Friday, September 29, 2006

Collecting Fiestaware

Retro and antique kitchenware has always had a huge following in the hobby market. People love to collect household items that were once commonly found in every kitchen but aren't used so much anymore. For these reasons and more, Fiestaware is one of the most highly collectible things available for those who are looking for a hobby.

The history of Fiestaware is well known to its collectors, and has a lot to do with why the pieces are so popular. If you're interested in collecting Fiestaware as a hobby, read on. This information should help you to understand why certain pieces are highly prized and what to look for.

History of Fiestaware
First marketed in 1936, Fiestaware (which is actually simply called Fiesta by the company that made it) enjoyed instant popularity after its introduction at an annual Pottery and Glass exhibit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The original design of Fiestaware was done by a man named Fredrick Rhead, who worked for the Homer Laughlin company, producers of various types of dinnerware. Fiestaware's design was simple: it was dinnerware glazed in a series of bright solid colors, with concentric rings sculpted into the edges of each plate and bowl.

It is speculated that the huge response to Fiestaware by consumers everywhere was spurred somewhat by the Great Depression. Number one, people were in the mood for some bright colors. Number two, Fiestaware made it easy for anyone to have a new look on their table without spending a lot of money. The key to Fiestaware was that the pieces could be mixed and matched together in any color combination, and you could set a fresh table every time you entertained.

During the late 1930s, special edition pieces of Fiestaware were introduced in order to promote the series and increase sales. While the original sets had offered some unique pieces- including candleholders, ash trays, and every size of mixing bowl imaginable- the promotional pieces were even more unique. Very few of these limited edition pieces survive today; they included such items as a french casserole dish and a juice pitcher.

The Fiestaware colors
Often referred to as the Original Six, the first six colors of Fiestaware were produced up through the 1950s. Originally the line included five colors only- Cobalt blue, Red, Yellow, Light Green, and Ivory- but Turquoise was added in 1937, and it is these six colors that are most sought after by collectors.

In 1943, Red Fiestaware was discontinued, and by 1944 it had more or less disappeared from the market. This was because the red glaze used to make these pieces contained a trace amount of uranium, and around the time of World War II the government took control of all uranium production. Thus, Red Fiestaware was no longer produced. Interestingly enough, some people believe that the Red was removed because of the fact that uranium is in fact radioactive; the truth of the matter is that the amount of uranium in a piece of Red Fiestaware is so small that there is almost no way it could cause damage to human beings. If you own Red Fiestaware today, you should be aware of the fact that chances are good it is worth more money than the other original colors because of this discontinuation.

By the time the war had ended and the 1950s had rolled around, the colors of Fiestaware seemed a little stale according to the new tastes of consumers. Thus, the company produced four all-new colors for the market: Rose, Chartreuse, Gray, and Forest. These four were added to the original Turquoise and Yellow to make six available colors once more.

Ten years later, the company made one last attempt to boost sales by dropping these 1950s colors and introducing a new Medium Green, sold alongside the original Turquoise and Yellow and a newly-resurrected Red. This was the line-up for Fiestaware through the year 1969, when the company was given a new name (Fiesta Ironstone), until the discontinuation of Fiestaware in 1973.

Fiestaware collectors today
Fiestaware is one of the few things on the market that was appreciated almost immediately after its discontinuation. Unlike other products, which languish for years before they develop a secondhand following, Fiestaware began selling almost instantly in junk shops and garage sales. At this time, it was considered an item of nostalgia (many people had grown up using Fiestaware in their childhood homes) and it was also cheap and durable, so it was a popular secondhand choice for dinnerware. By the end of the 1970s, the pieces were still readily available, but as the used market got sucked dry the prices began to rise. And rise.

Today, original Fiestaware can be found for hundreds of dollars- although, if you're a good bargain hunter and you get a little lucky, you can still discover the pieces in thrift shops and secondhand stores for decent prices- provided the seller doesn't know what it is. In 1986, on the fiftieth anniversary of its original production, the Homer Laughlin Company re-introduced Fiestaware. The new pieces are made from a different material and, while they are extremely popular, they don't have the cult following that the originals do.

So if you're interested in collecting Fiestaware, be aware of the fact that you're not alone and that there's some competition out there. It is possible to find a good bargain and score these unique vintage pieces almost anywhere, but you have to know exactly what you're looking for and what it's worth. So read up on Fiestaware, do some research, and prepare to invest some time and legwork. Happy hunting!
-by bjp

1 comment:

Rhonda said...

I may have a set of the original six colors of plates, and would be interested in resale value and a market for them. I have no where proper to display these and they were my grandfather's, part of the family since at least the late 40's. I would hate to see something happen to them.