On Saint Patrick’s Day, we are all Irish for one day.
Yes, there are green beers, green rivers, and silly green hats. Before the festivities, begin with a simple dinner. Everyone seems to have their favorite Irish Stew, Shepherds Pie, and potatoes. Our family favorite is Red Cabbage and Apples with Mashed Potatoes and Carrots.
Setting the table with White Ironstone is a natural choice. A simple dinner with heavy old Ironstone that stands the test of time. No matter how egregious the gathering.
Old White Ironstone brings history to the table. Greenwood China opened its doors in the 1860s in Trenton, New Jersey. Potters were welcomed to America for their knowledge, ability, and experience. They built potteries and produced pottery for a growing population that need porcelain goods and tableware. The Trenton Historical Society offers an outline of this history.
Saint Patrick’s Day is a special day in our family. Alyssa, the oldest, was born on March 17. She was given a very special gift, the knack of finding four leaf clovers. Uncanny.
Design Matters. We are captivated with the look of an object. No matter what particular style we are drawn to emulate in our lives. From the spare lines of Modernism back to Victorian Romanticism, their appeal speaks a language that reflects our needs and values at a particular moment. A busy family, for example, requires lots of dishes. Many of us would choose dishes that are safe in a dishwasher and a microwave. Those qualities become more important than design alone.
Certainly, Russel Wright argued for dinnerware that would fit in with the “new” modern lifestyle. Versatility was important. Ease was critical. Electric appliances promised a new age of ease and leisure. A very young Bette Davis demonstrated the ease of use in a television commercial. Wright assured prospective customers about this benefit of American Modern. He left the art of design to those setting the table. Indeed, the “mix” of color became a signature of American Modern.
On the other hand, homemakers became critical of their beautiful dinnerware. They chipped. Crazing developed in certain glazes. In short, they were not durable over time.
Durability Matters. Wright soon turned to makers of Restaurant Ware. By 1946, Iroquois China in Syracuse, New York was shipping the new line to stores. The new line was produced from vitrified ironstone – chip resistant, stain resistant, and bacteria resistant. The process of vitrification bonded the glaze to the body much like glass.
Initially, Wright wanted to produce Casual China with variation in the glaze – the quality present in American Modern similar to that found in handmade pottery. Produced only for a few years, these early mottled pieces are difficult to find; they are referred to as “Raindrop” by collectors.
Beyond the color of the glaze, the shape of the pieces reflect a modern sensibility. Plates have a coupe shape, the handles on the teapot are comfortable – and large enough for any hand. The stacking salt and pepper and the stacking sugar and creamer save space in the modern kitchen.
Color Magic. I really don’t know what else to call Wright’s sense of color. Always the perfect shade and tone of color, even the colors that are often a bit off. Pink, green, blue, yellow, and cantaloupe are fresh and clean. Nutmeg, Ripe Apricot, Charcoal and Oyster Gray are earthy shades, but, they have lots of life. And still, there is white. Elegant on the table in modern shapes – and of course, perfect for any one who loves to cook.
The design, durability and color of Iroquois Casual reflect the post-war Suburban Age. The color palette fits right in with the streamlined age. And the durability works with a busy family with a dishwasher. Even if one of the children help with after dinner clean-up. As every one should!
More than a drink, coffee is a ritual. Sleepy-eyed in the early morning quiet . . . we follow a familiar and comforting routine. After a few minutes, the coffee is ready and hot. Grab your mug. . . . your favorite mug, the mug, the ritual mug. The vessel for the ritual of waking to a new day.
More important than the brew is the vessel. I didn’t understand the importance of this until I spent time in France. There is no better coffee to be found; but, I needed a mug for coffee that I made in my apartment. Not pretty. Not porcelain. Not delicate. Not small. A real mug.
I searched for a mug with the proper weight, ample size and simple. It took days to find a mug that was adequate. I settled for a mug from England that was very close. Handsome it was . . . over time, I learned to appreciate this mug. But, I was disappointed when it did not survive the journey home.
I was not the first to need a mug that could make a long journey. The armed services especially the Navy looked for mug that would “work” on a ship. The necessary characteristics were heft and stability – Victor produced the mug needed by the Navy. The porcelain produced by the Victor Insulator Company in New York was used to ground electrical wires. Heavy duty thick ironstone that also keeps coffee warm for a bit longer.
Coffee is a habit loved by men and women in all walks of life. Indeed, for many of us, it is a struggle to go through the morning without coffee. Especially for a soldier who is far from home. During the Civil War, one young man wrote, “We are reduced to quarter rations and no coffee,” he continued. “And nobody can soldier without coffee.” NPR
I have read stories about men in World War II giving their mugs to those who asked. They were in demand. Hopper painted a diner scene with the familiar white mug. In the cartoon, Beetle Bailey, there is the white mug. And I have seen the Victor mug in quite a few old films. Stay tuned to see a few of our Victor Mugs in the new film, Midway. Certainly a film about a critical Navy battle would not be complete without a Victor Mug!
We have sent Victor Mugs to buyers all over the world. This morning a Victor Mug was sent to North Carolina and Germany. We have mailed them to Saudi Arabia and Istanbul. Hong Kong and Australia. We have even sent them to sailors on Navy vessels in the Pacific.
Some days, I have the crazy idea that peace in the world is possible. If only we could sit with a cup of coffee in a Victor Mug and talk. There is a spirit in the thing itself . . .
Notice the dings on the bottom rim; but yet, the mug did not break. It survived to see another coffee break!
You can see our Victor Mugs – some with green lines – in our Etsy Shop.
Russel Wright dedicated long hours to mixing glazes to achieve the depth of soft color of American Modern Dinnerware. The first glaze colors – Chartreuse, Seafoam, Granite Gray, Coral, and Bean Brown – were envisaged as a complementary palette. The glazes bring out the best in each other – a reflection of color in the natural world. In that vein, American Modern was introduced as “open stock” dinnerware.
Seafoam has an earthiness unexpected in blue . . . it is not a blue-gray. A stormy sea at sundown?
The seafoam glaze grounds chartreuse while the shape of the square platter cradles the salad plate. A platter without a distinct rim or a deep well was distinctly different in 1937. Russel Wright stripped the typical elements of a platter. His minimalist design would shape modern dinnerware while his glaze colors were imitated but never duplicated.
Good design does not dictate. The chop plate designed for the service of a meat course was a large square platter that might serve as a tray . .. in other rooms as well.
. . . the art of life is centered on the dinner table.
The Victorian etiquette books were heavy with standards that were unattainable for most consumers. There were bone plates, fish plates, underplates in the list. And of course, there was the time required to set such a table and maintain a lifestyle dictated by the past that was no longer practical in the every day of life.
American Modern set a new standard – multi-functional and undecorated pieces that could be mixed by the homemaker at will. In their book, Russel and Mary Wright wrote, that each table setting would be a unique design – a work of art created by the homemaker. The art of the table.
Late in the 1960s, there was an exodus from the city to the country. If you are a boomer like me, you remember those days. The protests of late are peaceful compared to the days that we witnessed in our lives or on the television with Walter Cronkite. Ken Burns has certainly brought back the memories of those tumultuous years in the PBS series, Vietnam. After watching the series, it is no surprise that a generation of young people wanted to “drop out” to find a simpler life. And, there was even an anthem . . . I’m gonna leave this city, got to get away, Canned Heat.
Times had changed. The happy turquoise and pink of the 1950s were out of step with the new ethos of peace, love and living on the land. The pivot from the past was played out in the last episode of Mad Men with Don Draper chanting OM.
The new lifestyle was a choice based on a natural way of living. Processed food was rejected. Whole grain bread and granola replaced Cocoa Puffs and Wonder Bread. The trend was homemade food, not fast food; but rather, whole foods that were comforting. The aroma of apple pie, oatmeal cookies, Sunday chicken dinner with real mashed potatoes. It is no surprise, that handmade pottery was the perfect choice for this aesthetic. You might even say that this kind of comfort food almost demands brown drip dishes made by Hull Pottery.
At the same time, sales were trending downward at Hull Pottery. The president of the pottery, J. B. Hull spotted a trend in California for brown pottery. He realized the earthiness of brown glaze was a natural choice. Soon, Hull was producing Brown Drip housewares – and it was flying off shelves.
Eventually, Hull introduced new colors that reflected a lighter mood – the ubiquitous avocado, a bluer shade of turquoise, and tangerine . . .
Forty years later, Hull dinnerware is still in demand. Most often, children of that generation seek out Hull. It brings back memories – the best memories, after all, are the times that we share gathered together to share a simple family dinner or a feast with our friends. Or the times that we stop and make a batch of cookies.
The designers at Hull Pottery understood the tradition of cookies baked at home. The wonderful aroma of gingerbread baking in the oven. The mystery of the empty cookie jar.
At the turn of the last century, the potteries along the Ohio River were working overtime to fulfill rapidly increasing orders – bricks for streets, clay products for drainage, durable toilet wares, and dinnerware. American potteries had developed new production methods and, importantly for consumers, the china produced was equal to the wares produced in England. There was a celebratory air in the potteries as described by editors in business journals.
In Beaver Falls, the annual holiday loaf was brief. Indeed, the customary holiday inactivity which extended from December 24 to January 3 gave way to a short holiday break. The economic boom was no less evident on the streets of cities. Two entrepreneurs, Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart, opened a luncheonette in Philadelphia automated equipment imported from Germany. City workers with little time for lunch filled the restaurants – they claimed one out of sixteen people ate once a day in a Horn & Hardart.
Two entrepreneurs, Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart, opened a luncheonette in Philadelphia with automated equipment. City workers with little time for lunch filled the restaurants. Soon, Horn & Hardart prepared food for carry-out by the consumer.
While Horn & Hardart Automats delivered food quickly, meals were made from scratch using fresh, high-quality ingredients. Items were prepared shortly before they were eaten, and food was not allowed to linger overnight. Freshly squeezed orange juice that sat for two hours was poured down the drain.
Back along the Ohio River, Mayer China was producing Marion for the new automats in New York. Marion is an Art Deco teal transferware pattern. The simple design is charming, but not cloying. It is warm and comfortable not commercial.
The resplendent surroundings of the Horn & Hardart Automats—with marble counters and floors, stained glass, chrome fixtures, ornately carved ceilings and Art Deco signage—more resembled Parisian bistros than sterile, dingy fast food outlets. Food was served on real china and eaten with solid flatware. Automat: Birth of a Fast Food Nation
Not a true statement. In my mind, there are bowls – and then there are bowls. Sometimes, bowls take on very interesting shapes. Even production pieces like those made at Steubenville Pottery for the American Modern line of dinnerware designed by Russel Wright. This bowl is a vessel that seems to cradle all that it holds. Sometimes it looks like an open hand …it is a curve that does not stop…
Sometimes I look through a stack of plates with amazement. Really? Seventy-five years old? These plates are really that old? How in the world did they produce millions of plates, literally in the case of Bailey-Walker China Company and at the end of the day, have a quality product. As one writer has put it, the plates are “bullet proof.” I believe it might have something to do with the fact…
Certainly restaurant ware was not produced to fill emotional needs. In fact these wares fulfilled highly practical needs for commercial accounts such as durability including chip resistance and heat resistance. The rounded edges of restaurant ware resisted chipping unlike dinnerware produced for homes. Later, large manufacturers like Syracuse developed dinnerware that saved space as kitchens…
Last week, I rolled up a rug in the dining room. I was appalled at all of the dust and dirt under the rug. Really shocked … As luck would have it, I had been reading an old book of household hints that predates Hints from Heloise by fifty years. I remembered the section, “How to Clean a Rug.” Notice that it is a man swinging that rug beater. No wonder … there is no advice on how to find…