Every Plate Tells a Story: Horn and Hardart

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.

Glass and Pottery Salesman 1921

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.

Messiers  Horn and Hardart did not cut corners – they offered fresh food prepared carefully. In The Automat: Birth of a Fast Food Nation, Christopher Klein writes:

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.

Marion by Mayer China

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

Classic Restaurant Ware – The Green Crest Border

If there is one pattern that defines restaurant ware then perhaps, a green crest border would find a place in the top three patterns. But still, it is not easy to find in quantity these days. But sometimes, a tall stack of these old diner dishes appears in a dusty old basement or the back room of a restaurant. Like these. . . . stacks and stacks of plates.

Green Crest Restaurant Ware


Plain Old White Ironstone Bowls – Perfect for Chili

Plain Old White Ironstone Bowls – Perfect for Chili

Plain Old White Chili Bowl, Buffalo China

A good chili bowl should hold chili. A better than good bowl for chili should not be too wide  – leave the wide bowl for cereal. A wide bowl holds the contents certainly but the narrower width means that the chili will cool down quicker. Maybe a small thing. But early pottery manufacturers in Ohio recognized these small yet critical differences for the food service industry – restaurants, hotels,…

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Ohio River Pottery: Black and White Restaurant China

Call it what you will . . . Retro Diner, Restaurant China or Restaurant Ware. To my eye, these plates look fresh and modern. Black is back but did it ever fade away?

The scalloped edge brings a cottage in the country feel. The bold black thick border looks clean and contemporary. Add to a collection or start a collection with these pieces. They will be with you a long, long time.

Adding a few photographs so that you can see them all together and on their own.


Hard to choose a favorite when I favor them all . . .


Shenango China Plate, Black Arrows and Circles on White

Clay has a life of its own. There are many things it will not do and cannot be made to do. It insists on respect. It records not only the impression we make on it by hand or machine but also something of the saga of our life on this earth.

Ohio River Pottery: H. R. Wyllie China Company

Ohio River Pottery: H. R. Wyllie China Company


Recently, I found a very old semi porcelain platter in less than pristine condition. I noticed that the gold trim was very very worn, in fact absent in some areas yet, the glaze was excellent,  no cracks and only slight crazing on the bottom. On the bottom of the platter was a mark unknown to me. At once, I tucked it under my arm. The platter appealed to me in many ways –  it was well loved,…

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Ohio River Pottery: H. R. Wyllie China Company


Recently, I found a very old semi porcelain platter in less than pristine condition. I noticed that the gold trim was very very worn, in fact absent in some areas yet, the glaze was excellent,  no cracks and only slight crazing on the bottom. On the bottom of the platter was a mark unknown to me. At once, I tucked it under my arm. The platter appealed to me in many ways –  it was well loved, very heavy and a mystery to me!

Wyllie Platter, Remnants of Gold Border Barely Visible (12″ X 16″)



The search began with the back stamp. The typography is representative of the Arts ad Crafts era;  beautiful but it was difficult to read. I relied on auto-correct in the Google Search Engine using only the last four letters and . . . Voila!  In a few hours, I discovered that the platter was manufactured by the H.R. Wyllie China Company in Huntington, Ohio between 1910-1920. The design for the back stamp is at the  center of the insert graphics in the advertisement for the Wyllie China Company. Judging by the weight and size, the platter was part of the “double thick hotel ware.” As written in the advertisement, there is more evidence that Mr. Wyllie was truly committed to the quality of the china produced in his pottery. He went so far as to write a letter to the editor of The Pottery and Glass Journal asking for a correction. He insisted that he did not produce souvenir plates but china for the most discriminating!

Wyllie China Company, The Pottery and Glass Salesman, Vol. 18
Wyllie China Company, The Pottery and Glass Salesman, Vol. 18

Mr. Wyllie was born in East Liverpool, Ohio. He was not a stranger to pottery production; he learned his craft at this father’s plant. Striking out on his own, he purchased the Huntington China Company (1907). In three short years, the company fell into financial difficulty. In effect, Wylie purchased a commercial kiln that was modern and quite a bargain. The new enterprise was successful; new production kilns were added five years later to fulfill the demand for wares. And still later, Mr. Wyllie took an active roll in the effort to build roads to serve West Virginia. In his introduction for the bill proposed to the West Virginia Legislature, he wrote,

As a manufacturer and business man I appreciate to the fullest possible extent the benefits that will accrue to the business life of West Virginia from the construction of permanent roads. I know that it will mean much from a material viewpoint to the farmer, the miner and the laborer. Good roads mean better schools, more churches and the eradication, of illiteracy. They mean a more contented and more intelligent citizenry and give our boys and girls better opportunities than those which were enjoyed by the mature men and women of today.

The legislation for new roads was passed, which led to some speculation that Mr. Wyllie might better serve the community as a member of the West Virginia Legislature. He was respected as a civcl leader, business owner and a producer of quality goods.  Five years later, Mr. Wyllie died. The china company soon closed its doors, years later the massive structure was demolished leaving behind memories for those who lived in Huntington. A few years back, a new road was built in Huntington. The work crews noticed potshards in the rubble left behind from the demolition of the Wyllie China Company. Some residents of Huntington arrived at the scene in search of those fragments of their history. One long time resident added that he still remembered Mr. Wyllie smiling at him when they passed on the street. Mr. Wyllie left a a beautiful legacy.

No longer a mystery to me, the H. R. Wyllie platter is important to the history of Ohio River Pottery.  The manufacture of pottery along the river depended on rich sources of clay, supplies of natural gas and a river to transport the wares far beyond the borders. Geography isa  powerful predictor of sustainable production, after all. But, digging deeper into the story of the goods produced, there is yet another story about the men and women who established potteries and worked in the potteries over generations.

The well-loved platter with only remnants of the gold trim is one hundred years old – a century – and a history tied to Mr. Wyllie. I just love his bow tie!

H. R. Wyllie
H. R. Wyllie


The Gift: The Story of The Homer Laughlin Plate

Almost, thirty years ago, a package arrived postmarked from the Homer Laughlin Company, Newell, West Virginia quite unexpectedly. A few days before, we were at the International Housewares Exhibition in Chicago. It was a big deal, a really big deal. Now, as then, it was the biggest trade show in the country at one of the biggest exhibition halls in the world under one roof.  McCormick Place, a modernist structure designed by Gene Simmons, a student of Mies van der Rohe, is located on Lake Michigan. Sited as it was, the rebuilt McCormick place celebrated space perched on the coast with an unending vista of water and sky – the building occupies acres of land yet does not obstruct the view like a skyscraper while the interior remains open. Stepping into that place was a tad intimidating for a fledgling very small business owner but, how else to know what is happening?

Deep Rim and Classic Detailing of The Homer Laughlin Plate
Deep Rim and Classic Detailing of The Homer Laughlin Plate

One of the hundreds of exhibitors was The Homer Laughlin Company represented by a Mr. Wells. He was very generous with his time; he welcomed us into the booth heartily. As we spoke, the conversation turned to patterns. The new line of colorful Fiesta Ware was popular, but I gravitated toward a pure white plate with a deep rim, scalloped edge and classic ornamentation. It was very modern looking – but not. The plate was a part of the Best China Line i.e.. Restaurant Ware.

Best China by Homer Laughlin is Restaurant Ware
Best China by Homer Laughlin is Restaurant Ware

He asked, “Why would you want this plate?” Later informing me that he could not sell this plate to a retail outlet unless we could order large quantities. His warmth and kindliness made the bad news sound not so bad. Three days later, the plate arrived.

For many years, this plate was part of the lore of our family. . . the story was,  “a manager from Homer Laughlin sent this plate.” The plate packed a powerful message; generosity and kindness. This story remains one of the most important business lessons that I have learned. Over the years, the pleasant memory inspired a collection of white restaurant ware. It has been a sentimental journey from that memorable beginning.

Years later, I learned that the history of the Homer Laughlin Company was integral to understanding the history of Ohio River Pottery. As it turned out, Mr. Wells was not merely a manager or salesperson. His family owned and operated the Homer Laughlin Company.  The Wells family led an expansion of the pottery. By the end of the nineteenth century, five kilns produced white ware instead of the much maligned yellow ware produced throughout the nineteenth century.

Laced thought out early accounts of the Pottery Industry, there are comments made by workers, observers and reporters. Most commentators noticed the mutual respect that owners shared with workers – mutual respect become one of the core values for the Homer Laughlin Company and the other potteries in East Liverpool. So, it was no accident that Mr. Wells sent the plate that he could sell.

The Gift: The Plate from The Homer Laughlin Company (ca. 1985)
The Gift: The Plate from The Homer Laughlin Company (ca. 1985)


Can This Plate Be Saved?

So, you have a favorite plate or you are thrifting and you come across a plate that looks like this one. Can the crazing be removed? Is the piece useable? Well, it depends. In the case of this plate, the stain can not be removed because the damage is too deep. In fact, the crazing is evident on the underside of the plate.IMG_2820

Also, note the kiln marks – one of them was not glazed before it went into the kiln. Over time, the unglazed spots are infiltrated by all that was served on the piece. Here you can compare two kiln marks – the mark on the right was glazed.

Detail, Kiln Marks
Detail, Kiln Marks

But many times, if the problem is only surface deep then the Hydrogen Peroxide Bath usually will clean it up! It is really a miracle – of science.

