In 1932 Louise Irwin conceived and executed the design of the Georgia Historical Plates as part of the upcoming 1933 Georgia Bicentennial Celebration. She suggested the project to the Transylvania Club as a celebration of the Bicentennial and the 25th anniversary of the Club, and as a possible moneymaker for the Club.
Wedgwood in London agreed to produce the plates, but required a $1,500 payment in advance. Three gentlemen, Mr. C.D. Shelnutt, Mr. C.F. Irwin, and Mr. B.J. Tarbutton, came forward and underwrote the entire sum.
The plates were to be executed by Wedgwood from the original Queensware formula which was first made in 1762 by Josiah Wedgwood for Queen Charlotte and named in her honor. The plates were originally produced in two sizes, dinner and salad, and were available in blue, pink and mulberry.
Miss Irwin designed a distinctive border that could only belong to Georgia. Each center subject was encircled with a design of cotton, peaches, Cherokee roses, and boughs of long-leaf pine. The seal of Georgia and the state motto: "non sibi sed aliis" appear at the lower center of the border.
The border is interspersed with five insets: Bethesda, the first orphanage in America; the residence of Crawford W. Long; Savannah, the first steamship to cross the ocean; the ruins of Fort Frederica; and Liberty Hall, home of Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy.
The center views are General James Oglethorpe; the Georgia Trustees receiving Oglethorpe and the Indians in London; John Wesley teaching the Indians; Wesleyan College; University of Georgia; Richmond Academy; Nancy Hart capturing the Tories; the burning of Papers in the Yazoo Fraud; the Old Capitol in Milledgeville; the present Capitol in Atlanta; Georgia's Revolutionary War Heroes; Georgia's Civil War Heroes.
In September, 1935 the first shipment of Georgia Plates left the English dock. Since they were first issued, thousands of Georgia Plates have been sold, making the sale of the plates the largest single source of revenue for the Sandersville Public Library and the Transylvania Club.
On February 19, 1974, Governor Jimmy Carter signed the General Assembly's resolution number 573 making the plates the Official Historical Plates for the State of Georgia.
Georgia Historical Plates are now being produced in the dinner size and are currently being issued in pink and in blue.
After receiving word in the spring of 2012 that Wedgewood would no longer produce the plates, the Club immediately located producers of commemorative plates and after exhaustive investigations, Belleek Pottery of Northern Ireland, founded in 1857, was selected. A legal agreement was implemented ensuring that the Club would be the owner of the artwork. The art department of Belleek Pottery was given several existing plates so that the integrity of the official plate of the State of Georgia would be maintained and the customers could easily blend sets. Working with Mr. William Follett, President of Belleek North America, the first shipments of Belleek manufactured plates arrived in the late Spring and early Summer of 2014 and are presently being distributed to the shops that sell the plates. The backside of these plates has the Belleek logo and the copyright information. The plates were tested to guarantee safety in the dishwasher and microwave.
The plates were copyrighted by the Transylvania Club in 2009. The original copyright is secured in the safety deposit box at the George D. Warthen Bank.
In 2015, the Transylvania Club was proud to introduce a new salad plate designed by Brian Moncus of Sandersville. The new plate is available in pink and blue and perfectly complements the dinner plates so lovingly created by Louise Irwin eighty years ago.
The Transylvania Club anticipates the development of new marketing strategies to ensure continual production of the official plate of the state and to assist monetarily to its purpose: "to support The Rosa M. Tarbutton Memorial Library and promote knowledge and cultivation of literary and cultural pursuits.”
From the History of the Transylvania Club and the Georgia Historical Plates, by Gena Tarbutton, in Cotton to Kaolin: A History of Washington County, Georgia (1784-1989).
Updated by Dianne Mathis, 2014 & Mary Charles Howard, 2019.
The portrait of Mrs. Louise Irwin shown above was painted by artist Frenasee Daughtery.
The sketch on the plate shown above is an original done by Louise Irwin in 1933 to share her vision of the Georgia Plates with the Transylvania Club ladies.