Home Style: Fiesta dinnerware and the history of these happy plates

There are many reasons that Fiesta dinnerware is the best-selling dinnerware in American history, but one of them is that the brightly colored ceramic dinnerware offers something to just about everyone.

It appeals to pickers who love to scour sales looking for vintage Fiesta pieces. Those who enjoy creating fun, colorful table settings consider Fiesta their faithful friend. Just looking for an affordable set of everyday dinnerware? Fiesta ware is readily available at your local department store.

Gene Shaughnessy, of Lawrence, is a collector of Fiesta dinnerware, and his collection includes more than 350 pieces.

Colorful Fiesta ware fill shelves in Gene Shaughnessy's home.

A cabinet in Gene Shaughnessy's home contains some of his Fiesta collection.

The simplest way to identify genuine Fiesta ware is to look for either an ink or imprinted “Fiesta” logo on the bottom, although some smaller Fiesta pieces are not marked for design considerations.

Vintage Fiesta

The Homer Laughlin China Company (HLC) of Newell, W.Va., introduced its Fiesta dinnerware line to the public in 1936. The ceramic dishes originally came in five colors: red, ivory, cobalt blue, yellow and light green, with a sixth color, turquoise, being added in 1937. The modern art deco design, vivid glazed colors and affordable prices made Fiesta instantly popular to Depression-era consumers.

Fiesta collector Gene Shaughnessy, of Lawrence, describes Fiesta as “poor folks’ china,” and says its popularity and abundance can be attributed to Fiesta’s affordability and durability. Shaughnessy’s first piece of Fiesta was a yellow, stick-handled demitasse that his late wife received as a gift from her grandmother.

“The demitasse got me started. It was kind of special to her,” Shaughnessy said. “Then before you know it, I was in to it. Going to sales and auctions, seeing what I could find.”

In an effort to keep up with color trends, HLC discontinued many of its original colors during the 1950s, and added five new, softer colors to the Fiesta line: gray, chartreuse, forest green, rose and medium green By the late ’60s, Fiesta sales started to fizzle and HLC decided to discontinue the Fiesta line in 1973. The Fiesta ware made prior to the 1973 hiatus is the “vintage” Fiesta that is sought out by most serious collectors.

Shaughnessy’s Fiesta collection now includes more than 350 pieces — most of which are vintage, and many of which are one of the five original colors. His has coffee mugs in the highly coveted medium green, a red mustard server, a cobalt blue syrup pourer and multiple hutches filled with a rainbow of pitchers, platters and plates.

New Fiesta

Following the 1973 halt in production, Fiesta’s popularity began to soar on the secondary market. As people snapped-up second-hand Fiesta, its value steadily increased.

Noticing this trend, HLC reintroduced the Fiesta line in 1983. HLC continues to produce “new” Fiesta out of its West Virginia factory, introducing a new color every March. New Fiesta ware is available at department stores nationwide, including Weaver’s and Kohl’s locally.

Carolyn Lasher, a clerk in the home department at Weaver’s, 901 Massachusetts St., said that Fiesta ware is as popular as it’s ever been.

“I think people buy it because it doesn’t go out of style,” Lasher said. “It’s all-occasion and you can mix your colors, or just use one. No matter what color of tablecloth you have, you can always have a pretty table setting.”

Lasher said that Fiesta’s affordability and durability also continue to appeal to people. A four-piece set of Fiesta, which includes a dinner plate, salad plate, bowl and cup, sells for $29.99 at Weaver’s.

Identifying Fiesta

Given its popularity and success, there is an abundance of dinnerware out there that mimics Fiesta’s design. The simplest way to identify genuine Fiesta ware is to look for either an ink or imprinted “Fiesta” logo on the bottom, although some smaller Fiesta pieces are not marked for design considerations.

The other defining feature of genuine Fiesta is the band of concentric rings graduating in width. The rings closest to the rim of a piece of Fiesta will be more widely spaced than those toward the center.

Shaughnessy stopped adding to his Fiesta collection a few years ago. He said that, in some cases, he has multiple versions of the same piece, and the thrill of the hunt has dwindled. This could be good news for other Fiesta fans out there.

“At a certain point, enough is enough,” he said. “I just have other things I want to spend time on now. I’m not interested in selling individual pieces, but I’d consider selling the whole collection to someone.”