Fiesta dinnerware: Recognizable by its bright colors and Art Deco styling

Milica Sterjova

The famous American line of dinnerware called Fiesta or Fiestaware was introduced in 1936 by the Homer Laughlin China Company from Newell, West Virginia. Fiesta is well known for its vibrant colors, concentric rings and Art Deco styling. It wasn’t the first solid color dinnerware produced in the United States but it was by far the most famous. More than million pieces of the Fiesta line were sold by the second year of manufacture.

Fiesta was introduced at the 1936 Pottery and Glass Show in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. The original line was the creation of Frederick Hurten Rhead who was the company’s design director. The great thing about Fiesta was that their dishes could be mixed and matched, giving the buyer a possibility to compose his set from pieces of different colors.

The new Art Deco influenced design and solid colors were distinct and refreshing. The first series of Fiesta dinnerware numbered 34 pieces, among them candle holders, sugar bowls, dinner plates and a vase. Initially, the dishes were made in five colors: red, green, yellow, cobalt blue and ivory. An additional turquoise color was introduced in 1937. The first year, all the different color dishes were sold at the same price, however, in 1937 the red colored dinnerware was more expensive than the rest.

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The next couple of years brought new additions to the Fiesta line and some of the original pieces were dropped. During World War II, demand for non-essential items declined so the company abandoned production of the more uncommon pieces of the Fiesta line in 1942. The highest number of pieces at one time was 64. The diversity of the series was reduced by almost a third by 1946. The more common pieces of dinnerware remained popular even during the war, mainly because of the bright colors, the popular design and the mass advertising of the products.

Fiesta dinnerware. Author: Linda. CC BY-ND 2.0

Items in the original colors, except the red, were produced up until the early 1950s when the general color trend changed and a new range of pastel colors was brought in. The red Fiesta was discontinued in 1944 because it used uranium oxide in its glaze, as did all other pottery manufacturers in the United States at the time. During the war, the United States government needed uranium for the development of the atomic bomb so it seized the company’s reserves.

Fiestaware for sale at an antique shop. Author: Emily Carlin. CC BY-ND 2.0

Fiesta red was reintroduced on the market towards the end of the 1950s. Restrictions on using uranium were relaxed and depleted uranium was available for use. Radioactive pottery was not unusual, and the red glaze wasn’t the only only one, there were radioactive pieces of other colors too.

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Radioactive Fiestaware. Author: Chris. CC BY-SA 2.0

As the years passed the dinnerware color evolved along with new color trends. The original vivid colors reappeared in the early 1960s and by the end of the decade earth tones were in style. At the same time, sales began to decline so the Fiesta ended production at the end of 1972.

Fiesta butter dish. Author: r. nial bradshaw. CC BY 2.0

The 1970s saw the Art Deco style reclaiming its popularity. Shortly after the production of Fiesta was ended, it regained popularity. People started buying old Fiesta pieces at garage sales and flea markets. The prices of the colorful dishes went through the roof; pieces that were sold before at low cost were now being sold for tens or even hundreds of dollars depending of the color and the rareness of the piece.

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Fiestaware Salt and Pepper. Author: Erin Kohlenberg. CC BY 2.0

The Homer Laughlin China Company recognized the potential in this new public interest in their products. In 1986, the year of the Fiesta line’s 50th anniversary, they started producing the famous tableware once again. The new line was available in five colors: pink, black, cobalt blue, apricot and white. The company used fully vitrified clay for the reintroduced dishes, as they had used for their other products, in order to sell them to restaurant chains.

The vivid colors of Fiestaware. Author: Matthew Piatt. CC BY-SA 2.0

The Fiesta pieces have been made in 47 colors since they were first produced in 1936. The company introduced square shaped dishes as a part of the line in 2009. Apart from the shape everything else was classic Fiesta design. Fiestaware remains today as one of the most popular and collected dinnerware lines in the United States.