When I moved to Florida in July 1978, I stayed at a friend’s house in Winter Park because my apartment was not yet ready. Well, it was clean and vacuumed and painted and empty, but it did not yet have furniture. That’s how we did things in the 70s– we up and moved someplace new, figuring that things would work themselves out, and they always did. Rent was $175 a month for a large one bedroom in Winter Park, and plastic milk crates borrowed from Publix served as bookshelves and record album holders. Soon I would buy a sleeper couch, and a table and four chairs and I would finally be able to sit down or sleep in my new place.
While staying with Richard’s family, I noticed they were eating off brightly-colored dishes that immediately caught my eye. The family was from West Virginia, and these dishes were manufactured by the Homer Laughlin China Company, in a town called Newell. The line of dishes was called Fiestaware, they explained, and the lady of the house was happy to show me what she had: a lot of dishes, some cups and saucers and bowls, a gravy boat… the colors were mostly Forest Green, Rose, and Chartreuse, though there were some brighter colors that had been manufactured earlier in time– Yellow, Red, Ivory, Turquoise… I was fascinated: they had a “deco” look about them, and there was something happy about eating from these dishes designed with concentric, graduated circles incised on their surfaces.
I bought my first piece a few years later at the Maitland Flea Market, a 7-inch plate in Turquoise. I kept it on a bedside table in our new condominium for many years as a place to hold a coffee cup. And, as I prospered, the collection grew a little here and there, but by no means in a big way- Fiesta had become a highly-desired collectible, and it was getting expensive. Still, I managed– a Light Green pitcher, some plates and bowls, teacups… I’d always dream of coming across “the mother lode” in some forgotten little rummage shop out in the country, but by then it was all priced very high.
Sometimes magic happened– Susan, a friend of a friend, was told of my growing collection, and called me when it was time to sell her grandmother’s estate. Apparently there was some Fiesta in the kitchen cupboards; and when I arrived at the house and was ushered inside ahead of the line of very curious and suspicious antiques dealers, Susan showed me a set of ten perfect Fiesta water tumblers, all produced in the 1930s-1940s. Beautiful! I showed her the latest price guide, made an offer, and she sold them to me for even less. We boxed them carefully and then I went out the back door, though I still had to pass by the even longer line of earlybirds, who were all watching me and my box with intense curiosity.
Fiestaware was manufactured from 1936 through 1972, and then production ceased due to a number of factors. However, it resurfaced again in 1986, with a palette of six new colors, and the world of Fiesta collectors was revitalized. New colors soon appeared regularly, as well as companion items made by licensed companies. Limited edition shades were introduced, like Lilac and Sapphire and Chartreuse, and intense competition and scrambling arose whenever the factory announced a limited number of, say, Chartreuse sugar packet holders. The rise of online auction houses and messages boards gave rise to closely-knit collectors’ communities who vied with one another for rare pieces, and spread the news about new colors and shapes.
Richard, my West Virginia friend, got heavily involved with the new line of colors and, being a self-admitted practitioner of OCD, decided that he had to have EVERY piece in EVERY color; you can imagine what his house looked like after awhile. It was amazing to go in there– someone aware of the craze would stand openmouthed at the racks and racks of rare Lilac and Sapphire pieces from the 1990s, which had gotten very costly. He had lamps… drawer pulls… licensed enamel casseroles… decals. Candles… cheese knives… tidbit trays… he had it all! Everyone told him that he could have opened his own shop, but I knew he was doing it because he liked to accomplish having complete lists of things.
When he died in 2003, I inherited it. It was like being willed an entire wing of Macy’s. Did I have room for the more than 3,000 items? Of course not! For years, my house was stacked with boxes which, by 2009, had dwindled to around 150 pieces. It took almost six years of yard sales, eBay, and shipments to friends and family to move it all. I loved having it at first, but after awhile I had to ask myself– do I need fifteen handled serving trays in every color of the rainbow? Or eighteen Lilac platters, six each in the three sizes they made? Or eight teapots? And wouldn’t it be nice to have the guest room shower stall free of boxes?
Fiestaware is still manufactured. They just announced their latest color, a light chartreuse called Lemongrass, and they finally introduced a true red– beautiful bright Scarlet. The palette is gorgeous, and you can become engrossed coming up with color combinations for dinner every night, as some very dedicated people do: check out their postings at http://mediumgreen.proboards61.com/
Once Fiesta gets in your blood, it never quite leaves. While I don’t have 3,000 pieces anymore, we do have a very manageable collection of old and new colors, all put to good use when the occasion calls for it.
As Mom says, “you can only eat from one plate at a time!”