This section is from the book "The American Woman's Cook Book", by Ruth Berolzheimer. Also available from Amazon: The Domestic Arts Edition of the American Woman's Cook Book.
To balance the centerpiece, decorative silver or glass - or gold! - compote dishes, two or four in number, are usually placed toward the ends of the table. These dishes, containing bonbons or mints or nuts, may be low, medium, or high, according to the proportion required by the other table decorations.
Four candles, or more if the table is very large, are used in candlesticks of glass or silver or fine china, and sometimes of pottery for an informal dinner on an Italian or Spanish table. Instead of candlesticks handsome silver candelabra may be placed on each side of the centerpiece.
The candles should be lighted before the guests enter the dining-room, and allowed to burn until they leave the dining-room, even if they stay so long in the dining-room that the candles burn down to their sockets!
The height of the candles should, of course, be adapted to the height of the candlesticks - very tall candles in low standards, and shorter ones in the standard of average height. Low candlesticks with tall slender tapers are interesting and effective, but their use is more appropriate to informal occasions. Formal functions seem to need the dignity of tall candlesticks.
Candles for formal dinner tables usually are the color of natural wax or, if that is not obtainable, of white. As a matter of fact, many hostesses use candles of this color on their tables for all their parties. Of course colored candles may be used to carry out a decorative scheme, and are festive and appropriate for special occasions.
Candles are now never shaded.
Service or "Cover" Plate
A service plate (sometimes called a "place plate" or "lay plate," and, most appropriately, a "cover plate"), which is about one inch larger than a dinner plate, is used in formal service. A service plate is a background plate on which other plates are placed. Since its function is largely decorative, it should be as handsome as your circumstances permit. Service plates are usually of beautiful china, though sometimes they are of gold or silver or silver plate or even glass. If they are of china, they do not match the rest of the china in design, since they are usually far more ornate. In advance of the meal, the service plate is set in the center of each cover, one inch, or sometimes two inches, from the edge of the table. No food is served directly on the service plate. On it are placed the plates containing the first courses of the meal, such as fruity, oysters, and soup. It is not removed until it is exchanged for the plate of the first hot course after the soup.
Large service plates are not used for breakfast, and it is usually inconvenient to use them in homes where there is no service, or in homes where the food is served at the table by the hostess or host or both.