People may call it all Fiesta, or Franciscan, or the name that they remember best. There is no "fake" Fiesta. Either it is Fiesta or it is another pattern with it's own name and place in history, perhaps one yet to be discovered. Each has a distinctive style, weigh and colors.
Some pieces are readily identified, others are marked, some take an artist’s (or collector’s) eye or lots of research to pin down. There are collectors and dealers who are very knowledgeable. Others don’t care as long as it “looks like Fiesta” or will go with what they have at home.
Most American families had some in the thirties, forties or fifties. Many later got rid of theirs, or packed it away to the attic, basement or summer cottage. Some gave it to the kids when they moved out, starting a new generation of users and collectors. A few used it every day for years, or cherished it as “our first set of dishes”.
Although it is called California Pottery, the best known was not made in California. Fiesta, Harlequin and Riviera were made in the Homer Laughlin Co.’s new plant in Wheeling, West Virginia. The company moved across the river from their old location in East Liverpool, Ohio, the pottery capitol of the US.
Fiesta came on the scene in 1939 Later than several of the California potteries, it had better publicity and distribution. It remains the most familiar in shape and name to the largest number of collectors.
Fiesta is substantial, smoothly designed and well made. Pieces are rounded with a band of rings at the edge and ring handles. Large items are usually marked small items frequently were not. Any piece need not be marked to be genuine Fiesta.
The regular or original colors were ivory, yellow, light green, turquoise, dark blue, and red (which was really a red-orange). Fiesta red “went to war” and was not available for a number of years due to wartime restrictions on materials.
Many companies priced red glazed items 10% above list to cover the extra production costs. Despite this, it was a very popular color and a large amount was sold. Red is still very popular, and often scarce, due to demand and the shortened years of issue.
Expect red to be priced accordingly (and grab it if it isn’t). The dark blue is also popular with the collectors, and the fifties colors, (rose, grey, chartreuse, dark green) are often priced higher than red. Medium green is so rare many people have never seen it.
Fiesta had the longest life of all the colored dinnerware lines. Some colors and shapes were made in the sixties and eve seventies. Scarce pieces were made for a short time, or only in certain colors. The juice pitcher is most commonly found in yellow. If you can find it in another color, it triples the value.
What if it’s not Fiesta? Many pottery companies were producing similar wares at this time, in an attempt to capture the market. Homer Laughlin Co. and others made a number of patterns that are now collectible in their own right. Each, no matter how obscure, captured the hearts of some users and collectors.
Harlequin, made exclusively for Woolworth by the Homer Laughlin Co., is lighter in weight. The rings are separated from the edge by a plain band. Pointy handles and cone shapes characterize this pattern, the Art Deco collector’s delight.
The green, yellow, turquoise, and red colors are similar to Fiesta, though the dark blue and ivory were not used. There is a maroon, a spruce green, and a mauve (lavender) blue. Rose was a regular color, not a scarce one as in Fiesta, and should be priced accordingly. Harlequin was never marked, except for the 1979 reissue made for Woolworth’s 100th anniversary celebration. These markings and the difference in weight, colors, and shapes make the reissue identifiable to collectors.
Riviera is a square pattern with scalloped corners. The shapes are intriguing but difficult to find without chips. It was made by the Homer Laughlin Co. from 1938 through the forties, and is never marked. Colors are yellow, red, light green and mauve. Ivory is not easily found, and dark blue is rare. Turquoise is almost unheard of in this line. Covered pieces, juice tumblers, and handled tumblers are worth watching out for.
Homer Laughlin Co.’s Serenade, simple and elegantly deco, came in lovely delicate matte pastels with a curling wheat decoration around the edge. It was short lived due to the overpowering success of its competitor, Lu-Ray Pastels by Taylor Smith & Talor. On the other hand, TS&T’s brightly colored Vistosa, with it’s “pie crust” rims lasted only a few years.
There is a story that Bauer’s first dinnerware was prompted by a young lady who bought a stack of brightly colored flowerpot saucers to use as plates for a patio party. True or not, it is typical of the flair and informality of the California style.
The early “plain” Bauer dinnerware had about as much grace as a flower saucer. Their most popular pattern, then and now, is Ring. It is heavy, earthy, hand made looking, the casual West Coast version of the idea that later lead to the slicker Fiesta. There is a band of rings toward the edge of the plates and rings on the outside of bowls, cups, tumblers, vases, etc.
Bauer made America’s favorite mixing bowl sets in sized from 1 pint to 3 gallons. Nested sets are still found in many kitchens. These bowls have rings on the outside, some have a ring inside the top, all have a size number on the bottom, and not all are marked Bauer.
They made a range of colors including a black that is now highly collectable, and a scarce and desirable burgundy. Bauer’s ivory is less common than Fiesta’s but few people get excited about it. Bauer also made a white, distinct from ivory, that is extremely rare and was supposedly only made for June brides.
There are Japanese copies of some Bauer pieces, noticeable for their lighter weight and poor quality. Other California potteries also made similar shapes, so double-check your references and instinct before calling a piece Bauer.
Though Bauer clamed to be the originator of California Colored Pottery, the small pottery on Catalina Island was probably first. Starting in 1927, they produced dinnerware, artware and gardenware. Until about 1932 they used a dark clay that showed through the glaze and produced a kind of café-au-lait effect. The earthenware was lighter and softer than stoneware.
Pieces marked Catalina Island or Catalina were made on the Island. If it is marked Catalina Pottery or Catalina Rancho it was made on the mainland by Gladding McBean after they purchased the Catalina Pottery Co. in 1937.
Gladding McBean made and makes the pottery we know as Franciscan ware. They are one of the few California potteries that remain after the slump in the American pottery business in the late 1950s due to Japanese competition and rising labor costs. [As of first publication in mid 80s.]
Franciscan’s colored dishes, again introduced before Fiesta, came in both a glass and a satin or matte finish. They made a grey, which is scarce, and the coveted maroon was a special order color, which accounts for its rarity.
El Patio was a simple pattern with inverted bell shapes and “pretzel” handles.
Coronado is commonly known as “Swirl” and is a classic shape that appealed to the less daring. It is a pattern that has never made a splash and never gone out of style. Montecito is an elegant line made only from 1937-42 and rarely shows up- but well worth waiting for. Franciscan was sold through the better department stores and chosen as everyday dishes by many a bride.
Sharing this classier sales arena was Vernon Kilns of California. One of their shapes was called Montecito, though the pattern names were Early California and Modern California.
They also made Ultra California, a very “new” shape with upside-down handles, and Native California, which had a leaf border.
Vernon’s Coronado pattern was made for the premium trade and was found in supermarkets, gas stations, and a 1938 Sunset magazine ad for Lynden Boneless Chicken.
Other names from this period are Poppytrail, Pacific, Sevilla, Rhythm, Tango, Santa Anita, Ballerina, Caliente, Padre, California Rainbow and others. Don’t be offended if I’ve neglected your favorite; there is much more information on all of these.
Collector Books publishes good references on Fiesta, Franciscan, and Vernon Kilns. There are several books on Bauer and Catalina.
I’m sure we will keep hearing about the radioactivity of Fiesta and other red glazes. This glaze made in the thirties, forties, and fifties, was- and is- radioactive. But don’t worry, it’s much less than the amount of radiation you get from the old radium dial watches.
I have never heard of any problems caused by the radioactivity of the red glaze. If it makes you nervous, I will be happy to relieve you of your red pieces. -Reba Schneider
Shop for Fiesta and 16,500 antiques on our website: