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Vintage Fiesta Wares – The Herald |

Vintage Fiesta Wares – The Herald

If you like vivid, warm colors, Fiesta wares have undoubtedly attracted your attention in antique stores. Fiesta pitchers/bowls/carafes are the boldest, brightest, most eye-catching of all types of dinnerware. With undiluted shades of solid colors, simple rounded shapes and consistent design over decades, Fiesta built a unique place in the history of domestic ceramics.

Fiesta was produced in three distinct eras starting in 1936 and is still being produced today. How does one identify the age of a piece of Fiesta? Because the molds for the oldest shapes continued to be reused, age identification requires familiarity with the colors and glazes, the marks on the bottom, and size comparisons when possible.

The earliest Fiesta wares were produced in five warm and intense shades of blue, yellow, green, ivory and a red (one that looks rather like orange). Soon turquoise was added, making six classic colors heading into the 1940s. Still later, after careful market research by the Homer Laughlin Company, chartreuse, orange, pink and forest green supplemented the six early colors. Unlike other pottery of the time, Fiesta pieces were generally marketed as open stock.

Part of Fiesta’s lure was that buyers could mix and match by purchasing items piecemeal. An early marketing campaign recommended buying a single Fiesta item as a centerpiece and attention-getter for tables set with other patterned dishes. Although other companies during the Depression years produced some solid color dishes (such as Bauer) and offered open-stock purchasing, the combination proved hugely successful for Homer Laughlin’s Fiesta in the 1940s and 1950s.

Altogether, about 64 different Fiesta items were available pre- and post-war, generally in all colors and in several sizes. One could readily buy dinner plates in any of three sizes, lunch and desert plates, fruit bowls in three sizes, tumblers in two heights, cups and matching saucers, Tom and Jerry mugs (called coffee mugs today), plus salt and peppers.

For the center of the table, Fiesta offered candleholders, syrup servers, sauce boats, lazy Susans, and flower vases in three sizes. Fiesta also offered choices in different sizes/styles of serving pitchers and carafes, as well as serving platters, and cream and sugars. For more than two decades, the design and shapes and most colors remained unchanged.

Fiesta dinnerware was most popular during the late 1940s and early 1950s, the period antique dealers sometimes call Late Vintage or Moderne. The post-war economic boom stimulated new types of single-family housing and living patterns. Homeowners didn’t want to use their mothers’ fragile dishes or china pieces like them; instead, they purchased what seemed modern, upbeat and durable, and this included brightly colored pottery dishes for everyday use. The Fiesta company did not make art wares of any kind: Everything Fiesta is suited to the dinner table, the backyard barbeque and, since 1969, the dishwasher.

Nearly all Fiesta items are marked with the distinctive word Fiesta in script, supplemented with Genuine and Made in USA starting in 1940. The Fiesta brand continued in production until 1969. During the war, prohibitions on uranium use ended the use of its classic red color. When full production resumed and expanded in the 1960s, the company churned offerings in colors and pieces to fit a changing marketplace, partly because of the widening use of dishwashers with powerful detergents.

Because Fiesta was fading in popularity, in 1969 the entire Fiesta line was redesigned with updated styles, shapes and colors, such as avocado and antique gold, and renamed Fiesta Ironstone. It remained in production until 1973, but Fiesta never regained wide popularity, so it was discontinued completely.

Gradually, collectors’ interest in vintage Fiesta (and the prices being paid) drew attention, and after 13 years, the parent Homer Laughlin China Company reintroduced Fiesta, under the name Contemporary Fiesta. It added new colors (rose, black, cobalt and others), employed different clay and updated its styles, making their wares particularly suited to the restaurant market.

It is possible to distinguish virtually identical vintage and recent Fiesta items, even though made with the same molds, because the particular clay used after 1986 and today causes some slight shrinkage. The company is still producing Contemporary Fiesta, although collectors are usually most interested in the old pieces from the late 1930s up to 1943 or 1969. Of course part of the fun is figuring out just when a particular piece might have been made!

Susan Eastman, rummaging in her cupboards, produced several odd pieces of Fiesta, mostly purchased when she thought she was buying Harlequin or Rhythm, other Homer Laughlin lines. Look at HT Online for more pictures of Vintage Fiesta Wares.

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