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By 1800 cheap versions of these were often brightly decorated with transfer printing in blue, and were beginning to be affordable by the better-off working-class household. Until the mid-19th century the American market was largely served by imports from Britain, with some from China and the European continent. Ancient elites in most cultures preferred flatware in precious metals ('plate') at the table; China and Japan were two major exceptions, using lacquerware and later fine pottery, especially porcelain. In Europe pewter was often used by the less well off, and eventually the poor, and silver or gold by the rich. Religious considerations influenced the choice of materials. Muhammad spoke against using gold at table, as the contemporary elites of Persia and the Byzantine Empire did, and this greatly encouraged the growth of Islamic pottery.
At an Este family wedding feast in Ferrara in 1565, 12,000 plates painted with the Este arms were used, though the 'top table' probably eat off precious metal. In a family setting, a meal typically includes a fan dish, which constitutes the meal's base , and several accompanying mains, called cai dish .
More specifically, fan usually refers to cooked rice, but can also be other staple grain-based foods. If the meal is a light meal, it will typically include the base and one main dish. The base is often served directly to the guest in a bowl, whereas main dishes are chosen by the guest from shared serving dishes on the table. Table decoration may be ephemeral and consist of items made from confectionery or wax - substances commonly employed in Roman banqueting tables of the 17th century.
During the reign of George III of the United Kingdom, ephemeral table decoration was done by men known as 'table-deckers' who used sand and similar substances to create marmotinto works for single-use decoration. In modern times, ephemeral table decorations continue to be made from sugar or carved from ice. The final replacement of silver tableware with porcelain as the norm in French aristocratic dining had taken place by the 1770s.
The trencher was a large flat piece of either bread or wood. In the Middle Ages this was a common way of serving food, the bread also being eaten; even in elite dining it was not fully replaced in France until the 1650s, although in Italy maiolica was used from the 15th century.
Setting the table refers to arranging the tableware, including individual place settings for each diner at the table as well as decorating the table itself in a manner suitable for the occasion. Tableware and table decoration is typically more elaborate for special occasions.