While these Victorian era plates are collectables now they were in everyday use for our historical characters who lived in the 19th Century. Below you'll find various images of oyster plate designs from 1885 but I also found a great question from a reader and the answer in the following month's publication.
Will you tell me in the February magazine if possible whether to serve raw oysters in their own shells on cracked ice, or to serve them on regular oyster plates? I read a few days ago about oyster plates going into disuse. If this is true I shall not get any new ones. I want to serve them in the best manner.
Raw oysters are much more palatable if served very cold, and yet it is not desirable to have the oyster in direct contact with the ice, which if melting dilutes the delicate juice of the oyster more or less. Therefore epicures prefer the shallow soup plates partly filled with finely shaved ice, in which the oyster shells can be embedded, thus enabling the oysters to be thoroughly chilled with the protecting shell to keep them from the melting ice.
True, this could be done in a regular oyster plate, by keeping the plates containing the oysters on the halfshell in the ice chest for some time before serving.
But where oyster plates are used, generally the oysters are removed from the shell and put into the imitation shells or cavities in the plates. While it may be necessary to do this in places where it is impossible to procure oysters in the shell, and there is the advantage that such plates enable one to keep each oyster distinct and in good shape; still, such a style of serving oysters always lays one open to the suspicion that her oysters are not as fresh as they might be. And freshness as well as coldness is desirable in raw oysters. When served in their own shell there is less question of this. Therefore, if I lived where I could procure oysters in the shell I should not purchase plates with imitation shells, not simply because they are out of style, but because there are good and sufficient reasons why the shallow plates with ice are to be preferred.
Raw oysters are sometimes served in a block of ice, either in a mass, or in individual blocks; but this method has more of novelty than of culinary taste in its favor.
Source: The American Kitchen Magazine ©1897
Oyster Plate Designs
Then we have this article written in 1890 from the China Decorator
THIS is not the oyster season, but as in time of peace a nation prepares for war, so the china painter prepares in summer the wares for winter use. Oyster plates are supposed to be no longer in the style, and if we are to follow the fashion set by some shallow pated designer we would discard the plate and us,e in its place the new oyster shell, which a dealer tells us is the latest style. The dish, or whatever one may call it, is shaped like an oyster shell, is made of fine china, and to be decorated with the usual subjects chosen for fish and oyster services. As one could not serve the guest with a single bivalve, two or more china shells would be required for each person, and a small tray or some flat object on which to place the shells. It is expected, we are told, that the shell be taken up in the hand when the oyster, which still remains in its own shell, is eaten. This is real picnic style; if the first course dishes are to be held in the hands why not the other course dishes, and thereby dispense with the table. We were, undoubtedly, misinformed. The shells are probably intended for baking purposes and from which to serve the many fanciful preparations of crustaceous food. The importer, or clerk in an importing house, is often at a loss for a name that will fit a shape, or even an idea of the use for which it was originally intended, so he supplies both to the best of his ability, and as often misses as he hits an appropriate one.