Fiesta Ware Brightens Up a Summer Table
Nov 09, 2010 07:58PM
● By Anonymous
No one knows who coined the name Fiesta, but the pattern of six concentric circles close to the rim of each piece and the modernistic shapes of the various pieces were developed by Frederick Rhead, an English potter from Stoke-on-Trent who was an important contributor to the art pottery movement during the early 20th century. The name, design, and colors were registered in 1937 by the Homer Laughlin China Company of Newell, West Virginia.
These dishes were so popular that during the 1940s, 3,000 workers produced 30 million pieces a year in an array of colors. Part of the attraction of Fiesta ware was the color palette of the pottery. Each item is glazed in a single color. You can mix and match the colors by place setting or by type of dish.
More than 50 different pieces were made, each one in 11 solid colors. Fiesta Kitchen Kraft, introduced in 1939, consisted of 17 pieces of kitchenware, such as mixing bowls and covered jars. Each of them was available in four popular Fiesta colors.
Fiesta Red, introduced in 1936, was discontinued in 1943 and not made again until 1959. Many stories are associated with Fiesta red, including the tale that it is radioactive and dangerous to use.
Produced from 1936 to 1973, the Fiesta line of dishes was so popular that the Homer Laughlin Company reintroduced it in 1986 in new colors—white, black, rose, and apricot. Later cobalt blue, yellow, turquoise, sea mist green, country blue, lilac, and persimmon were added. Collectors can easily distinguish the old from the new and the availability of new Fiesta ware has not devalued the original pieces.
The kitchen line was restyled in 1969, renamed Fiesta Ironstone, and then discontinued in 1973. Early pieces, pre-1969, were marked on the base with either a molded mark that says “Fiesta MLC USA” or “Fiesta Made in U.S.A.” with the “HL” symbol or an ink stamp with “FIESTA H.L. Co. USA.” The word genuine was added in the 1940s. To mark its 50th anniversary Homer Laughlin reintroduced the line again in and continues to make it today. Check its Web site (hlchina.com) to familiarize yourself with the current shapes and color palette.
Collectors look for older examples and seek items by both function and color. Many colors are sought because they are rare. The colors offered at the beginning of production in 1936 were dark blue, red, yellow, and light green. Later in the year ivory was added. Turquoise was added in 1937. In 1951 light green, ivory, and blue were discontinued. (Homer Laughlin reintroduced ivory in 2008) They were subsequently replaced by forest green, rose, chartreuse, and gray, known by collectors as the 50s colors. In 1959 medium green was added.
Gray, rose, chartreuse, and ivory are considered rare because they were seldom used on certain pieces, such as a covered onion-soup dish. Red commands high prices because it was always more expensive—it cost more to produce—and because it was discontinued in 1943 and not made again until 1959. Many stories are associated with Fiesta red, including the tale that it is radioactive and dangerous to use. Fiesta red glaze required the use of uranium oxide. Supposedly officials from the War Department arrived at a Homer Laughlin factory and demanded to know why the company was buying 90 percent of the government’s supply of uranium oxide.
Potters showed them some Fiesta red pieces. Ultimately Homer Laughlin agreed to suspend the color from production until further notice, enabling the government to hold a monopoly on uranium oxide. It was not until the explosion of the atom bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki that the general public understood why the government needed uranium.
In 1959 the production of Fiesta red resumed, using depleted uranium oxide, from which the atoms needed for bombs and reactors had been removed. Concerns raised about safety remain. Although original Fiesta ware is of recent manufacture, it is ardently collected throughout the United States. Less than 5 years after it went out of production, 25,000 to 30,0000 people were actively searching for pieces to add to their collections.
Prices jumped accordingly and 20 years later they continue to rise. A coffeepot that sold for $1.36 new in 1936 was worth $45 in 1978 and is currently worth approximately $250, depending on the color. If you just want the look without the price, you can purchase new Fiesta ware, but the colors are not the same. And, though the prices may be lower than those of antique versions, they certainly aren’t as low as what the originals sold for in 1937.