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Collecting Royal China Currier & Ives Dinnerware

lcigan
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Currier & Ives Dinnerware is the most popular pattern ever produced by the Royal China Company of Sebring, Ohio. This dinnerware, with scenes from Currier & Ives prints, was produced from 1950 to 1986. It was given away as a point-of-sale premium at A&P markets with extra pieces available to complete the set and was also sold at department stores.

I've only been collecting for a short time so I cannot claim to be an expert. However I have done quite a bit of research and am happy to share the results with you. I was first bitten by the C&I collector's bug at a thrift store. I spotted a set of C&I china and recognized the pattern as one that had been owned by my grandmother. I was immediately transported back to those happier simpler days when the whole family would sit at the table for a home-cooked meal. I think that's what attracts most people to this dinnerware. The nostalgic prints and vintage china bring back the 'good old days'. For those who would like more information I highly recommend A Collector's Guide for Currier & Ives Dinnerware by Royal China Co. by Eldon R. Aupperle. This book was out of print but happily has been brought back. You can purchase the guide online through PayPal at Big Ed's Dinnerware. Another good source of information is the Currier & Ives Dinnerware Collector's Club. They have a website, newsletter, and an annual convention for collectors.

A History of Currier & Ives

The original Currier & Ives prints were lithographs, printed with designs etched in stone. Nathaniel Currier apprenticed in a lithography shop at age 15 and afterwards set up his own successful lithography shop. But he suffered from bouts of depression brought on by personal tragedy such as the loss of his first wife and later the death of a child and his business suffered because of this. He was introduced to James Merritt Ives in 1852 and hired him as a bookkeeper. Ives reorganized the business and brought even greater success and they became partners in 1857. They billed themselves as "Publishers of Cheap and Popular Pictures" and produced many categories of prints designed to appeal to the public.

A History of Royal China

Royal opened in 1934. At first they produced mostly overglaze decal ware. An overglaze or decal is applied on top of the glaze and then fired. The problem with overglaze is that because it is on top of the glaze it tends to wear off with time. The company also produced a small quantity of hand-stamped underglaze prints. Underglaze is applied to greenware (unfired pieces) or bisque (fired but unglazed pieces), then the glaze is applied over it and it is fired again. Because the design is under the glaze it is protected and does not wear off. In 1948 a Royal employee invented a machine that could stamp the underglaze design on bisque. This revolutionized the industry, allowing Royal to produce beautiful, intricate, yet highly durable designs in mass quantities at a low price. By 1950 Royal had stopped using decals altogether and was producing only underglaze designs. In 1969 the company was sold to Jeannette Glass, which was in turn purchased in 1975 by the Coca-Cola Corporation. In 1981 Coca-Cola sold Jeannette to the J Corporation, and finally in 1984 Jeannette was purchased by Nordic Capitol. Jeannette filed for bankruptcy in 1986 and production at Royal stopped at that time.

Currier & Ives Dinnerware

Royal introduced Currier & Ives Dinnerware in 1950. It was an immediate success. The copyright on the Currier & Ives prints had passed into the public domain and they remained as popular as ever. At the same time, Early American décor was enjoying a revival and the Currier & Ives dinnerware fit right in. The designs are a combination of C&I prints or parts of prints along with the famous scrolled border designed by Gordon Parker, Art Director at Royal. The basic dinnerware was offered as a premium at A&P groceries with additional pieces for sale or redeemed for coupons or stamps. Later it was also sold at department stores. It was produced until 1970 when Jeannette discontinued it as too old-fashioned. It was brought back in the mid-seventies and production continued until Royal closed in 1986. C&I dinnerware came in four colors, blue, pink, green, and brown. The blue dinnerware was produced in much larger quantities than the others and it remains the most popular. While there are not as many of the other colors available, demand for them is lower than for the blue pieces so the prices remain about the same for all colors.

Backstamps

Backstamps were stamped on the back of some pieces to identify them. Several different styles of backstamps were used over the years. Some pieces rarely or never had backstamps, some almost always have backstamps, and some are mixed. Green is the most frequently used color for backstamps but blue, brown, black, and even red were used.

