Both functional and fun, Mid-Century dinnerware could very well be the perfect collectible. With patterns boasting eye-catching colors and clever atomic-inspired themes that are so now, these dishes can be as cool to use in your home as they are to hunt down affordably at estate sales and thrift shops.
Learn more about several collectible brands and designers of ceramic dishware dating to the 1950s and '60s.
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Homer Laughlin China Company produced many different dinnerware patterns in the 1950s and '60s including Fiesta. Although it was first introduced in the 1930s, several new colors were added to the line in the 1950s to satisfy demand from Mid-Century consumers.
The “original" colors were red (which looks more orange in color as shown here), yellow, cobalt blue, light green, ivory, and turquoise—which was added to the line in 1937. The “1950s colors,” as described by avid Fiesta fans, include chartreuse, forest green, gray, and rose, first seen in 1951. Medium green was introduced in 1959. Together, these colors make up “the standard 11” in collecting terms, and help to date the dishes.
Harlequin is another Homer Laughlin pattern originally launched in the 1930s. It was made through 1964. This pattern looks similar to Fiesta and was made in many of the same colors, but these dishes have a plain band around the rims and handles that resemble triangles on the lids and cups.
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The dinnerware lines produced by Gladding, McBean & Company were marketed under the brand Franciscan beginning in the 1930s. Their popular Apple and Desert Rose patterns have been in production for literally decades. Researching the way pieces are marked can help distinguish older dinnerware from newer pieces.
Some popular Mid-Century Franciscan patterns include Starburst (often called Atomic Starburst by marketers), Oasis, and Cypress. The Oasis pattern has been recently reproduced in plastic in a similar design along with matching drinking glasses and ceramic coffee mugs.
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Hallcraft by Eva Zeisel
Artist Eva Zeisel designed two lines of dinnerware for Hall China Company in the 1950s: Hallcraft I (Tomorrow's Classic) and Hallcraft II (Century). These names reference the shapes of the dinnerware rather than how it was decorated.
The more popular of these two lines was Tomorrow's Classic, once described as "America's fastest-selling modern dinnerware." This line was produced with many different patterns adorning the basic-yet-modern shapes of plates, bowls, and interesting serving pieces. One variation saw pieces decorated with black on the outer surfaces and white on the inside for a striking contrast.
The Century line was also made in a variety of patterns. While the shapes of these dishes are equally as interesting and the patterns pleasing, it did not sell as well as Tomorrow's Classic when it was introduced.
It's also interesting to note that Zeisel designed a line of dinnerware for Red Wing Pottery called Town & Country that is said to have been inspired by the look of American Modern dinnerware (see Russel Wright below).
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Metlox got its start in the 1920s as ProutyLine Products. The company eventually combined parts of the words "metal" and "oxide" (the chemical that imparts vivid hues to ceramics) to come up with the Metlox name.
This company made many different dinnerware lines, and by the 1960s their dishware sales were booming. While most were traditional-looking patterns with flowers, fruit, and other common motifs, several 1950s sets from the Poppytrail line in the Freeform shape had great Mid-Century appeal. In 1958, Metlox acquired the Vernon Kilns name and molds, and some of those patterns followed suit. Look for "atomic" patterns such as Heavenly, Anytime, Aztec (as shown here), and Mobile, among others.
Since these lines were readily available in major department stores, brides easily added the sets they wanted to their registry lists—further boosting sales.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Royal China Company may be most familiar for its prolific Willow Ware, their version of the centuries-old Blue Willow pattern, introduced in 1948. They also made other Mid-Century dinnerware with a modernist twist.
Patterns like Blue Heaven, Autumn Haze, Star Glow, and Aria all have the modern flair that collectors relish finding today. Identifying these patterns is easy since many of them are marked with the name as part of an equally modern-looking back stamp.
An interesting side note is that Royal China was acquired by Jeannette Glass Company in 1970. Later both the glass and china divisions were purchased by Coca-Cola Bottling Co., according to the Sebring Ohio Historical Society's website.
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American Modern dinnerware designed by Russel Wright, according to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, is "one of the most popular ceramic services ever created." This follow-up to his mid-1930's line of American Modern furniture was made by Steubenville Pottery Company from 1939 until 1959. It came in six colors that could be mixed and matched according to the whims of consumers.
Especially of interest is the American Modern tall pitcher. At the time it was introduced, there was nothing else like it on the market. The set was also affordably priced, which made it attractive to homemakers on a budget. The pattern is still being made today by Bauer Pottery.
Wright also designed a line of modernist dinnerware for Iroquois China Company named Casual that was in production from 1947 to 1967. It was made of more durable material than American Modern in a similar-yet-expanded muted color palette.
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Most people think of thick commercial dishes used in diners when the name Syracuse China comes up. They did make tons of durable, heavy-use dishes for restaurants, railroads, hotels, and fraternal lodges. Some of these even had a modernist design featuring a colorful grouping of diamond shapes.
Then there were the dinnerware lines made for home use. Like so many other China companies, Syracuse had various lines, or shapes, that were decorated with different patterns. A number of those produced in the 1950s and '60s appeal to Mid-Century dinnerware enthusiasts today.
Among these is the Trendline introduced in 1955, and the Carefree line first made in 1957. One of the patterns applied to Trend design is a modernist pattern named Jubilee (as shown here). Those favoring Scandinavian design from the period would likely gravitate to the blue and green Nordic pattern on the Carefree design.