Vernonware History and Marks

assorthsvernon

I am a collector of Vernonware plaid dinnerware dishes. These bright, cheerful vintage pieces are our day to day dish set, and over the years I’ve learned a few things about the company. Although I’ve already written about my Vernonware, I received the following question from a reader. I thought it was a great jumping off point for further discussion on the marks and history of Vernon Kilns:

Hi! I inherited a Mid-Century house with furnishings, and found Vernonware that I remember using as a child in the 60’s. It is the Homespun pattern. The mark on the back has “Vernonware” in the ribbon, but I have seen some online that say “Homespun” in the ribbon. Is one Vernonware and the other Vernonware by Metlox?

Thanks for your question! Before I answer, let me just say that I am not a definitive expert on marks. I invite anyone who has something to add to please leave a comment. I’ve learned so much from the visitors to my blog! The comments have helped fill in a lot of history, and in turn help us all become better collectors.

So, with that caveat let me give you my opinion. I am almost certain that both variations on the mark originate with Vernonware and not with the later reissued Metlox line. I base this opinion on three things. Number one, I’ve seen Metlox Vernonware marks in books and online, and they have always contained the word “Metlox” in the mark. Number two, I have a small collection of Homespun that I believe dates to the 1940s. I inspected my pieces and even this small group alternated between saying “Vernonware” and “Homespun” in the banner. Number three, marks for Vernonware (and California pottery in general) are notoriously varied so it makes sense that you would see these differences among pieces.

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My collection of Vernonware “Homespun” pattern

That’s my short answer, but to further understand Vernonware marks we should start with a brief history of the company. Vernon Kilns was a creative studio that produced artistic as well as utilitarian pieces, and they used a wide variety of marks (or backstamps) over the years.  Some marks on their dinnerware contained the banner but some did not. Some had marks with no mention of Vernon Kilns, and some Vernonware isn’t marked at all! Sometimes, the only way to identify Vernonware is by the shape, style, or other feature.

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A few marks found on plaid Vernonware. The mark on left is very uncommon, and most plaids had some variation of the “ribbon” mark on right.

What we came to know as Vernonware started as a company called “Poxon China”. Poxon China was founded in 1912 by a young English ceramist named George J.W. Poxon in the city of Vernon, California. Mr. Poxon must have had clay in his blood because that “W” in his name stood for Wade. Wade as in the famous Wade English pottery. Marks from 1912 – 1931 will usually either say “Poxon China” or “Vernon China”.

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Early Veron Kilns, via the book “Collectible Vernon Kilns”

In 1931, the company changed ownership to Faye G. Bennison, and under his leadership the company flourished and was now officially called “Vernon Kilns”. Marks from 1931 to 1958 can vary in actual wording, but most included the words “Vernon Potteries” “Vernonware” or “Vernon Kilns”. Many marks also included the name of the pattern, “California” and sometimes “Made in U.S.A”. Vernon Kilns employed some wonderful designers for their art ware (usually decorative pieces like figures and vases) and these may have a mark that includes the artist’s name. Many of these specialty marks will also say Vernon Kilns, although it is important to note that some do not.

Sadly, after many successful years Vernon Kilns stopped production in 1958. Soon after Metlox Pottery, from nearby Manhattan Beach California, bought their molds and after modifying some shapes, produced some of the Vernonware designs for a short time. The marks I have seen from this relatively small run say “Vernonware by Metlox” on the mark.

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The Vernon Kilns Staff, 1937. Photo via the book “California Pottery”

The takeaway from this little history lesson? Vernonware marks are inconsistent and changed many times through the years. To further complicate things, there were marks that made no mention of Vernon, and authentic pieces that had no marks of any kind. There is also evidence that Vernon Kilns produced pottery for other companies before they closed production in 1958. These pieces are identified by shape because the patterns and marks are not identified with Vernon Kilns at all.

Collectors often prize the “hidden gems” more than the obvious suspects. Serious collectors of Vernonware as well as other California pottery learn to identify by shape, pattern and quality as much as mark. If you are interested in improving your identification skills, I recommend adding the following books to your reference library. I have certainly found them to be useful and interesting. Happy collecting!

Collectible Vernon Kilns by Maxine Feek Nelson (Second Edition) – The most comprehensive identification and value guide I’ve found. It contains the history of the company, advertisements, and photographs of all the various lines and specialty items. A great reference for the Vernon Kilns collector.

California Pottery: From Missions to Modernism by Bill Stern – As the title suggests, this book takes a larger look at all the major California potteries and trends. This is a written history of California pottery, interspersed with beautiful photographs of exemplary work.

The Old Book and Paper Show

On Sunday, March 29th I had the pleasure of attending The Old Book & Paper Show. Billed as Toronto’s biggest one day “vintage print-fest”, this show is dedicated exclusively to books, postcards, posters, photographs and all types of old ephemera. It takes place twice a year (March and November) in an interesting part of the city along St. Clair west.

Artscape Wychwood Barns

The show is set up in a long hallway in the Wychwood Barns building (originally a streetcar repair barn from the 1910s). Tall ceilings and bright windows flood the space with light. We arrived about a half hour after the show opened at 10am, and the room was packed. If there is something in particular you are looking for, you should get there early. One seller told me the serious collectors wait outside to enter as soon as the doors open. If you’re more of a curious looky-loo, you might find it easier to browse a little later when the crowd dies down.

Interior Artscape Wychwood Barns

When we first entered I didn’t think it would take too long to see all the booths but we ended up staying for almost three hours. What I didn’t realize was just how many individual items were crammed into every square inch of space! Vintage advertisements, postcards and magazines filled file boxes. These were often organized by topic but once you started it was easy to keep flipping through. Then there were the art prints and large format photographs ready for framing. Historical images of Toronto, Canada and the world. Postcards of tropical paradises. Vintage fashion magazines and pulp fiction novels. Rare and valuable first edition books alongside travel brochures, sports cards and comics. The show is very well named because literally everything old and paper was represented.

Interior Wychwood Barns

Vintage paper ephemera

Boxes of vintage postcards

Antique and vintage photographs

As you may expect in a professional show like this, the dealers had their specialties and knew their stock. If you had a specific item you were looking for they could always help. If you were just interested in a topic or time period they could also steer you in the right direction. Most were also willing to cut a price on multiple purchases, and I found the prices on the whole quite reasonable.

A booth at the show
Being the nerd that I am, I made a bee line to some boxes of mid century “Amazing Stories” and sci-fi pulp. I was just as interested in these books for their kitchy covers as for the stories. $5 bought me a paperback with a title story called “The Girl Who Hated Air”. Not a very promising read, but I think the astronaut cover is worth the money. I also spent time at the postcard sellers finding some more cheerful Alfred Mainzer cat postcards.

Vintage sci-fi pulp

Booth with magazines

Anson found a few sets of small black and white photos of Niagara Falls and Stanley Park in Vancouver. These little sets were sold to tourists in the 1940s and 1950s as additional photos to use in home albums. They were sort of the precursor to the postcard books you can buy today, but higher quality. The photos are crisp and clear and often well composed. They are quite charming and historical mementos of Canada’s natural beauty.

Vintage tourist photos of Stanley Park

Our purchses from the show

In the end we had a bag full of curiosities, books, photographs and postcards. I doubt we spent over $100 but we found some great little gems that will find a place in our home. I saw many serious collectors at the show, but not too many younger casual buyers. This is a shame. Gift stores sell reproduction images that cash in on the vintage charm of old ads, or the artistic appeal of black and white photography. Here was a place to buy all of that, and more, in an authentic form. There was also a great selection of books on specific and hard to find topics in art, music and history. From high brow to low brow, and all the prices between the two, there was truly something for everyone. I look forward to visiting the show again in the fall.

A Brief History of Tiki

Vintage Postcard of Don the Beachcomber's

Summer is in full swing around here (you’re ignoring those “back to school” commercials right? Good). The tropical climate always makes me think of the bamboo bars and Polynesian themed decor of Tiki. Tiki today is sometimes confused with inflatable palm trees and plastic coconuts, but this is not real Tiki. Real Tiki isn’t plastic, and real Tiki is vintage. Technically a sub-set of the Modernest movement (lasting from the 1930s to the 1970s), Tiki was more than a style – it was a uniquely American pop culture form. It can be found in food, clothing, music and architecture of the mid 20th century. Tiki has a history, and it can be serious stuff for the vintage collector.