 

The backstamp usually includes the Currier and Ives name, the name of the print, the manufacturer (Royal or later, Royal by Jeannette), and sometimes includes letters and numbers. There is speculation that the numbers indicate year of manufacture, but Aupperle states in his book that he personally interviewed several Royal employees and was told no dates were ever included in the backstamp and that they probably indicate batch or pattern. However, the Currier & Ives Collector's Club website states that they were told the numbers DID stand for year and surmise that the letters stand for month. Aupperle lists the combinations he has seen and which pieces they are associated with. He also shows the different backstamps in chronological order in his book, which may help to approximately date your piece. Some pieces have a large "S" stamped on the back. I have heard that this indicated a sample piece but have not been able to confirm. The 'S' may also indicate seconds since many of these pieces seem to be flawed in some way.

Of special interest to collectors are errata, pieces that were stamped incorrectly Aupperle notes several irregularities in his book including the "Early Winter" backstamp from the soup bowl on the luncheon plate. In my own collection I have a dinner plate with the "Early Winter" backstamp and another with the "Maple Sugaring" backstamp from the vegetable bowl.

Other Manufacturers

A number of pieces were produced by companies other than Royal but were designed to go along with the C&I dinnerware. These include tumblers and milk glass baking and serving dishes.

Clear glass tumblers were produced in two designs, one with a blue design on white and the other with a white design on blue. These came in four sizes, 13 oz, 9 oz, 6 oz, and old-fashioned or rocks. The manufacturer is unknown. Frosted glasses with hand-painted C&I designs were produced by Gay Fad Studios. I have seen these in blue and white, and pink and white, but by far the most numerous are the multi-colored glasses and pitchers in many different prints. Some of these are marked Hazel Atlas or Federal. Hazel Atlas also produced some milk glass tumblers and coffee mugs. The milk glass tumblers appear to have come in a set with a metal carrier for the glasses. The Hazel Atlas tumblers and mugs have a much darker blue print than other manufacturers.

Other milk glass ware was manufactured by Glasbake and Mar-crest. Most of the Glasbake pieces have the words 'Currier and Ives' printed at the bottom right of the picture and the Glasbake name on the bottom. Many of the Mar-crest baking dishes have the scroll design on either side of the picture while the Glasbake designs do not. Most Mar-crest pieces do not seem to have a manufacturer name, logo, or any type of backstamp. Glasbake has the Glasbake name and usually a number on the back. Some of the Mar-crest designs have multiple shades of blue while the Glasbake designs have only one color. Mar-crest also produced vinyl placemats in the C&I design.

Other Pieces

Some odd pieces have been found but there appears to be some controversy over whether these were produced by Royal or were made by someone else later out of Royal pieces. These would include things like a clock made from the dinner plate, sconces made from cups, and a cake stand made from a dinner plate with an upturned bowl for a pedestal. There was a fire in the Royal building in 1970 and the early records have been lost, so we may never know for sure.

Anchor Hocking C&I Dinnerware

There is a similar looking set of dinnerware with C&I prints that was distributed by Anchor Hocking. This set even has the same scroll design on the border, except the scroll is in white instead of blue. This set can be distinguished from the Royal set by the white scrolls and the much wider white border. On Royal C&I dinnerware the design goes all the way to the edge and over and can be seen from the sides, except for the Hostess set with the rope border. The Anchor Hocking pieces have a wide white border and you only see white from the sides. Most of the Anchor hocking set does not have backstamps except for the dinner plate so you have to identify it by the look of the design.

Buying and Selling C&I Dinnerware

My advice, whether you are buying or selling, is to do your homework. Find out what similar pieces are going for, both on eBay and on other sites, to get an idea what your piece is actually worth. Condition plays a role as well, nicks, chips, cracks, crazing, or stains will reduce the value of your dinnerware. If you are buying, ask about the condition of the piece before you bid. If you are selling, disclose any flaws to avoid negative feedback from buyers who were caught unawares.

I am listing below the pieces I am aware of, the C&I print which appears on each, and any other information I have such as size and backstamp. This is by no means an all-inclusive list. There may very well be pieces I have not come across. If you have additional information by all means share it and I will add it to the list. I have not attempted to list prices as these fluctuate constantly.

