenberg said she understands Nippon is a more-popular company known to make such dishes. The style of dishes are apparently popular in the Japanese culture, she added.

How many different pieces do you have? “I have 128 different plates. I have all but a few on display; there’s just not enough space in the house to showcase all of them.”

Do you know anything about the history of thumb plates? “I have a book about these kinds of dishes and it talks about how a family would join together and make these. One person in the family would mold the clay, another would fire it, another would decorate it and so on. I’ve seen some plates that go back to the 1890s, but the demand from the West really picked up in the 1930s and 1940s, so the production focus sort of shifted around then.”

How did your collection begin? “Ken’s grandmother, Florence Krull, owned what we consider the collection’s original piece. We think it was purchased by grandma and grandpa to each other for a milestone anniversary. Ken’s parents would then go on to flea markets and antique stores, hunting for these kinds of dishes, and Ken and I also did the same. The thrill of the hunt has always been a part of the fun.”

Weyenberg and her husband inherited the collection after his mother passed away about 20 years ago.

What’s the most someone paid for one of these dishes? “My in-laws paid $70 for the anniversary piece that was exceptionally large in size. The store was in Three Rivers and originally wanted way more than that, so they kept their eyes on it and eventually the store was going out of business. Fortunately, they managed to pick it up for that $70 price. The most I ever paid was $50.”

Why did you stop collecting the pieces? “As I mentioned earlier, there isn’t any more space in the house to display them. And, let’s face it, our daughters aren’t really interested in them so what’s the point? But they bring me joy as I walk around the house and see them, so they serve a purpose.”

Footnotes: Weyenberg, 72, is a Long Lake native. Her 77-year-old husband grew up in Kalamazoo. They are Vicksburg-area residents and also have an impressive collection of lithophane teacups and saucers, beer steins, oil lamps, and dental products and materials. Weyenberg is a retired dental hygienist.

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