Fiesta Ware

What’s in the Attic?
by Linda Hamer Kennett

(reprinted with permission)

In 1936 the Homer Laughin Pottery Company, in collaboration with English potter Frederick Hurten Rhead, introduced what would become the most popular dinnerware of the 20th century. Offered originally in five colors and with a simple three ring pattern, it was an instant hit. The original advertising hailed it as ” Smart, sophisticated and rich in color, a California fashion that is sweeping the nation” They called it “Fiesta”.

Although Fiesta Ware was produced from 1936-1972, it is the original five colors that bring top dollar. Cobalt blue, light green, yellow, ivory, and “Fiesta Red” which is actually a reddish-orange, were the five colors produced in 1936. Turquoise, which many refer to as an original color, did not join the line until 1937.

Identification of Fiesta can bewilder the novice, but it simplified by recognizing the 36 pieces that comprised the line. Three sizes of divided plates, 6″. 7″, and 10″ dinner plates, two different chop plates, two sizes of cups and saucers, seven nesting mixing bowls, three different coffee/tea pots, and twenty accessory and serving pieces are original, first issue pieces.

Christmas of the first year brought seventeen more pieces to the line. The now famous disk water pitcher, covered-casseroles, egg cups and the Tom and Jerry Mugs being among the more popular. The holiday season also marked the appearance of a second creamer with a “ringed” handle.

The popularity of Fiesta was due to its bright colors, durable construction, stylized art deco shape and design, and its promotion through mass marketing. Of all the china that Homer Laughlin produced during it’s many years in business, it was Fiesta Ware that underwent the most prolific changes. Pieces were added and dropped as Laughlin constantly monitored the changing needs of the buying public. The first piece to go was the 12 compartment plate which was dropped at the end of the first year. It didn’t last long enough to be produced in turquoise, so no need to search for one. The second piece discontinued was the covered onion soup bowl which disappeared late in 1937. These tiny bowl, which come in the five original colors and turquoise, are considered a very rare find. Kept in the line, but modified early on were the sugar bowl, teacups, utility trays, creamer, nesting bowls and ashtrays. All of these are highly sought by serious collectors.

The 1940’s saw many changes for Fiesta Ware. In home entertaining was at it’s peak and colorful dinnerware for every occasion was considered a status symbol in middle-class households.Taking note of public trends, Homer Laughlin introduced one of it’s all time best sellers, a seven piece juice set. It consisted of a 30 ounce yellow disc jug and a tumbler in each of the other original colors. It was a “must have’, and no wonder when you consider that the special promotional price of the set was only $1.00! Finding all seven pieces in good condition today is a challenge, and if you find them be ready to dig deep into your pocket. A single tumbler from the set will run you in the $80-$100 range and the pitcher will easily cost you another $175-$200. The juice set was rereleased in 1952 with a grey pitcher and darker colored tumblers. It is a nice addition to a collection but should cast considerably less than it’s 1940’s counterpart.

The onset of World War II brought many changes to US factories, and Homer Laughlin was no exception. Uranium, an essential ingredient in the formula to produce Fiesta Red glaze, was needed by the government for the war effort. As as a result Fiesta was not produced in red from 1943-1959. During this period the more unusual serving pieces were also discontinued, decreasing Fiesta production by nearly one third. Overall sales of the more typical place-setting pieces remained strong and peaked around in 1948 when the company produced over 10,000,000 pieces.

The 50’s saw a number of major changes in Fiesta Ware. In 1951 the original cobalt, light green,and ivory were retired. An entirely new palette of forest green, chartreuse, rose and grey were introduced in an effort to modernize the line. But the public had lost it’s fascination with Fiesta, and by 1960 sales had plummeted. In an effort to revitalize the line Homer Laughlin introduced Fiesta Ironstone in 1968 and reduced the line to only 19 pieces, but the glory days of the once incomparable “Fiesta” were over.

Marks through the years will help you to determine the age of your Fiesta Ware. Some very early pieces were unmarked or will have the embossed “fiesta HLC USA” or “fiesta MADE IN USA” mark. Research books and online sites will help you with identification but in general there are three rules to remember. {1} If Upper case letters appear in the name Fiesta, it is new. {2} If a small letter “h” is indented under the back stamp, it is new. And {3} if the mold mark is circular, it is new.

In 1986 Fiesta was reintroduced in celebration of it’s 50th birthday. Still sturdy and vibrant in color, these “Post-86” pieces are highly serviceable but are of little or no interest to collectors. Until next time…Linda

{Irvington resident Linda Hamer Kennett is an associate member of the International Society of Appraisers specializing in down-sizing for senior and the liquidation of estates and may be reached at 317-429-7887 or lkennett@indy.rr.com}

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Posted: April 15, 2009, 8:05 pm

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