No highfalutin tableware talk here. The Homer Laughlin China Co., largest producer of dinnerware in the United States, has been setting middle-class America's tables with beautiful and diverse china patterns for 142 years.
I had no idea.
Homer and Shakespeare (Mom and Pop must have been real eggheads) Laughlin began making the country's first white ware around 1874. Younger brother Shakespeare didn't stick around long but sold out to his brother so he could go off and write plays. Just kidding about that last part.
Situated along the banks of the Ohio River in Newell, W.Va., the original Homer Laughlin Co. still thrives, covering 37 acres. It still produces a modern version of its famous 1930s bold Fiesta ware, which it reintroduced in 1980. Since 1970, most of its sales have been wholesale to restaurants, hotels and the military, which they've supplied since World War II
If each of us poked around, I bet we'd discover a piece of Homer Laughlin china tucked in our cupboard or at Mom's or Grandma's. Yard sales brim with HL pieces because so much of the doggone stuff has been made for so long. There's good reason. Homer Laughlin made a quality product and flexed with changing styles and consumer demands.
Just because it's plentiful doesn't mean it's not collectible. Online shops compete to help you find the right pattern to replace a broken plate or add a serving platter to a favorite setting.
In a check of recent sales, practically all things Homer Laughlin had sold — and most for modest prices, though there are high-end examples. A complete, seven-piece set of vintage, nesting Fiesta bowls recently sold for $649.
In the early years, HL made several lines of art pottery. Those pieces bring big prices today. One Dreamland bowl from about 1906 recently fetched $850 online.
Dinnerware shapes have names, but one shape may have hundreds of different patterns and treatments. Likewise, one pattern may appear on various shapes.
Homer Laughlin was readily available to mainstream America at Sears, Roebuck & Co., Montgomery Ward and Woolworth. Mother's Oats even buried pieces inside its cereal as premiums.
The photo shown here came from my own cupboards. I have other pieces, but the ones nearest and dearest to me are the creamer, sugar and small bowl because they belonged to my grandmother, Goby. They're good examples of different shapes with the same floral pattern. The sugar and creamer are in the Eggshell Georgian shape or mold, and the bowl is Eggshell Nautilus. The three are from the 1940s, but I recall Goby setting an ample Sunday table with the matching plates and bowls well into the 1990s.
A word to the cautious: Before 1972, the Food and Drug Administration did not test the lead content of dinnerware glazes. If you enjoy using your old china and are concerned, I've read that there are simple test kits available from hardware stores.
I knew Homer Laughlin had been around a long time, but until I started researching for this article, I had no idea how long or that it was still producing a quality, American product and operating under the fourth generation of the same family since 1897.
To learn more, check out The Homer Laughlin China Co. website (www.hlcdinnerware.com) and the resource books "Homer Laughlin: A Giant Among Dishes, 1873-1939," by Jo Cunningham, and "The Collector's Encyclopedia of Homer Laughlin China," by Joanne Jasper.
The company's slogan is: "You'll like what we bring to the table!" I'd say they've proven that claim.