NEW YORK – Imagine Sunday dinner at Grandma’s where the table is set with a rainbow of gaily colored Fiesta dishes, a mix of colors for each place setting, or being a newly married couple and buying a few pieces of vivid cobalt blue and chartreuse plates to set the table with. Fond memories like this are a favorite for many longtime fans and collectors of Fiesta tableware. One of the longest-running produced dinnerware lines – and beloved for generations – Fiesta is easily recognized for its vivid colors and minimalistic styling that pays homage to the Art Deco era.
“The constant evolution of colors makes the brand appealing to a broad and widely varied audience, including not only Fiesta enthusiasts who have been supportive of the brand for generations, but also new fashion-forward consumers who are looking to incorporate color and personality into their dining experiences,” according to a press release from Homer Laughlin, which more than 80 years after its introduction of Fiesta in 1936, is still producing it.
The Homer Laughlin Co. was founded by brothers Homer and Shakespeare Laughlin in 1871 in East Liverpool, Ohio. Design director Frederick Hurten Rhead created several popular lines for the company but his greatest achievement was his creation of Fiesta in 1936, which sustained the company through the lean war years with production peaking in 1948 and ending in 1972. Millions of Fiesta pieces, including cups and saucers, mugs, pitchers, mixing bowls, platters and sugar bowls, mustards, candleholders and vases, were produced in the early days and continue to be made today. After a 14-year hiatus, the company reintroduced Fiesta in 1986 using lead-free glazes and new colors.
Contemporary and vintage Fiesta pieces are avidly collected today.
“Vintage medium green pieces are normally the most valuable with some exceptions,” said Michael G. Strawser, president of Strawser Auction Group in Wolcottville, Indiana. “Turquoise was the last of the six original colors and some pieces were discontinued before turquoise was added. There are a few shapes that were discontinued after turquoise was introduced, which command high prices. For example, the turquoise covered onion soup was only made for a short time before the shape was discontinued. A turquoise covered onion soup in today’s market would sell in the $3,500 to $4,000 range versus the other five colors which sell in the $400 to $600 range.”
Collectors have all sorts of ways to organize their collection.
“Vintage Fiesta and Post 86 (contemporary) Fiesta many times are collected in colors to match one’s kitchen decor,” Strawser said. “Many collectors collect one piece in every shape and in every color and other collectors buy Fiesta to use every day.”
“Since Fiesta is made in such a wide range of shapes and colors, it varies by each collector. Some collectors only collect certain shapes, such as disc pitchers or coffee pots for example,” said ardent collector Melissa Schlegelmann, secretary of the Homer Laughlin Collectors Association. “Others only collect certain colors like the ‘original six’ (red, yellow, turquoise, ivory, cobalt, and green).”
Among some of the rarest examples are those colors with stripes or rare forms that were offered only or a year or two before being discontinued. “We have been fortunate to offer some very rare pieces over the years,” Strawser said. “About 12 years ago, we sold a vintage ivory two-cup demitasse coffeepot in which there are only a few known to exist and it sold for over $20,000. Last year we sold the maroon coffeepot, which is the only one known to exist for $20,125, a pair of tripod candleholders in ivory with red stripe sold for $13,225 and an ivory with red stripe water carafe sold for $9,200.”
“Some love only collecting red because its bright orange color is known to have uranium oxide in the glaze. That made it a slightly harder color to produce,” Schlegelmann said.
Asked what makes a piece great, she said, “I find a lot of collectors think a great piece of Fiesta is one without any flaws. A great piece could be one that has a great glaze application to it. Other collectors might think a demitasse coffeepot is great because it’s such an awesome shape. The disc pitcher is also great and is probably one of the most iconic shapes made by Homer Laughlin.”
Fiesta is one of the few items in today’s market that is collected by all age groups, noted Strawser. “We see people from young to old buying and collecting Fiesta, which is encouraging for the market.”
While the best vintage Fiesta will bring the best money, even contemporary pieces are eagerly sought after. “Some contemporary Fiesta pieces are just as or even more popular than vintage now,” Schlegelmann said. “Decorated Fiesta has seen a resurgence in the collecting community. It is very hot and some decorations command very high prices. Of course, some limited shapes and colors also are very popular.”
It’s no surprise that for generations, collectors have fallen in love with Fiesta dinnerware because of its simple lines, bold colors and iconic shapes. Its utilitarian nature is perfectly balanced with a deceptively simple aesthetic. Fiesta was designed to be used and loved.