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Tracking China : Simi Valley firm with access to 17,000 patterns helps find replacement pieces for prized place settings.

April 09, 1993|GERI COOK

When we select a china pattern, there ought to be some kind of guarantee that it will be available for a cer tain number of years.

But that, of course, isn't cost efficient, and the manufacturers do have to keep up with the latest tastes. So what happens to those who are desperately trying to keep a once-complete set of china together? Our china has sentimental meaning that goes beyond a mere financial expenditure.

When Joan Martin, owner of China Traders, worked in the china department at Robinson's in Thousand Oaks, she witnessed this emotional tug. "I started noticing that often customers came in asking to order china that was no longer made. The level of disappointment on their faces was very sad. Then it occurred to me that maybe there was a way to make them happy again."

She decided to open China Traders, a Simi Valley-based china-matching service. A computer program tracks more than 17,000 different patterns from more than 800 manufacturers. In addition, their database not only includes their own inventory, but the inventory from more than 20 other matching services, giving them access to about 250,000 pieces of china.

Martin oversees the collecting, ordering and shipping of china as well as earthenware dinner plates, cups, saucers and serving pieces. The extensive inventory allows for a high degree of success in locating hard-to-find items.

China Traders has found pieces dating to the late 1800s and early 1900s, but Martin says the majority of customers are looking for china from the 1950s and '60s. The more difficult a pattern is to find, the higher the price. Sometimes, it may even exceed the original price, which Martin says is rare.

Five years ago, for a wedding gift for my daughter, I purchased a full service of a Mikasa pattern that was tremendously discounted because it was discontinued. I should have purchased two complete sets. About two years ago, she needed pieces, and we began trying to locate the pattern. The quote from Replacements Ltd., a matching service in North Carolina, was $35 higher per place setting than China Traders' price of about $110 a place setting.

These discontinued china specialists stock such names as Royal Doulton, Wedgwood, Flintridge, Lenox, Oxford, Mikasa, Noritake, Castleton, Franciscan (including the sought-after "Desert Rose" pattern), Fitz & Floyd, Royal Worchester, Johnson Bros., Haviland, Adams, Minton, Spode, Metlox, Syracuse and many others.

Some of the prices reflect a discount of half the original retail value: Villeroy & Boch "Acapulco" cup and saucer, $12; Metlox "California Provincial" dinner plate, $15; Franciscan "Hacienda Gold" cup and saucer, $13; Franciscan "Hacienda Green" bread and butter plate, $6.

China Traders does most of its business over the phone or by mail order. Call to see if they have the pattern you're looking for. If you need to see the pattern in person, you can make an appointment.

WHERE TO SHOP Location: China Traders mailing address: P.O. Box 302, Simi Valley, 93062. Hours: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. Cards: Visa, MasterCard. Call: (800) 638-9955 or (805) 527-5440.

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