By Andy Rieger
CNHI News Service
The year was 1945 and the war that would end all wars was finally over. My mother’s father was leaving the military after stateside service in World War I and World War II. His sons were coming home from the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific. From his final “mustering out” pay, he handed his wife $100 cash to buy something for herself.
Finally, a tangible reward for her service holding down the homefront, raising the children and praying the Rosary every night for her husband and two sons who were in some of the war’s heaviest fighting.
With part of her cash, she splurged and bought a set of Fiesta dishes. Eight place settings at John A. Brown Co. in downtown Oklahoma City. They were the art deco rage in the late 1930s and 1940s. It beamed “middle class,” the way a Lincoln Continental said upper crust.
The dishes were made in solid colors and fired in the kilns of the Homer Laughlin China Company of Newell, W.Va.
Fiesta dish production continued from 1936 until 1972. In 1986, the dishes became popular as collector’s items and the plant started making them again on the 50th anniversary of the first set. Grandmother used her set every day, sometimes with family, but usually alone. She lost her husband of more than 40 years in 1963.
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That box of dishes that my grandmother bought herself in 1945 made one more move this past month. She had wrapped them in newsprint and hauled them many times from Oklahoma City to homes and apartments in Norman. She finally entrusted them to her daughter in Santa Fe.
Grandmother didn’t need them when she went to an assisted living center and then a nursing home. Before she died at age 100 and six months in 2001, she let it be known that my mother’s first grandaughter (her great-grandaughter) to get married would be getting the dishes as a wedding present long after she was gone.
They sat in a box for 11 years and are now sitting on the shelves of my daughter’s home in Sevierville, Tenn. They were carefully wrapped in newspapers and hauled eight hours from Santa Fe, then repacked and hauled 16 hours from Norman to the Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee.
Once unwrapped, something magical happened with the dishes. The young couple has become excited about the Fiesta line and its rich history. They’ve been going to flea markets, garage sales and estate sales in search of pieces from that era. They’ve even found a Fiesta shop and know how to find the good stuff on e-Bay.
They have become Fiesta aficianados and can spot a fake or a factory second from two garage sales away. The old stuff is preferred. Finding missing pieces that are the original colors has become a game for them.
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The “new” dinner plates are larger, perhaps because we all eat more than our relatives did in the Depression when the plates were first designed. Gravy bowls are hard to find. The water pitchers from the 1940s and 1950s are nearly identical to the new stuff.
Here’s a tip: The vintage china has stamped letters or numbers on the bottom. Collectors Weekly said it’s the most collected dinnerware in the world.
The company kept the original six colors — red, cobalt, ivory, green, yellow and turquoise — for two decades. It added four more — chartreuse, rose, forest green and gray — in the 1950s.
They haven’t told us, but we wouldn’t be surprised if our newlyweds took a secret honeymoon trip to the Fiesta factory in Newell, just across the Ohio River from east Liverpool, Ohio. Tours are conducted twice a week and the retail outlet is open seven days a week.
Grandmother got her wish and the kids have experienced a family connection 67 years in the making.
Andy Rieger is a columnist for The Norman (Okla.) Transcript. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org