Mason-Dixon Arrive, March, 2006
When you think of getting out the good china to set the table for a gathering of friends or family for a dinner party, you’ll likely consider your wedding china or other everyday china that you certainly wouldn’t use every day. One of the most collected china lines in the country for 70 years is definitely not your grandmother’s dainty Limoges. Fiesta dinnerware adds more than a dash of color to the dining experience, offering a dizzying number of colors that turn the formal dining room table into a rainbow of bright colors.
In 1936, the Homer Laughlin China Co., introduced Fiesta dinnerware. The company began in 1871 as a two-kiln pottery company on the banks of the Ohio River in East Liverpool, Ohio, by Homer and Shakespeare Laughlin. Named Laughlin Pottery, the company was immediately successful and eventually moved across the Ohio River to a 30-kiln plant in Newell, West Virginia. As successful as the company was, the turning point came in 1927 when noted ceramist Frederick Hurton Rhead was hired. Nine years later, the Homer Laughlin China Co., introduced Rhead’s revolutionary china line – Fiesta, which would later expand into the restaurant and hotel markets in addition to the consumer market. Fiesta was marketed by playing on the images of Mexican “fiestas” (the logo was a dancing lady) with the slogan, “The dinnerware that turns your table into a celebration.”
From the onset, Fiesta featured simple art deco styling and bright, bold colors that complemented each other so that homeowners could mix and match different colors to create a festive table setting. Trademark ribbed rings near the edge and bright colors made Fiesta immediately popular, as did the durability of the products. The original colors were Cobalt, Ivory, Light Green, Red and Yellow; Turquoise was released one year later in 1937. Early promotional efforts included the release of new items, including a juice pitcher, French casserole and pie plate.
In 1943, controversy dealt the company a blow. Fiesta Red, the most popular color in the product line (red was also the first color used when designing the Fiesta line, and it’s been said that Andy Warhol collected the Red line, along with the Cobalt line), had to be eliminated due to the United States government’s concerns over the use of uranium during World War II. Uranium was used to produce the glaze for the lively color. Fiesta Red, despite the fact that it was the most expensive color to buy due to high production costs, was developed by adding uranium oxide in the glaze (the use of uranium was practiced by other companies as well to achieve the color red). Depleted uranium, rather than original natural uranium, would be used in future production lines.
In 1951, sensing that color preferences had changed over the past 15 years, the Home Laughlin China Co., introduced four new colors for Fiesta: Forest Green, Rose, Chartreuse and Gray. Cobalt, Ivory and Light Green were eliminated the same year. However, the four new colors released in 1951 were discontinued just eight years later, while Red made a comeback (the color was dropped again in 1972). The last original color, Yellow, was eliminated in 1969, as was Turquoise. Future new colors included Antique Gold, White, Black, Apricot, Periwinkle Blue, Sea Mist Green, Cinnabar, Sunflower, Plum, Shamrock, Tangerine, Scarlet and Peacock, which was just released in 2005.
In 1973, the entire Fiesta line was discontinued, but to commemorate Fiesta’s 50th anniversary, it resurfaced in 1986, as a high-fire, lead-free product that is microwavable, ovenproof and dishwasher safe.
I started collecting Fiesta a few years ago when a friend of mine decided to get rid of some of her pieces when she bought a home with her partner, and they decided to take a different approach to dinnerware. Since then, I have been adding pieces each year (Fiesta is always on my Christmas and birthday lists). What I soon learned was that what started as a product line of mostly dinnerware (and a few promotional products) it now includes butter dishes, gravy boats, chip-and-dip sets, serving bowls, platters, sugar and creamer sets, salt and pepper shakers, teapots, bread trays, pie plates and even a children’s tea set.
The Homer Laughlin China Co., still makes Fiesta today (if you are ever near Newell, West Virginia, they have a factory outlet there and offer factory tours); however, the vintage and discontinued pieces and colors are in the highest demand by collectors. Retired pieces include an espresso set, flatware and cutlery and napkin dispenser, and these pieces can have high price tags. For example, a recent e-Bay search found a vintage vase for $700 and a relish set for $400. One of the most desirable pieces for collectors is the covered onion soup bowl, which was only made for a few months after the company was launched. The second Fiesta item to be discontinued, onion soup bowls made in the turquoise color, are especially valuable and one of the most desirable Fiesta pieces of all – those in perfect condition can be worth as much as $3,000!
Contemporary Fiesta can be found at several department stores, including Kohl’s, Macy’s and Hecht’s, while vintage pieces can be spotted in local antique stores. There are a wealth of Fiesta Web sites to check out, including www.fiestacollector.com, www.feistaware.com and www.homerlaughlin.com. To learn more about Fiesta, check out Fiesta, Harlequin, & Kitchen Kraft Dinnerwares: The Homer Laughlin China Collectors Association Guide.