My watch list  

Fiesta (dinnerware)


Fiesta is a line of dinnerware glazed in differing solid colors manufactured and marketed by the Homer Laughlin China Company of Newell, West Virginia. The original concept of Fiesta was of a line of open-stock dinnerware composed of more than the usual variety of serving and place pieces from which the buying public could select only those place and serving pieces most appropriate to their lifestyle. The original shapes of the many items making up the new line of Fiesta were designed by Frederick Hurten Rhead (1880-1942) while he was Art Director at the Homer Laughlin China Company and Fiesta was first marketed by that company in 1936.


The Fiesta Name

The name of this line of dinnerware has always been simply Fiesta; however, after the Homer Laughlin China Company began marketing other lines of dinnerware in similar solid color glazing, and especially after other manufacturers began imitating the very successful Fiesta line of dinnerware, the public began to refer to all solid color dinnerware as "Fiestaware".

Fiesta's Popularity and Marketing

Fiesta became instantly popular upon its introduction to the public at the annual Pottery and Glass Exhibit held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in January of 1936. Fiesta was not the first solid color dinnerware to be created in the United States of America; smaller companies, especially BauerPottery in California, had been producing dinnerware in solid color glazes for the better part of a decade by the time Fiesta was first introduced to the market. However, Fiesta was the first widely mass-promoted and marketed solid color dinnerware. At the time of its introduction, the decoration of dinnerware and kitchenware ceramics was still very much Victorian era inspired, with full predetermined sets all decorated with the same decal designs. Fiesta represented something radically new to the general public with its solid color glazes and mix-and-match concept. At its introduction, the Fiesta line of dinnerware comprised some thirty-seven different pieces, including such unusual items as Candleholders in two designs, a Bud Vase, an Ash Tray, and a set of seven Nested Mixing Bowls ranging from the smallest at five inches in diameter up to a giant having nearly a twelve inch diameter. Although basic table service sets for four, six and eight persons made up of the usual dinner plate, salad plate, soup bowl, and cup and saucer were available, the promotion and presentation of Fiesta from the start was as a line of open stock items from which the individual purchaser could combine serving and place pieces as personal preference desired and need dictated. To quote from an early Homer Laughlin Company brochure listing items available in the Fiesta line at that time:

"COLOR! that's the trend today..." and it went on to say, "It gives the hostess the opportunity to create her own table effects....... Plates of one color, Cream Soups of another, contrasting Cups and's FUN to set a table with Fiesta!"

To the variety of pieces offered at its introduction, the Homer Laughlin Company quickly added several additional items to the line. During this period a few of the items received modifications, and one or two of the most unusual items were eliminated completely such as the Covered Onion Soup Bowl, and the Mixing Bowl Covers. In the following years up to 1940 still more items were regularly brought into production to expand the line. At its greatest number the Fiesta line of dinnerware comprised approximately sixty-four different items including Flower Vases in three sizes, Divided Plates, Water Tumblers, Carafes, Teapots in two sizes, Five Part Relish Trays, large Chop Plates in fifteen inch and thirteen inch diameters, and several unique sales promotional items offered for only one dollar each which were only available in a predetermined glaze color.

The disruption to society caused by World War II, and the need for manufacturers to focus on production for that effort, affected non-war related production and public demand, and so beginning in 1942 the Fiesta line of items began to be reduced. Over the next four years, even as these more unusual serving pieces were being discontinued, and in fact by the year 1946 the line's variety of items had been reduced by nearly one third, still, overall sales of the more typical place setting pieces in the Fiesta line remained strong and reportedly peaked around 1948. Ultimately the popularity of Fiesta was due to its bright colors, durable construction, stylized art deco shape and design, and its promotion through mass marketing. From its first introduction in 1936 and for over a decade Fiesta was a widespread fad and so became something of a status symbol of the late 1930s and pre-war 1940s middle-class household. Today, this vintage Fiesta trades briskly on auction websites and at other antique/vintage product sales venues.


