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Lenox's Ceramic Art Company, which opened in 1889, was different from all other potteries. It was organized as an art studio, rather than a factory, and offered one-of-a-kind artwares in lustrous ivory china, rather than a full line of ceramics. The exquisitely painted and modeled vases, pitchers, and tea sets, produced at first by just 18 employees, were met with an enthusiastic reception and carried in the most exclusive shops. By 1897 examples of Lenox's work were included in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

The fashion for art ceramics was overtaken by another trend in the early 20th century: fine home dining, often in a separate dining room. Lenox began offering custom-designed and elaborately decorated service plates to his discriminating clientele around 1902, despite the domination of European china. The plates, painted by such acclaimed artists as William Morley, were so successful that Lenox turned his attention increasingly to complete sets of dinnerware and in 1906 changed his firm's name to Lenox Incorporated to reflect the new direction from the Ceramic Art Company.

As America's appetite for high-quality china grew, the company satisfied it by producing dinnerware with standardized patterns in addition to the custom-made pieces. After introducing a few patterns in 1910 that were decorated with transfer prints enhanced with hand-applied color, Lenox started using full-color lithographic decals. The first two of these patterns — Mandarin and Ming, introduced in 1917 — would be popular for 50 years. Decals not only assured uniform decoration but also created an identifiable pattern, which gave a hostess the silent satisfaction of knowing that dinner guests would recognize the Lenox brand, as well as her sophistication in selecting it.

Indeed, the Lenox name had quickly become synonymous with elegant tableware, chosen for the "best" homes — including the White House. President and Mrs. Wilson commissioned an official state service of 1,700 pieces in 1918, making Lenox the first American china to grace a president's table. It remains the only American porcelain in continuous use at the White House for more than 80 years, with new services created for four subsequent presidents: Truman (1951), Reagan (1981), Clinton (2000) and George W. Bush (2008).