Tiki culture as we know it began in 1934 with the opening of Don the Beachcomber, a Polynesian-themed bar and restaurant in Hollywood (that’s a postcard image of the dining room above). A world traveller, Don took elements of real South Pacific locations – Tiki statues, lush tropical vegetation, bamboo furniture – and created a fantasy of simplified tropical splendour. It was not authentic of any one place or society, so it became known as “Tiki”. Three years later, Victor Bergeron, better known as Trader Vic, adopted a similar Tiki theme for his restaurant in Oakland California. Born of the restaurant industry, Tiki was originally symbolized by dark wood toned decor, Asian (usually Cantonese) inspired food and an escalating competition for extravagant rum based drinks.

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Tiki culture spread inland from California and was fuelled by an interest in travel. When soldiers returned home from WW II, they brought stories and souvenirs from the South Pacific. In the 1940s and 1950s, the expanding middle class could afford trips to far away destinations. For the first time, suburbanites were looking at places like Tahiti and planning their next vacation under the sun. Popular books and movies of the time featured exotic beaches and locations. Even the possibility of Hawaiian statehood drove interest in the tropical lifestyle, and Americans fell in love with their romanticized version of a “Tiki” culture.

Thus Tiki was more than masks and rattan furniture; it was a byproduct of American wealth and growth in the mid twentieth century. At its height of popularity, Tiki architectural form (A line roofs, wood panelling, interior gardens) cropped up on all types of buildings – churches, shops, hotels, even tract row housing. Is it any wonder that once Hawaii did finally become a state in 1959 Tiki had begun to wear out its welcome? As is always the case, kids didn’t appreciate the same “square” things their parents enjoyed. Tiki began to be seen as a symbol of decadence and cultural ignorance. As the 1960s progressed the younger generation rejected Tiki and by the 1980s almost all the biggest and best examples of Tiki style had been replaced.

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We are currently experiencing a resurgence of Tiki culture, thanks in part to our interest (finally!) in fancy cocktails, but it begs the question: What does Tiki mean now? Tiki was always a form of cultural appropriation. A real “tiki” for instance, is a type of wooden carving representing the first man. The Maori used tiki statues to mark sacred land. Tiki culture used those same forms to hold fruity drinks. Tiki was an invention to bring in business, without deep understanding of the societies it represented. On the other hand, Tiki was also always a fantasy. It was a hodge-podge of influences, put together to resemble a tropical dream. I’m not an expert (I wasn’t even born until after Tiki stopped being cool) but it’s easy to believe that in the confines of 1950s America people wanted an escape. Not everyone could afford to travel, but most could afford a Singapore Sling in a bamboo covered bar. It was a version of paradise everyone could reach, and it still is today. It’s up to you, but I prefer to remember and enjoy Tiki in this context.

I’m new to collecting, but here are some of the pieces in my vintage Tiki barware:

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If you want to put a little Tiki into your home, you can easily start small. Vintage tiki barware, artwork and postcards can be found online and in shops. Tiki mugs (ceramic and sometimes branded like mine from the “Hawaiin Inn”) were often sold as souvenirs and are probably the most popular type of Tiki collectible. If you want to enjoy the full Tiki experience, Tiki bars are popping up once again in urban centres, including here in Toronto. While some complain that the modern revival of Tiki isn’t “primitive” enough, I personally don’t mind a little glamour with my Mai Tais. For me, Tiki is about being in a fantasy tropical paradise, even if it’s the middle of winter and there’s no beach in sight. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to play some Yma Sumac, mix up something with rum, and pretend my backyard is a white sand beach.

As an amateur fan of Tiki, I found the following sites really helpful:

Tiki Central – Forums with everything Tiki. These people know A LOT about tiki culture.
Modernist Architecture: Tiki Modern
– Amazing photographs of Tiki architecture.
Tiki Culture – Well written dissection of Tiki culture in the past and today. Also has a handy “this is NOT Tiki” list.
Behind the Scenes at the Enchanted Tiki Room (youtube video) – A short behind the scenes look at the room of computers needed to make those audio-animatronic birds sing, shot when the attraction first opened. One guy in the comments section calls the Tiki Room an “insidious early 60s nightmare”, so there’s also that.

Antique World and Flea Market

Antique World sign
Last month Anson and I visited the Antique World and Flea Market in Clarence, New York. This well established picking destination is composed of multiple group shops, storage unit stalls, and a sprawling flea market every Sunday year round. Clarence is a short drive over the US border (crossing at Niagara Falls), so we figured it would be a great destination on a beautiful summer weekend.

The first thing I learned during my visit is to ARRIVE EARLY. We woke up a little late, but we only stopped at the border and for the obligatory road trip Egg McMuffin, and arrived around 11:00am. I felt we made good time but it was obvious we were still late for the flea market. Many of the tables were packing up, and empty spots were evidence that some had already left. I spoke to a dealer who told me that in the summer the action starts at 7am if not before, and that the first few hours are swarmed with buyers. He suggested I arrive no later than 7:30 for a good selection. Fair enough. Any show is the same – early bird gets the worm.

Antique World flea market

It didn’t help matters that this was also shaping up to be one of the hottest days of the year! As it got close to noon it became almost unbearable in the full sun. We found what was left of the flea market pretty uninteresting but there were enough almost promising things that I think you could find some treasures if you came early. I did see a fair selection of toys, housewares, old postcards, jewellery, and collectibles like baseball cards. Nothing really for us, though, so we moved to the adjacent Co-op buildings.

The Co-op buildings have storage units along the exterior walls. These rectangular, windowless units are rented as selling spaces or storage. It’s a pretty good idea because sellers don’t have the hassle of packing up when it’s time to leave. The downside is that if it’s a ridiculously hot day you are confined inside a small, airless tomb. Thankfully, within five minutes of looking I saw something – Vernonware in Tam O’Shanter pattern! A whole pile of it! AND it was on sale. I was able to pick up all the following pieces (with egg cup!) for around $40. I usually buy my vintage Vernonware online and shipping is a huge extra cost. You can pay, like, $10 for the piece and $25 for shipping to Canada. I felt like the trip was already worth it as I put my first purchase in the car.

Vernonware Tam O'Shanter dishes

I literally squealed with delight when I saw this on the bottom of a dusty shelf

The few storage booths that were open had a decent assortment of stuff, as long as you weren’t looking for very old antiques. There were a lot of vintage housewares and decorative items. Used books and clothing. A few guys had a “man cave” (the term really fits when it’s a dark tunnel full of neon beer signs). Other booths had new home items like scented candles and tole painted “Bless this Mess” signs. In one booth that had largely automotive items I found a set of 1970s glasses featuring Archie comics characters. I love Archie comics as much as Jughead loves hamburgers so the glasses were the next things to come home with me.

One of the storage units

China, glass & housewares in one of the storage booths

It was time to hit the buildings. The buildings at Antique World are probably where you will find the higher end stock, and the quality (and price) varies for each building. The Expo Center is good for vintage and less expensive items. One large area is set up in traditional booths, and the other large area has rows of display cases. This building had lots of items in the $20 – $100 range. I saw great vintage Sci-fi paperback novels, sports cards, kitchenware, small furniture, and comic books.  I also finally found a classic McCoy “Arcature” planter with bird, and Vernonware tumblers!

Comic books for sale

Vintage Business pens

Anson is a big fan of vintage business pens. At $1 each, they were an easy buy!

Booth
Cabin Ashtray

We walked across the giant parking lot to the Indoor Flea Market building next. This building has, as the name implies, a hodge podge of different items. There was furniture in every style from Victorian, to turn of the century farmhouse, to 1980s bamboo. Smalls like textiles, kitchenware, holiday decorations, and toys were common. One dealer had a large selection of records and musical paraphernalia. I found a few items, including a vintage tea towel featuring a Caribbean theme with original tags. If there is one thing I love, it’s a tea towel that brings the fiesta to the kitchen.

Booths

Vintage Kitchenware

Christmas decorations

How adorable are these little houses? I was tempted to buy them all.

The third building we visited was Uncle Sam’s Antique Co-op. This is a great mid range building with some surprises for the collector. One booth featured the best selection of vintage linens I’ve seen for a long time. Another had a terrific assortment of 1950s/60s Jadeite kitchenware. I saw vintage Halloween and Christmas decorations (picked up some Shiny Brites for $2 – $3 each), old Barbie dolls, lamps and even large pieces of furniture. Uncle Sam’s hit the sweet spot for my taste and budget. It felt like the dealers set up here had well-developed stock in their areas.

Vintage Halloween decorations

Jadeite

Shiny Brites

The last buildings we visited were 3 Old Dogs Antiques, and The Premier Antique Center. 3 Dogs had good quality primitive furniture, antique train sets, folk art and some nicely framed artwork and advertising. It is a very nice shop with good antiques. The Premier Antique Center is a group shop that had a likewise high class of antique. This large shop had chandeliers, fine furniture, and display cases with delicate porcelain – everything you think of when you think classic antique shop. It was nice to browse but we didn’t buy anything.

booth

Finally, after five hours, it was time to call it a day and go home. There were buildings we didn’t even have time to visit! I will say this for Antique World, it’s big. It seems hard to believe anyone couldn’t find at least something to buy. Between the deals at the flea market, to the mid range booths and high-end shops, there’s something for everyone.

If you plan to go, remember to get there early if you want to see the flea market. The flea market operates every Sunday year round, with extra large (and popular) flea markets the 1st Sunday of the month from May to October. The buildings are open every day of the week except Wednesday. 

It’s bragging time! Check out the haul from our first trip to Antique World:

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Vernonware tumblers - Homespun Pattern

Vintage Caribbean tea towel

Hola!

Vintage Aluminum Tumblers

“Royal Sealy” aluminum tumblers in nearly new condition? Yes please!

Vintage tea towel

Finally a tea towel for all the Irish Jockey enthusiasts

McCoy 3 Lily planter

Classic vintage McCoy planter in the Three Lily design

Vintage McCoy – Yellow Planters

Happy Easter and Happy Spring! I love this time of year so I thought I’d share some of my cheerful Spring coloured vintage McCoy pottery. You may recall I already enthralled you with tales of my green planters and jardiniere. Well, now it’s time to introduce the yellow planters. Let’s get crazy with some vintage cuteness shall we? Check out this little guy:

McCoy Duck PlanterI originally intended to write this post with an Easter theme, and I think this adorable duck would have fit the bill perfectly (Oh that’s right. Pun intended). He’s not a bunny, but this duck’s baby animal quality, mixed with the egg and jaunty “Sunday best” ribbon just seem Easter themed to me. This planter was produced by McCoy in many colours over the 1940s. Many of the varieties had painted details on the face and ribbon, but I think my version was always just in one solid paint. It’s a charming little piece (around 7″ long) and still easily found in the $10 – $25 dollar range depending on condition.

On my birthday last week I was also the happy recipient of two more lovely yellow pieces. Here they are artistically photographed with a tulip:

Yellow McCoy PlantersThese beauties are classic planters in what is often referred to as the “tufted” or “quilt” pattern. They are from the 1940s / 1950s. I love these planters not only because they are attractive, but because they have attached bottoms for easy use (I promise I’ll put plants in them one day). One is two thirds the size of the other and I really like how the different sizes display as well.

I must mention that I had every intention of photographing my McCoy pottery out in the garden for a seasonal motif, but apparently Toronto weather did not get the memo about Spring. It’s literally below freezing and snowing today. Another photo shoot on the kitchen table it is then! At least I have a beautiful assortment of tulips to brighten a dreary day:

Tulips

Pretty. If you live in a place where Spring exists I envy you. For now I will just have to enjoy my sunny yellow planters and pretend. If you’re looking for more general information regarding McCoy Pottery, check out my earlier posts and another resource I found at VintageMcCoyPottery.com. There are so many types of McCoy pottery planters, and at so many prices, that they really are a fantastic way to bring vintage cheer into any home.

Yellow McCoy Planters

Vintage Vernonware on “Rules of Engagement”

Holiday preparations are in full swing, and I’m off to sunny Orlando this week, so I’m going to make it quick and share a little something I found on TV. I was watching a rerun of the TV show “Rules of Engagement” (don’t judge me) and what should I see?

Vernonware on Rules of Engagement

Vintage Vernonware! A kitchen cupboard’s worth! It’s one of the plaids, and it looks like the pattern is probably “Organdie”. Organdie was designed by artist Gale Turnbull. It was the first plaid Vernonware and the other plaids (including my patterns Tam O’Shanter and Gingham) were inspired by this original design. The Organdie pattern was produced between 1937 and 1958.

The funny thing, at least for a nerd like me, was that the plot of this episode revolved around a burglary. The apartment pictured above was broken into, but the thieves didn’t take anything because there was nothing “worth taking”. Ha ha. Joke’s on those imaginary burglars who didn’t realize that if they carefully boxed up that dinnerware and sold it on eBay, they could have made a cool 200 bucks. 300 on a good day. Sitcom burglars never want to put in the effort.

Here’s another look at the Vernonware. They don’t have a lot, but the pieces they have are quite nice. I especially admire the salad bowls (upper right) and tall tumblers (mid left). I’ve been trying to find those in my pattern and they’re rare.

Vernonware on Rules of Engagement

I’d like to think that at some point the set decorator who compiled these dishes will find my blog. If they do I just want to say hey, good job. Those are some nice dishes. (I’m pretty sure that this article will forever be the only google hit for “Vernonware Rules of Engagement”. I’m going to write niche niche blogs and make my millions!).

In the real world I also made a Vernonware discovery. I bought four bread plates and one small gravy boat in the Gingham pattern from a dealer on eBay. I got the pieces for really low prices – less than $5 for everything – but I had to pay $25 for shipping from California. I still think it was worth it. All the pieces were in excellent condition and my little gravy boat is really cute:

Gingham Vernonware Gravy Goat

Vernonware Plaid Gravy Boat

Another small but lovely piece has joined my collection! Now if only I had some gravy.

Vintage McCoy – “Spring Wood” Jardiniere and Pedestal

I wrote about vintage McCoy pottery before, specifically my lovely green planters. Today I would like to introduce the largest piece in my collection. Take a gander at my pink Jardiniere and metal pedestal from the “Spring Wood” line:

McCoy Jardiniere and stand

Isn’t she a beaut? Skinny legs and all. Jardinieres are large decorative planters (the word comes from the French jardiniére which is the feminine form of “gardener”). McCoy made different jardinieres over the years and many came on pottery or metal stands. Finding a jardiniere with matching pedestal is quite the feat for collectors, so I’m lucky to have found one with both “jard and ped”.

The “Spring Wood” design was first produced in 1961. It was made in pink, white and mint green with hand painted dogwood flower motif and a satin glaze. The design proved popular and was also used on smaller planters and vases. I love this set’s vintage look. The legs in particular, with their slightly “space age” satellite configuration, are classic mid-century modern.

My Jardiniere is in great condition with only one small mark. There is a slight indentation from when the pottery was made on the upper right corner of the design. It’s a minor flaw and otherwise the pot is without cracks, chips or crazing. The pot measures around 9″ wide and 7″ tall. She’s a good solid planter used every day to house my money tree.

McCoy jardiniere and stand

Amazingly, the money tree is still alive!

Spring Wood Jardiniere and Pedestal

McCoy Jardiniere and stand

I bought this set in an antique store in Quebec City about 10 years ago. When I bought it my boyfriend and I didn’t have a lot of extra money, so I know I would not have paid a huge amount (maybe $80?) I can’t remember, but I know the price was on the line between “that’s a lot of money for something I don’t need” and “if I don’t get this now I will always regret it”. I think every collector faces this dilemma from time to time! To sweeten my deal, the price also included a smaller rectangular planter from the same line. How could I resist?

McCoy "Spring Wood" planter

The matching planter

My jardiniere and stand has given me 10 years of stylish keeping-plants-off-the-floor service, and it will always be a favourite piece in my vintage McCoy pottery collection 🙂

Thinking of collecting McCoy? Check out the McCoy Pottery Collectors Society for great info including production dates and photographs of popular lines.

Vintage Vernonware – “Gingham” and “Tam O’Shanter” Dishes

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:

“Gingham” design on left, “Tam O’Shanter” on right

Vernonware “Gingham” mark

Vernonware “Tam O’Shanter” mark

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?

The “Tam O’Shanter” design in all its Scottish majesty.

Vernonware was advertised as durable and versatile. They boasted a 25 year warranty against fading or cracking. 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). ** UPDATE** : One reader did warn that her Vernonware plate did not survive her toaster oven. Use caution with oven heat! Also, for about two years I put my Vernonware in the dishwasher and thought they were fully dishwasher safe. HOWEVER, I recently noticed that the glaze on some of my pieces is getting a bit dull. Thankfully the damage is minimal but I now hand wash my Vernonware. The little extra time and effort to hand wash will keep any vintage dishes looking shiny and new.

This vintage ad suggests you can fill a giant serving cup with chunky stew. Yum? Image from The Vernon Kilns’ Plaid Dinnerware Website

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.

Cupboard full of vintage Vernonware

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.

The plaid stripes and the rims were hand painted.

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:

The Vernon Kilns’ Plaid Dinnerware Website

Vernonware FAQ

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Pez Collection – Peter Pez Display Head

It’s super hot around here so I’m taking it easy and photographing inside stuff this week. I figured it’s about time to introduce you to a minor obsession of mine – Pez dispensers. Remember those little plastic tubes with funny heads that shoot candy when you tip the head back? You probably got one as a kid and never really thought about again? I have boxes of those things. Numerous plastic boxes that form a small wall in our basement. I’ve been collecting Pez dispensers and Pez branded items for over two decades! I started young because it was something I could look for when my parents dragged me to auctions and antique shops. Pez is a great thing for kids to collect because they’re cheap, small, and easy to find both new and vintage. Although my buying and selling has slowed over the years, I still appreciate a good Pez buy. Pezhead for life, yo.

So let me tell you about my newest purchase! A few weeks ago I bought a plastic three-dimensional Peter Pez head from the top of a retail Pez display. Who is Peter Pez you ask? The PEZ wiki (yes, it exists) explains that “Peter Pez is the PEZ mascot. He is depicted on the sales displays, as well as numerous other forms of advertising. Often, Peter PEZ is depicted as a real clown, holding in his left hand a Peter PEZ dispenser.” True to the description here’s the display:

Peter Pez display head

Originally, this Peter Pez head would have been mounted on the top of a circular rack that would be filled with hanging Pez dispensers. At the bottom of the rack were plastic clown shoes to match the head. They stopped using this display in stores sometime in the 1990s. There was a great discount department store called S&R in Kingston that had the full display with plastic head and feet. When S&R  was going out of business a few years ago I BEGGED them to sell it to me. I was willing to come all the way from Toronto to get my hands on it. After a few calls back and forth, they stopped communication and sadly the store closed. I know the employees had a lot of things on their minds and it was easy to forget about me, but I just hope that some other misguided soul was able to purchase the display and it’s not sitting in a dump somewhere.

If you can find the six-foot tall display intact including head and shoes it can set you back as much as $300 – $500 dollars from sellers. It’s quite the rare item and honestly it’s a pretty cool way to display your own Pez dispenser collection. The head alone is usually worth about $100. I found this one on kijiji from a man in Scarborough who was asking for $50. Coincidentally, I had just sold a used air conditioner on kijiji for $50 so it was cash in, cash out. My husband Anson drove me to pick up the head and asked me if I was attempting some type of opposite bartering system where I take an air conditioner and eventually trade it down to a toothpick. Funny guy.

Here are a few more photographs of Peter Pez in all his glory. In case you’re wondering, yes, the other side of the display is the same image. You cannot escape the clown.

Peter Pez display

Pez display hat

How big is Peter Pez in relation to the average house cat? This big:

cat with peter Pez display

This display has real value to me as a part of my collection so I will want to show it off. The bottom has a hole in it from where it was connected to the rack so I’ll probably try to put something in there and mount it on my wall. Most terrifying idea would be to stick a light bulb in this thing and make it glow. You see so few clown themed night-lights these days.

So I guess in summary while I am not the biggest fan of clowns I am very happy with my Peter Pez display head 🙂 The cat, however, remains unconvinced.

Vintage McCoy Pottery – Green Planters

I’m back! I’ll leave my absence unexplained but let’s just say it involved espionage and sports car chases through exotic locales. It was definitely not due to tax preparation.

I thought I might dip my toe back into blog writing by introducing yet another of my collections – vintage McCoy pottery. Vintage McCoy planters to be exact, and in this entry at least, green planters. Here’s the small assortment I have right now:

Green McCoy planters

Those colours are a bit brighter than normal. Guess who has two thumbs and recently discovered all the settings on her new camera? This girl!

As you can see, I haven’t actually planted anything in my planters, but rest assured these vintage beauties are fully functional. I hope to install narrow glass shelves on our dining room window and display some of my McCoy collection with plants. I love the idea of having partial privacy from the planters, while at the same time allowing light to filter into the room. The plants should do well in the light and the shelves will be in a corner so they won’t be in the way. I know this type of window shelving was more popular in the 1950s but there’s no reason not to revive the trend today if it fits your space! Even Martha Stewart is a fan, as you can see from this photo I found on her website:

Glass shelves in window

Mmmmm. That's tasteful.

Even if you’re not at the point of renovating the windows, McCoy pottery is still a very approachable and affordable brand to collect. McCoy started back in 1910 in as a sanitary and stoneware company in clay rich Zanesville, Ohio. The wares first made by the company were more utilitarian in nature, but then in the 1930s they began to market more decorative pieces for the home. Much like the Shiny Brite company, McCoy pottery became very popular with middle class families in the 1950s due to their quality workmanship and mass-produced price. McCoy branched out from mugs and kitchen ware to include planters, cookie jars, jardines, wall pockets and vases. The items came in a huge variety of shape, colour and glaze. I collect pretty much exclusively the planters, but even in this one area I can easily find shapes ranging from flowers to animals, birds, fish and even boots. Take a look at the variety in my small collection of green, standard shaped planters:

Notice the glazing on the bamboo planter (vintage from the 1960s):

The beautiful variations in colour and glaze make every piece unique. The more common shapes and colours are still found for affordable prices. For instance I found this chalice inspired planter at my local thrift store for $10:

Try to find something this nice at Walmart for ten bucks.

You ever hear the expression “the real McCoy”? Well, that’s actually a very old Scottish saying and nothing to do with pottery at all, but it does serve as a memorable warning about McCoy knock offs. The brand is so popular that newly made reproductions have been found in many styles. Collectors who buy pieces worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars must carefully inspect the mark and the quality of the clay before purchase. The marks varied throughout the years, and some items were never marked in the first place. Marks can be convincingly replicated on reproductions, but what is harder to replicate is the heavy clay used in real vintage McCoy. New pottery is more brittle and less dense. The glazing might not be as expertly applied, or cover the proper amount of the surface as well. In general, the knock offs look and feel cheaper than their authentic counterparts. Try to get your hands on some real ones and inspect them carefully to know what feels right.

McCoy pottery marks

You can see the variety of McCoy marks on even this small selection of items.

Don’t let the fear of knock-offs stop you from picking up one of these delightful pieces if you find one at an antique show or in your local SallyAnne. Online sales can be a bit tricky, but this is where feedback and reputation are important. I’ve bought from reputable dealers online with no problems at all. The real McCoys are still available and affordable in many styles. If you are in doubt about making a substantial purchase, you can use the links below to help guide your decision. I’ll profile more of my McCoy pottery later, as well as any updates on those dreamy glass shelves 🙂

Real McCoy Links (about real McCoys!):
Chiquita’s McCoy Pottery – Chiquita likes McCoy a LOT. Great photos of her vast collection, as well as collecting tips and historical information.
McCoy Pottery Online – Marks, history, photos, auctions and all things McCoy.