The line name and design is still owned by the original company that produced and marketed it: the Homer Laughlin China Company of Newell, West Virginia. Except for minor adjustments due to manufacturing requirements, the design of the original shapes remained virtually unchanged throughout its original production lifespan from 1936 to 1969, although as home decorating color styles changed, the solid color glazes used on Fiesta changed too. The texture of the original glazes, and throughout the life of vintage Fiesta was semi-opaque. Smooth and glossy, but without any shining glare, more eggshell-like, and the ware does sometimes show " glaze curtains", areas of uneven glazing where a heavy application meets a lighter one.

At its initial introduction in 1936 Fiesta was produced in five colors: Red (orange red), Blue (cobalt), Green (light green), Yellow (deep golden), and Old Ivory (yellowish cream). By 1938, two years into production, a sixth color was added: Turquoise (robin's egg blue). With the exception of the Red, this color assortment remained in production until approximately 1950. The original Red had been discontinued before 1944 (see below). The lack of this vibrant color, plus the general change in society due to the United States' participation in World War II had caused a slump in sales of the larger serving pieces from the early 1940s. This slump precipitated a drastic reduction in the variety of items produced in the line. Accessory items such as Candleholders and Flower Vases, as well as serving pieces such as Comports and Carafes, were removed from production. Prior to this general reduction in the number of shapes offered, only one or two very specialized shapes had been discontinued and those early on by 1938, and so these items such as Covered Onion Soup Bowls in turquoise glaze and Mixing Bowl Covers in any color glaze are rather scarce and highly prized by collectors.

By 1950, home decorating styles and colors had changed also, and so the Homer Laughlin Company in an attempt to reinvigorate sagging sales, discontinued some original glaze colors and replaced those with four new trendy colors. The original Blue (cobalt), the original Green (light green), and the original Old Ivory (yellowish cream) were discontinued and were replaced by Rose (dusty brownish), Gray (medium), Forest (dark green), and Chartreuse (bright yellowish green). In addition to these four new glaze colors, two existing glaze colors, Yellow and Turquoise, continued in production keeping the color assortment in production and available during the 1950s to six different glazes.

By the end of the 1950s, sales had again dropped, and so the item assortment was once again reduced, and the glaze color assortment changed. By 1959 the United States government had released its block on uranium, making it possible for the Homer Laughlin Company to again produce the bright orange red glaze (see below). The four newer glazes, having then been in production for about ten years were discontinued at this time, the item assortment was reduced, and the new glaze color assortment was limited to four choices only. A wholly new glaze color was developed and marketed at this time. Although the company always referred to this new color simply as Green on any of its brochures, collectors later christened it Medium Green, in an attempt to distinguish it from the other green glazes the company had produced over the years. This Medium Green is a bright, almost Kelly Green, or as some have described it, a "John Deere Tractor" green. So beginning in 1959, the four colors Fiesta was available in were Red (original orange red), Green (new Medium green), Yellow (original golden), and Turquoise (original robin's egg blue).

Although this color assortment was available and sold for ten years (1959-1969) the popularity of Fiesta had so fallen by then, that this newest shade of green, seems in very short supply on the secondary market relative to the other glaze colors and has gained almost mythical status and for certain pieces in this glaze commands astronomical prices wholly disproportionate to the rest of the line with few exceptions. The Yellow glaze is the one glaze which was in production throughout the life of vintage Fiesta. Turquoise, while not strictly an original color (having been introduced about a year into Fiesta's production) was otherwise also in continuous production until the end of the original vintage era in 1969. Red, while an original color at the line's introduction, was forcibly removed from the market before 1944 (see below), and although brought back into production from 1959 to 1969, a period by when most of the unusual and exotic serving pieces had long been discontinued, and so Red too usually commands a premium price in the secondary market, both for its vibrancy in the mix of colors and for its scarcity due to limited years of production. While many collectors love all the colors, some only want "Original 6" or "Fifties Colors".