So, toute de suite, are the detailed instructions from The White Ironstone China Association – and even though restaurant ware is glazed, fired and finished differently – this recipe works.

Cleaning Stains

Silverware can leave gray marks on china. Use a little toothpaste on a soft cloth to rub them away.

Some of the most common stains seen on white ironstone china are dark staining under the glaze. Sometimes the whole piece can look dirty, and often a buyer won’t think of purchasing it. Some stains have gone deeply into the clay itself, and won’t come out, but quite often they can be removed quite successfully.

Common cleaners that will remove some stains include naval jelly & ZUD (rust stains), denture tablets, calgon water softener with a Z code, and ammonia (sealed in plastic).

You don’t see professional cleaning instructions here because of the danger involved – chemicals can explode, and they can cause injury. There are people who do professional china cleaning, and it can be well worth it to engage them to clean valuable pieces for you.

Using Hydrogen Peroxide to Clean Stains

The only relatively safe chemical that we know of to clean white ironstone china is hydrogen peroxide, and it is used frequently. Its chemical formula (H2O2) is very similar to water (H2O), but it has an extra oxygen atom. This gives hydrogen peroxide the ability to oxidize organic and inorganic materials, producing water at a reaction byproduct. This makes it useful as an agent to both whiten the stain and make the stain easier to be flushed from the china.

If you want to try cleaning a piece with hydrogen peroxide, by the regular 3% hydrogen peroxide in the grocery or drug store. Buy enough to cover your piece as you soak it. Put the peroxide in a tightly lidded plastic container. After several days, take the piece out and put it in strong sunlight, so the hydrogen peroxide vaporizes from the heat. You can also try to bake the piece in an electric oven, at the lowest possible temperature, not to exceed 200 degrees. Using a gas oven could cause a fire or an explosion when the hydrogen peroxide is heated. Heating in an electric oven is safe to you, but your dishes could very well break. Heating in sunlight takes longer, but is safer for the dishes. You can repeat this process until the piece is clean.

WARNING!! Using a stronger solution of peroxide is extremely dangerous. It can burn the skin off your hands and cause permanent damage to mucous membranes, and unless you know chemistry very well you could have an explosion. Leave the work with stronger hydrogen peroxide to the professionals.

After you have cleaned your white ironstone piece, wash it thoroughly, as any cleaning chemicals that remain can migrate into your food.


One of the most common mistakes is to use Clorox or some other chlorine bleach to attempt to clean white ironstone. You may get rid of the stain, but you likely also will ruin your dish. Chlorine gets under the glaze and has a chemical reaction with the clay and glaze. Chlorine bleach has the ability to exist in several states, liquid, gas and crystal. The bleach penetrates the glaze and goes into the clay body. There, when it dries, it turns into crystals, which expand and will push the glaze right off the piece. The clay body of the piece is dissolved by the chemical, and the ironstone breaks back down to clay particles.

You will sometimes find a piece of white ironstone that is covered by a white powder. It may have been cleaned with bleach. Often these pieces will smell like chlorine bleach, and the surface is crumbling to the point where the glaze is coming off. Over time, the piece will continue to deteriorate, and eventually the clay body will begin to crumble. Soaking the piece in vinegar will stop the deterioration, but won’t repair the damage.

If you know of any tricks of the trade – like a process or recipe to clean wood with built up wax and dirt – let us know!

Pottery made in the Ohio Valley

I like restaurant china because it is built to last and tough to break in everyday use. Hitting it with a hammer will break it. But it is tough and durable. But I did not know anything about the history much less the economy of the along the broad swath of the Ohio River. For example, East Liverpool, Ohio was crowned as the Center of Pottery. I did not even know there was a place called East Liverpool!

The first pottery in Ohio was established in the mid-eighteenth century according to The Museum of Ceramics in East Liverpool, Ohio. Fifty years later there were thousands of potteries – large and small supplying the country with wares for their homes. You have certainly used Ohio River Pottery in a restaurant – eg. Hall, Laughlin, Syracuse – many believe that the best restaurant dinnerware is still made along the Ohio River!

Locally, it was bricks. In 1920, the Brick and Clay Record informed their readers that production at the two plants in Nelsonville and the one plant in Logan were busy fulfilling orders placed from the previous year. Bricks made in Nelsonville won accolades at the World’s Fair and what is more, are highly regarded to this day.  But still   many believed that the best ceramics were produced in Europe.

Local potteries fought to win the American market. This backstamp from Homer Laughlin illustrated their business plan – the American Eagle has launched an attack on the English Lion.

Homer Laughlin Backstamp
Homer Laughlin Backstamp

Patterns from all of these potteries abound. The colors and images reflect the taste and style of previous generations – and sometimes politics. The durability of “restaurant china” is truly amazing – you can almost throw it. And it all looks great no matter the pattern or the mix.