Jan 21, 2011

Fiesta Friday: More collecting fun

After last week's history lesson, let's get down to some real-life tips and things to watch for when you start collecting Fiesta.  For starters, make sure it was manufactured by Homer Laughlin.  (In an upcoming post, I'll explore some of the other Depression-era pottery pieces that are sometimes mislabled or mistaken for genuine Fiesta, Harlequin, Riviera or Kitchen Kraft.)

Mixing bowls. Here are some photos of Kitchen Kraft vs. Fiesta bowls. Note the different proportions and "foot" on the Kitchen Kraft bowls. Try as I might, I've never found any website or blog that provides any discussion or visual comparisons of these two lines of bowls. However, unless you're familiar with them, you may not notice the distinctions until you've bought one and tried to "nest" it with others in your collection. I've also provided the sizes of the nesting bowls here.

Top view of Fiesta (l) and Kitchen Kraft (r) bowls
Fiesta bowls are taller and have several rows of circles while Kitchen Kraft have a footed bottom and 3 rows of rings at the rim

Rimmed bowls. I'm not sure why these are called "nappy bowls" or "nappies" as the term isn't clearly defined.  (I think it has to do with size...fairly small).  I have three sizes of rimmed bowls: two are individual bowls, the third are serving bowls, measuring 8 1/2" across. A 9 1/2" nappy bowl was also produced for a time, and then discontinued (making them more valuable and harder to find.)

Cups and mugs. Within the Fiesta line, there are two enduring styles of hot beverage containers:  a ring-handled cup (with saucer) and "Tom & Jerry" mugs; it's easy to distinguish between them. The name "Tom & Jerry" isn't from the cartoon (I thought so, too), but a reference to a drink of the same name, popularized in the early 1800s. It is a spiked eggnog with brandy, served in a mug with this shape, which are now known as "Tom & Jerry" mugs, regardless of who makes them.

Demitasse cups are rarer and have a unique lever handle; the Harlequin coffee cups have a conical shape and distinctive "D" shaped handles. 

Utility, vegetable or celery...or bread?  A serving plate by any other name is still...a serving plate. Seriously, I've seen this oblong vintage serving plate described with all three terms used interchangeably, while the modern rendering (slightly larger and a small circle in the middle, instead of a line that follows the oblong shape) is sometimes called a "bread server." That's good to know when you're seeking one, as you may need to search by all the names to find what you're seeking.

Plates and bowls. Suffice it to say they come in a huge array of sizes and shapes - there are sites like those here that provide detailed guidelines to keep them straight.  The plates tend to have a bit of a raised rim, so if you find a perfectly flat plate with a heavy ring or two on the bottom, it is most likely a cake plate.

Pots and pitchers. For collectors, this is an area where it's easy to lose your head. Coffee pots, demitasse pots, teapots and disc water pitchers (large and small), ice pitchers, carafes, decanters, some with lids, some without...the variety is astounding. My collection is a mishmash of this 'n that (hey, I freely admit I'm a dilettante, even when it comes to collecting Fiesta.) A word to the wise, become familiar with the colors and details of vintage vs. new, especially for teapots and pitchers.  Here's a picture of two teapot lids:
New lid (l) and vintage lid (r)
As your collection grows, you will want to find ways to display it.  One of the best displays of disc water pitchers I've seen is this one.  The photo below is not the only Fiesta display in her kitchen, but even if it were the only one, what an attractive shelf!
What an impact with a simple row of pitchers
I salute this kitchen owner's sense of style - the row of disc pitchers speaks Fiesta in a very classy, fun way and is more visually stunning than a wall of cabinets packed with rare and expensive Fiesta vintage pieces, IMHO.

"Go-alongs." Once you start collecting, you'll find a lot of stuff is passed off as Fiesta because the seller knows it will attract attention and command a higher price than a piece described as "something that kinda looks like Fiesta." One of the loosest categories for Fiesta collectors is "go-alongs," which is defined as an item made by an independent manufacturer to complement Fiestaware.

Some items (like blenders and toasters) are/were authorized and branded with the Fiesta logo, while others are much more loosely affiliated. This category encompasses both new and vintage pieces.  Case in point: I passed by a great set of colorful vintage metal popcorn bowls at an out-of-the-way antique store because I doubted they were truly Fiesta. I later found out that indeed, collectors consider these sets in this category.  If you find something labeled as a "Fiesta Go-along," go with your gut. Good price and you love it? Buy it and display it proudly.  If it's kind of expensive, and you're considering it for investment purposes? Do some homework before plunking down your cash.

Generally speaking. My personal advice to anyone starting out is to do some reconnaissance work before you plunge into buying:
  • Peruse some estate sales, antique and junk stores (there's a booth called "Heart Full of Memories" that specializes in Fiesta at the Nashville Fleamarket, and I hear they've opened a second booth at Triune, too.)
  • Check Goodwill (local and ShopGoodwill.com) and Craigslist for new, retired or vintage pieces.
  • Watch some online auctions on eBay, or check sites like Cyberattic, Ruby Lane, and TIAS to get an idea of what particular pieces are going for.
  • Price books are available, but they become outdated as soon as they're published; check your library or bookseller for specific information instead of buying one.
  • To complement your burgeoning collection, consider the vast world of new and vintage linens (look for Fiesta brand for new items, or "Mexicana" themed prints for older pieces), as well as posters, reprints and original sales ads that make great framed artwork.
  • Need a daily fix of Fiesta? The Pottery Papers website features Fiesta ephemera each day.  It is amazing how many advertisements have featured Fiesta over the years.
  • Are you more hard core than all of that? The Homer Laughlin China Collectors Association (HLCCA.org) is right up your alley.
A final note of advice: if you've been bitten by the Fiesta bug and you've armed yourself with some knowledge, focus on collecting only the pieces and colors you love, and don't worry too much about age or condition, except as they relate to the price. Unless you're into building a museum-quality collection, there's a lot of great old and new Fiesta out there, and most of it can be had at a reasonable price if you're patient and not too worried about a few minor nicks and chips that come with acquiring well-used and well-loved family heirlooms.

Happy collecting!