Red Fiesta

Red Fiesta (and indeed the red glazes produced by all U.S. potteries of the era) is known for having a detectable amount of uranium oxide in its glaze to produce the bright orange-red color. During WWII the government took control of uranium. Homer Laughlin and the other potteries had to discontinue the use of uranium-containing glazes. Fiesta red was discontinued before 1944, because all uranium was controlled by the U.S. government while developing the Manhattan Project. Vintage red Fiesta plates are more radioactive (but not necessarily harmful) than other radioactive house wares, such as uranium glass. The radiation level is so low that most dinnerware collectors aren't concerned about it. Fiesta red was reintroduced in 1959, when the Atomic Energy Commission released its restrictions on uranium oxide. Having an X-ray conducted once causes much greater radiation damage than using such china over a prolonged period. At present, government and third-party studies have concluded that all widely-distributed, uranium-containing consumer china (Fiesta and others) is safe for food consumption, but not recommended for food storage due to the possibility of leaching of uranium or other heavy metals (often present in some colored glazes) into food, especially acidic foods.


By 1969 home decorating tastes had again changed and, in an attempt to revitalize interest and sales in Fiesta, the line was somewhat restyled to modernize the shapes of the line. Finials on covers, handles on cups, bowl contours and shapes, were all modified or changed to make Fiesta's design look more contemporary. At this time the glaze colors were once again changed and this time the assortment was limited to just 3 colors for the place setting pieces, and just one color for the five major serving pieces which were all that were left of the once grand sixty-four piece assortment of shapes. Although essentially the same Red glaze which had then been available since 1959, it was now renamed Mango Red and continued in production. Added to it, to replace Yellow, Turquoise, and Medium Green, were two new glaze colors. One was a green which the Homer Laughlin China Company named Turf Green, although it nearly matched the popular color of the time called Avocado. The second new color was a brownish yellow, which Homer Laughlin China Company named Antique Gold which also nearly matched a popular color of the time called Harvest Gold, and the line's official name was changed and marketed as "Fiesta Ironstone". However, even these shape redesigns and color changes did not bring old-fashioned Fiesta back into popularity, and so by January of 1973 the Fiesta line was finally discontinued.

Decaled and Decorated Fiesta Shapes

As is common with many dinnerware line shapes, with the addition of different decals to these shapes, the manufacturers then christen these lines with new names. Throughout its long life (1936-1973) the item shapes of Fiesta, were often decorated with decals and marketed under other names, or a variation of the name such as "Fiesta Casuals" which consisted of two patterns, one decorated with yellow and brown florals and accented with solid color Fiesta yellow items, the other decorated with turquoise and brown florals and accented with solid color Fiesta turquoise items. Additionally, in the late 1960s, the shapes of Fiesta were glazed in a dark bean-pot brown color, flat pieces were given an underglaze Mediterranean-style geometric decal in black, and the line was marketed under the name "Amberstone" as a supermarket promotion. Later these shapes were glazed in Antique Gold, and had a different stylized pattern under the glaze and given the name "Casualstone" for another supermarket promotion.

Collectors and the Secondary Market

During the 1970s, a new appreciation for Art Deco designs from the 1920s and 1930s flourished. Along with this, the Baby Boomers were establishing their own households, and a fondness for the things of their childhood made old fashioned Fiesta once again quite popular. Beginning almost immediately after Fiesta was discontinued in January 1973, collectors began buying up all they could find in the second-hand and junk shops, as well as the newly popular Garage Sales held by private individuals looking to convert their surplus possessions into cash. Due to the enormous popularity of Fiesta in the secondary market of collectors, prices for this ware, which when new had always been affordable, eventually skyrocketed. And by the end of the 1970s and into the 1980s, Fiesta items which could once be bought for pennies, were now commanding prices nearing a hundred dollars a piece for certain scarcer items. Eventually by the mid-1980s, the prices had climbed higher still and certain pieces and colors were being traded for hundreds of dollars. A price guide for demonstration purposes can be found here.

