I last wrote about why antiques and vintage are good value for your money, and today I would like to introduce my extremely durable and lovely plaid Vernonware dishes. These beauties are hand painted heavy pottery, American made, and dishwasher friendly. Although they are around 60 years old, they are still used every day in our house and they are our only set of dishes. I have never cracked or broken one, and they have a fantastic cheerful vintage style. How’s that for great bang for your buck?
Vernonware was a popular pottery line produced by the Vernon Kilns company from Vernon, California in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Over the years the Vernonware line included a variety of designs including solids, plaids, and florals. Vernon Kilns went out of business in 1958 and its molds and patterns were acquired by Metlox Pottery. Metlox produced some of the Vernon Kilns patterns as well as new patterns under a “Vernonware by Metlox” mark until Metlox went out of business in the 1970s.
Between 1937 – 1958, Vernon Kilns produced six lines of plaid dinnerware. The original pattern, “Organdie” was designed by artist Gale Turnbull and the other patterns were inspired by his original design. I collect two of these subsequent designs – “Gingham” and the very similar “Tam O’Shanter”. You can see the difference in these patterns, as well as their individual marks, below:
I found a quote from a vintage advertisement that enthusiastically called the Tam O’Shanter design “fresh as Highland Heather …and warm as a Scottish brogue!” Who wouldn’t want dishes that charming serving up their cornflakes in the morning?
Vernonware was advertised as durable and versatile. They boasted a 25 year warranty against fading or cracking, even when washed in the dishwasher. They even suggested you could bake your meal directly in their dishes – taking dinner from oven to table in one step. I’ve never baked using my Vernonware dishes (nor do I use them in the microwave) but I can attest that after years of use my Vernonware is still as bright and cheerful as ever. ** UPDATE: One reader did warn that her Vernonware plate did not survive her toaster oven. Use caution with oven heat!** Some people who collect Vernonware say you should always hand wash them to avoid any minor nicks or cracks. I truly hate washing dishes so for the most part mine get tossed into the dishwasher and even with close inspection I’ve never noticed a problem.
My generous and stylish mom got me started on these dishes years ago when I was in University. She began by buying a few pieces here and there off eBay. A few pieces turned into a few more, and soon we were delighted to see we had a full set of the plates and bowls. Eventually we were able to add cups, saucers, bread and butter plates and a few platters to the mix. I’m still adding to the collection, and finding new and unusual pieces is a big part of the fun. My dishes are a growing collection and a continuous source of joy for me. I know that sounds crazy but it’s true! Often the best place to inject a little beauty is in those “mundane” items you use everyday.
Much like my vintage McCoy planters, vintage plaid Vernonware is a great thing to collect on a budget. The individual pieces can range from around $5 for a small plate to $50 or more for an unusual serving dish or coffee carafe. I would suggest that if you decide to collect Vernonware, you should snap up the really funky dishes when you see them. Regular shapes like the plates and bowls are somewhat common, but you can wait a long time before you see that two tiered cake stand again. As with many lovely vintage items, Vernonware rewards the vigilant and patient collector.
Pretty, cheerful, full of mid-century modern charm, durable, versatile and high quality. Is there anything my vintage Vernonware can’t do? If you’re interested in adding some of these lovely pieces to your home, start by seeing what’s available on eBay and keeping an eye out at your local antique, vintage and second-hand shops. You can also find some good information online, including the following websites: