April 22, 2013

More on grocery-store dinnerware

Rarity, nostalgia brings varying value to once-free items

The last Collection Reflections column on grocery-store dinnerware raised so many questions from readers that I called Tim Merli, president of the Currier and Ives Dinnerware Collector Club, to find some answers. Tim was a wealth of information, and he enthusiastically shared his knowledge with me. The following article should help readers determine if they have any of the rare or valuable pieces in their collection. 

The scenes featured on the dishes were based on antique lithographs made by the most famous printmakers in American history, Nathaniel Currier and James Ives. The dinnerware is one of the most widely recognized and collectible dish patterns ever made. It was produced by the Royal China Company of Sebring, Ohio, between 1949 and 1986. During its 37-year history, millions of pieces were made, and all of them were decorated with scenes by Currier and Ives. The most common color was called Imperial Blue, but it was also made in pink, green, brown, gray and, for a short time, multicolor.

The dishes were marketed extensively through grocery-store chains, and they could also be bought by redeeming S&H Green Stamps. Banks offered them as incentives to open new accounts, and they were even tucked away in soap boxes as freebies for a while. Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward sold the dishes by catalog, and they were also carried in a host of department stores across America. In the 1980s, during the last years of production, they were available at Kmart.

Because of the nostalgia factor, Currier and Ives dishes are making a huge comeback on eBay and other Internet auction sites. There is a national collector club that hosts an annual Currier and Ives convention, and two books have been published on the subject.


The Royal China Company was founded in 1934 during the Great Depression for the purpose of making inexpensive, decorated dishes that were sold in dime stores and given away as premiums at movie theaters, gas stations and in grocery stores. Royal’s most popular pattern was Blue Willow until 1949, when the company introduced a charming new line of blue and white dinnerware based on the nostalgic prints of Currier and Ives. Each four-piece place setting featured a dinner plate, cup, saucer and dessert bowl. Additional pieces were also available, each bearing a different scene. In all, there were 27 different images in the Currier and Ives pattern.

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