New Fiesta 1986 and today

The secondary market popularity, and corresponding increasing prices of old Fiesta, did not escape the attention of the Homer Laughlin China Company, always the sole manufacturer of this ware. Recognizing a ready-made market in this resurgent interest, after a lapse in production of 13 years, the Homer Laughlin China Company in 1986 (to mark the 50th anniversary of its first introduction) re-introduced Fiesta to the public. After a very short introductory period, and prior to mass production and promotion, during which time the Homer Laughlin China Company had used the older original semi-vitreous clay body on shapes taken mostly from the last incarnation of vintage Fiesta (1969-1973), the company made the decision to change the body to a fully vitrified clay which would allow the line to also be marketed to the Restaurant and Service Industry due to the greater durability of this type of clay. However due to a greatly increased shrinkage of the clay during manufacture, many original shapes ultimately required a redesign. Some shapes did not need a redesign, but even these shapes became different in the end, due to the increased shrinkage caused by the higher temperature manufacturing process. So although at first glance a piece from the later and current production, may resemble an original shaped piece from the vintage years, when comparing the two pieces side by side, it will be evident that the newer pieces (made with the fully vitrified clay body) are noticeably smaller overall. Besides these shape modifications and redesigns, eventually new shapes were invented and added to the line.

At the time of this reintroduction the color assortment was five: Rose (true pink), Black (slightly chocolate under very bright light), Cobalt (dark navy), White (bright stark white), and Apricot (pale pinkish tan). The glaze texture on this new Fiesta is very smooth, hard and much shinier than on original Fiesta. Since its initial introduction and marketing, new Fiesta has remained popular, and has inspired a collector mentality. Many are collecting, by ordering and purchasing brand new items from department stores and catalog retailers. Some add this new ware to their existing collections of vintage Fiesta, while others concentrate on only buying pieces from the new assortment. The Homer Laughlin Company recognized a potential marketing technique in this consumer behavior and so early on in Fiesta's second incarnation, it has been marketed as a new collectible. The manufacturer has maintained interest in Fiesta and manipulated this collector's market over the past twenty years by discontinuing glaze colors primarily, but also by limiting production on some items in the line to only a certain number of pieces, or a certain period of production. Each new color is, eventually, retired.

Since its reintroduction, the Homer Laughlin China Company has produced new Fiesta in a current accumulated total of twenty-three different glaze colors, none of which match exactly any of the previous thirteen colors of vintage Fiesta. Therefore as of early 2006, many Fiesta shapes exist in a total of thirty-four different color glazes. The names of these new color glazes beyond the first five already named above are, in order of introduction: Yellow (pale custard), Turquoise (more greenish than vintage Turquoise), Periwinkle (slightly lavender blue), Sea Mist (slightly bluish pale green), Lilac, Persimmon (brownish orange), Sapphire (medium bright blue like faded denim), Chartreuse (brighter and greener than vintage Chartreuse), Pearl Gray (warm light gray), Juniper (dark blue green), Cinnabar (maroon), Sunflower (bright yellow), Plum (dark purple), Shamrock (bright deep green), Tangerine (soft light orange), Scarlet (deep true red), Peacock (bright blue), and the newest color, Heather (light violet). 2007 saw the introduction of Evergreen, a woodsy hue which has elicited the expected interest from collectors.

In 1997, 500 limited edition presentation bowls in an exclusive Raspberry (reddish maroon) colored glaze were made to commemorate approximately the production of the 500 millionth piece of dinnerware carrying the name Fiesta produced by the Homer Laughlin China Company since 1936.

The now 20-year-old "new" Fiesta continues to remain popular and is still manufactured today by the Homer Laughlin China Company of Newell, West Virginia.

Fiestaware was featured in an exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt in 1988.

Cultural References

American Fiesta is a play with a central reference to the central character's obsession with collecting vintage Fiesta Dinnerware.

In A Christmas Story, the Parker family is seen eating on Fiesta dinnerware in the dinner scene just prior to the arrival of the famed leg lamp.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Fiesta_(dinnerware)". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE