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

Save

Save

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.

My Favourite Mountie Painting

I’m back! For all my readers (hi mom!), I should explain that I was on vacation last week in lovely, sunny Cuba. It was a wonderful break from our mild but dreary Toronto winter. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s a photo I took looking out my home office window a few weeks ago:

Toronto winter

Yipee.

Now here’s a photo of the sunset on our last evening in Cuba:

Cuba sunset

That's more like it.

Although it’s good to be home I still feel sluggish. Therefore, today I’m going to lazily post some photos tell you about my favourite Mountie painting. I can’t believe I forgot to mention it when I wrote about my Mountie collection before, since this painting has been on my walls since I was sixteen. If I remember correctly, my dad picked it up at a yard sale. He knew I liked Mounties, and he was smitten by the painting’s iconic image and overly dramatic staging. For me, it was love at first site:

Mountie painting

The Mountie and his noble steed.

She’s a beaut, ain’t she? Everything art critics would tell you – that the figures are too rigid, the setting cliché, the whole thing is kitchy – is true. I don’t think that this is a particularly good painting. But, BUT, what it lacks in artistic sophistication it makes up for in enthusiasm. There’s a signature on the bottom that says “J. Hamilton”. I’d like to believe the artist was an older man who was a hobby painter. One day he decided to paint the most noble, upright (very upright – he’s almost jumping off his horse) Mountie he could imagine. He put his subject in the classic Canadian wilderness where grass, meadows, mountains and clouds meet sky.

mountie painting close up

I love how the clouds arrange themselves with almost heavenly reverence around the Mountie. I love how the horse is restless, but the Mountie sits with complete poise and control. It’s all pretty great. You might not respect me for admiring this painting so much, but that is the risk we all take when we find original art and put it on our walls. At the end of the day, I think it’s much more interesting to have questionable but well loved original art, versus bland and mass produced consumer art.

Mountie painting close up

You sir, are a true Canadian hero.

My Mountie painting is not so loved by my husband, but then again he once bought a frame to properly display an “A-Team” poster so I take his opinion with a grain of salt. He really likes other folk art, and I admit this particular piece has a niche appeal. For the RCMP fan, however, it’s the Mona Lisa of Mountie art. If my hallway were the Louvre, this baby would be the star attraction.

Shiny Brite Ornaments

Shiny Brite Reproduction bulbWhen I was a kid, my parents (being antique dealers) always had a hodge podge of different antique decorations for the holidays. Tiny plastic choir boys, a somewhat weary looking elf, a flapper styled angel, and an abundance of colourful metallic glass bulbs adorned our tree. To this day, when I think Christmas I think of those cheerful glass ornaments. They were from the 1940s and 1950s. Although ours were from a variety of companies, the most popular of these vintage glass ornaments was made by a company called “Shiny Brite”.

Shiny Brite ornaments were created by American businessman Max Eckardt in 1937. Shiny Brites were proudly made in the USA (a selling point during WWII as previous to this many glass ornaments were imported from Germany). They were mass-produced in a process that started with unadorned glass bulbs supplied by the Corning company that were then hand decorated and machine lacquered in Eckardt’s factories. The inside of the bulb was coated in silver nitrate giving the decorations a, well, bright and shiny look. They eventually came in a large variety of colours including classic red and green, purples, pinks and icy blues. The colours could be solid or patterned. They also came in a large variety of shapes including balls, tear drops, icicles, finials and pinecones. They proved extremely popular and at their peak came out of four separate factories in New Jersey.

Shiny Brite Box

The classic Shiny Brite box. Notice Uncle Sam shaking hands with Santa Claus!

Interestingly, the history of the Shiny Brite ornament was directly impacted by wartime America. Early pre war ornaments often had large sections of opaque silver and metallic colour. After WWII was declared, decorative silver nitrate became a “nonessential” use of metal, so many of the ornaments were stripped of any silvering, and were mainly transparent with only hand painted colour on the outside of the bulb. These transparent bulbs are some of the most sought after and prized for collectors.

The hooks are also a good indicator of age. Early Shiny Brites had metal hooks and tops. During the war, these hooks were replaced with cardboard tabs from which the owner would use string to hang the ornament. Some bulbs from the wartime era also included a sprig of tinsel inside the bulb for added sparkle, but even this small use of metal was eventually prohibited.

This image from I Adore Style

When the war finally ended in 1945, restrictions on metal receded, and the iconic “Shiny Brite” ornament was reborn. Using sharp metallic colours, glittery mica flakes, and metal hooks and distinctive crinkled tops (stamped with the words “Shiny Brite” and “Made in U.S.A.”) these ornaments became even more popular. They remained affordable for families and flourished until plastic ornaments came on the scene in the late 1950s. For reasons I guess had to do with durability and cost, plastic was preferred over glass, and the Shiny Brite company closed their doors in 1962.

Close up of an original Shiny Brite top

Although this is an antiques blog, I must point out that there are some really nice reproduction Shiny Brites made by the Christopher Radko company. Since 2001 Christopher Radko has reproduced some of the most popular Shiny Brite lines and you can find them in lots of stores (I found some at our local Homesense). They are quality decorations and a great way to get the vintage look in new, pristine condition.

As nice as the reproductions are, however, real Shiny Brites are a great piece of history and well worth the search. They are still quite easy to find online and in vintage stores. If you want to collect real Shiny Brites, there are a few words of warning: Some sellers mistakenly use the manufacture’s name “Shiny Brite” to refer to any ornaments of this type. In some dastardly cases, the tops and hooks may also be replaced to “create” a Shiny Brite from just another vintage bulb. Also, people recommend buying only in original boxes, but it can be tricky to determine if a box for sure contained the ornaments for sale.

As is the case with anything, there is an element of “buyer beware” to collecting Shiny Brite ornaments, but this warning should not dissuade you from these charming items. Most dealers are honest and will answer your questions truthfully. Shiny Brites used to be an easy flea market find, but now depending on the style and age of the ornament the price will vary. Even in you find damaged ornaments, you can still use these to create wonderful decorative wreaths or as filler in vases and bowls. With a little searching and a keen eye you can still find affordable vintage Shiny Brite ornaments that will bring sparkle, cheer and history to your Christmas season.