Identifying Antique and Modern Fiesta Dinnerware

Fiesta dinnerware at antique sale

JTGrafix / Getty Images 

Fiesta, made by Homer Laughlin China Company, was the company’s most successful line of dinnerware. It was conceived by Frederick Hurten Rhead, who was hired by the company as the head designer in the late 1920s.

Rhead, who was born into an English family of highly regarded ceramicists, had previously worked for both Weller Pottery and Roseville Pottery before joining Homer Laughlin. He actively worked on innovating new shapes and glazes as part of his work, and Fiesta was one of his crowning achievements. The dinnerware line was introduced at the Pottery and Glassware Show in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in January 1936.

Homer Laughlin launched an enthusiastic Fiesta advertising campaign that ran from 1939 to 1943 introducing the dish line to many American homes. It is also interesting to note that red-colored Fiesta was removed from the line in 1943 due to some of the chemicals used to produce the glaze were needed for bomb production during World War II.

Many Fiesta colors were added over the years in production until the pattern was discontinued by Homer Laughlin in 1972. Prompted by increasing collector demand, it was revived in 1986 with a new color palette, and it is still available today in major department stores.

Fiesta’s Varied Colors

From the time of introduction through the early 1970s, Fiesta was made in 14 different colors for the regular lines. Special promotions occasionally included other colors. The color of the dinnerware is an indicator used to date Fiesta pieces since certain hues were produced for very limited periods.

These early colors are usually broken down into the original colors of cobalt blue, light green, ivory, red, yellow, and turquoise (added to the line in 1937). Then there are the 1950s colors of chartreuse, forest green, gray, and rose, first seen in 1951. Medium green was introduced in 1959. These are sometimes referenced by collectors as “the standard 11.”

Of all the original Fiesta colors, medium green is often considered the most expensive and the hardest to locate in a wide variety of different pieces. Red is the most controversial with unfounded reports of it being radioactive and unsafe to use for food consumption due to high lead content.

Other trendy colors produced from 1969 to 1972 were antique gold (dark butterscotch), mango red (same as original red and made only 1970 to 1972), and turf green (olive green). A variety of new colors have been introduced since 1986 when the line went back into production and many of these are still available today.

How to Tell Old From New

New Fiesta colors have been added and retired over time. For instance, three of the original colors—light green, cobalt blue, and ivory—were retired in 1951. The 1969 redesign saw the introduction of antique gold and turf green, which were only in production through 1972. Some Fiesta colors were made throughout production and similar ones are still being made today. The hue of a piece may be the first indicator of age but it is usually necessary to look at secondary clues to determine if your Fiesta is old.

New Fiesta pieces have two-letter codes ranging from AA beginning in 1985 through ZZ used in 2011 and incorporated into the mark, which helps to identify the newer pieces more readily.

It is also important to remember that not all older Fiesta was marked. On some pieces like juice tumblers, salt and pepper sets, and demitasse cups, there was not enough space on the base for the standard mark. In other instances, ashtrays, egg cups, onion soup bowls, and compotes have been found in both marked and unmarked versions. The distinctive shapes can help you to recognize these unbranded pieces, so study up before you hit the flea market. You do not want to overlook a potentially great addition to your Fiesta collection.