Press-Republican

April 22, 2013

More on grocery-store dinnerware

Rarity, nostalgia brings varying value to once-free items

By JULIE ROBINSON ROBARDS
Press-Republican

---- — 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.

ROYAL CHINA COMPANY

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.

“The Old Grist Mill” was used on dinner, luncheon and snack plates. The salad plate was titled “The Birthplace of Washington,” bread and butter plates all featured “Harvest,” and saucers were decorated with “Low Water in the Mississippi.”

There were two types of cereal bowls; those with tab handles were titled “A Suburban Retreat,” and the plain-rim bowl featured “The Schoolhouse in Winter.” Soup bowls were decorated with “Early Winter,” and the small sauce bowl was titled “The Old Farm Gate.”

Triangle-handled cups were decorated with a scene called “Star of the Road.” Cocoa mugs had a square handle and featured “The Express Train,” and coffee mugs were decorated with “Fashionable Turn-outs in Central Park.”

UNIQUE ITEMS

Serving pieces included platters, vegetable bowls, casserole dishes, pie bakers, teapots, gravy boats, butter dishes, sugar bowls and creamers, and salt and pepper shakers.

Serving pieces with scrolls on the handles are especially hard to find — and are also more valuable — as scrolling was used only between 1951 to 1956. Scrolls can be found on the handles of teacups, sugar bowls, creamers, and salt and pepper shakers. Larger pieces such as the casserole dish entitled “Fashionable Turn-Outs in Central Park” with scrolls on the handles and the teapot named “Clipper Ship Dreadnought” with scrolling on the handle and spout can sell for $150 each.

Design variations can also cause some pieces to be more valuable than others. Take the gravy boat for example: The most common one is “The Sleigh Ride,” which features two spouts and is valued at $15; a tab-handle gravy boat sells for about $30; and an older, larger gravy bowl with straight sides titled “The Road Winner” could sell for up to $1,000.

The 11 ½ inch chop plate, often misidentified as a tab-handle cake plate, is another example. It typically sells for $15, but if it is found without the tab handles in the “Rocky Mountain” pattern, it is worth $300. Another rare piece is the tabbed cereal bowl that features “The School House” image instead of the typical “Suburban Retreat.” There are also only eight known examples of dinner plates in the “Early Morning” pattern.

GO-WITH PIECES

A host of “go-with” pieces were made to round out the set, including wall plaques, calendar plates, pie bakers, tiered tidbit servers, ash trays, snack sets, a hurricane lamp, water tumblers and juice glasses. One of the most valuable items is the signed Charles Denning wall clock in “The Old Grist Mill,” which sells for $600 to $1,000.

Additional decorative scenes were titled “Central Park,” “The Drive,” “Home Sweet Home,” “Maple Sugaring,” “The Road-Winter,” “Summer,” “The Old Oaken Bucket,” “A Snowy Morning,” “American Farm Scene 4,” “American Homestead-Winter,” “Getting Ice,” “Return from the Pasture,” “The Old Inn-Winter,” “A Home on the Mississippi” and “Snowy Morning.” No one scene is more collectible than the other, except when bowls or plates were misprinted with non-typical imagery.

Because Royal China dinnerware was so successful, other dishware companies made similar patterns that can sometimes fool the novice collector. When adding to your collection, examine pieces for the flowing scrolls that are always present on the border of the dishes, and check for back stamps that bear the “Currier and Ives Royal” logo.

Julie Robinson Robards is an antiques journalist and dealer living in Upper Jay. She is the author of two published books on celluloid, an advisor to several antique price guides and a writer for AntiqueWeek Newspaper since 1995. She may be reached through her website www.celluloidforever.com.