This red glazed earthenware pitcher is one of fourteen colorful pieces of Fiesta ceramic tableware objects that came to Cooper-Hewitt in 1991. Designed by English potter Frederick Hurten Rhead in 1936 for the American manufacturer Homer Laughlin Pottery Co., the Fiesta dinnerware collection was an instant success with the ceramic industry and the housewives of America.

Through thorough planning, market analysis, and creative development, Homer Laughlin Co. offered a casual line of dinnerware with well-planned accessories, whose simple art deco style and streamline shape was compatible with any décor. Homemakers could mix and match services of all types and with other wares already in their cabinets, lending distinction and bright spots of color to the plainest of tables.

The dinnerware’s chief design element was color, with a semi-reflective surface glaze. To avoid the color being too severe, concentric band of rings were added at the edges of each piece. The brilliant orange-red glaze, as seen in this pitcher, was the lead with regard to color when Rhead first designed the collection. It had increased the total cost of the original Fiesta set, due in part to the higher cost of raw material – the red items required strict control during firing and the losses that did occur had to be absorbed into the final cost. Nevertheless, the Fiesta red was a key note that could either blend or appropriately contrast with the other four distinct colors of ivory, cobalt blue, yellow, and green. In 1938, a sixth color, turquoise, was added to the existing five.

Over the years of production, the Fiesta color assortment changed with new colors added and others eliminated. In 1943, the U.S. government assumed control of uranium oxide, an important element used in the manufacture of the Fiesta red glaze. As a result of this wartime restriction, Fiesta red, the most popular of the collection’s colors, was dropped from production. After the war and at some early point in the fifties (exact documentation from HLC is unclear), color changes included the retirement of light green, dark blue, and old ivory, replaced with forest green, rose, chartreuse and gray, augmented by two older standards: turquoise and yellow.[1]

It was not until 1959 that Homer Laughlin Ceramic Co. was again licensed to buy uranium oxide and Fiesta red returned to the market. Medium green was offered for the first time, and what are referred to as the ‘fifties colors’ – rose, gray and chartreuse, and dark green – were discontinued. Even when the Fiesta brand was restyled in 1969, in an effort to keep on trend with modern day décor, Fiesta red remained the only original color whose production was continued. After a hiatus in production from 1973-85, the Fiesta line was reintroduced to the market in 1986 and collectors’ interest surged for both the vintage colors and the line’s newly released colors, including sea-mist green and periwinkle blue.[2]

Knowing the gap in production for the Fiesta red and the changes in the color assortment over the years, one can see why this red pitcher and the other pieces in original Fiesta ware colors are considered worthy additions to Cooper-Hewitt’s collection.

[1] Sharon Huxford and Bob Huxford. The Collectors Encyclopedia of Fiesta, 5th Edition. Shroeder: Kentucky, 2001.

[2] Mark Moran. Warman’s Fiesta Ware: Identification and Price Guide. Krause: WI, 2004.




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