Place Settings

  • Bowl, Berry/Dessert; "The Old Farm Gate"; Early bowls had backstamp, later issues did not
  • Bowl, Cereal, no handles; "The Schoolhouse in Winter"; Later issues have more white on the sides and are larger
  • Bowl, Cereal, tab handles; "A Suburban Retreat"; Rare
  • Bowl, Soup; "Early Winter"; 8 1/2", most have backstamps
  • Cup; "Star of the Road"; No backstamp. Some cups have a scroll on the handle
  • Mug, Cocoa; "The Express Train"; No backstamp
  • Mug, Coffee; "Fashionable Turn-outs in Central Park", Rare, early issues have backstamp
  • Plate, Bread & Butter; "Harvest"; 6 3/8", also called pie or dessert plate
  • Plate, Dinner; "The Old Grist Mill"; Many different backstamps depending on when produced. 10" (Americana by Jeannette is 10 5/8")
  • Plate, Luncheon; "The Old Grist Mill"; 9", more rare than 10" plates
  • Plate, Salad; "The Birthplace of Washington"; 7"
  • Plate, Snack; "The Old Grist Mill"; Very rare, has cup well in plate
  • Saucer; "Low Water in the Mississippi"; Early issues had backstamps, later did not

Serving Dishes

  • Ashtray, "Central Park, The Drive"; No backstamp
  • Bowl, Vegetable, Large; "Home, Sweet Home"; Backstamps are rare
  • Bowl, Vegetable, Regular; "Maple Sugaring"; Early issues slightly thinner
  • Butter, Covered; "The Road, Winter"; Some covers have "Fashionable Turn-outs in Central Park" and are sometimes called "Summer" but all the trays have the Winter design
  • Casserole, Covered, "Fashionable Turn-outs in Central Park"; Some have scroll on handle, some have tab handles, in later issues the lids are all white, several variations on lid design including handle design turned 90 degrees from lid design
  • Creamer, "The Express Train"; Tall creamer also produced
  • Gravy Boat; "The Road, Winter"; No backstamp, some have white tab handles instead of pour spout
  • Gravy Boat Tray; "The Old Oaken Bucket" ; The tray for the tab handled gravy boat has "The Birthplace of Washington"
  • Gravy Ladle; None; All ladles are white with no print and were made to go with several Royal designs
  • Lamp, Hurricane; "The Old Grist Mill"; Clear globe, no backstamp
  • Pie Baker; These had several designs:
    • "A Snowy Morning"
    • "The Old Grist Mill"
    • "Early Winter"
    • "American Farm Scene #4"
    • "American Homestead Winter"
    • "Getting Ice"
    • "The Return from the Pasture"
    • "The Old Inn-Winter"
    • "Maple Sugaring"
    • "A Home on the Mississippi"
    • Some have backstamps, some don't. Not all designs were produced in all colors. Earlier designs have white sides until Royal came up with a way to print on the sides
  • Plaque, Wall; "The Rocky Mountains"; Rectangular. Some have holes for hanging. Some don't have holes and have been called spoon rests.
  • Plate, Calendar; Scrolled Border; no records as to the years these were made but at least 1973-1986
  • Platter, Chop, 11"
    • "The Rocky Mountains"
    • "Getting Ice"
    • Usually has backstamp
  • Platter, Chop, 12"; "Getting Ice"; Usually without backstamp
  • Platter, Chop, 13"; "A Snowy Morning"; Usually without backstamp
  • Platter, Oval; "The Old Inn-Winter"; No backstamp
  • Platter, Cake; "The Rocky Mountains"; Has tab handles, usually has backstamp
  • Shaker, Salt & Pepper; "Fashionable Turn-outs in Central Park" No backstamp, some have scroll on handle, some have open carriage, others have coach
  • Sugar Bowl; "On the Mississippi"; Printed lid was replaced with all white lid in the 70's, some do not have handles and are taller than handled style
  • Sweet Server; "A Snowy Morning"; 13" Chop Platter on wooden legs with brass ring handle
  • Teapot; "Clipper Ship Dreadnought-Off Tuskar Light"; Some have scrolls on handle or spout, some spouts appear "droopy"
  • Tidbit Server; Print Varies; Can have two or three tiers, some have 2 plates or 2 bowls, some 3 plates, some 2 plates and a bowl, with silver or gold toned hardware

Hostess Set

These pieces are distinguished by having a white border around the edge, which usually has a scalloped or rope design. This replaces the usual scrolled border.

  • Bowl, Candy; 7 3/4"
  • Bowl, Dip; 4 3/8"
  • Mug; plain white, (included in the 9-piece cake and coffee set)
  • Pie Baker; 11"
  • Plate. Cake; 10"
  • Plate, Cake, footed; 10" (foot is the dip bowl)
  • Plate, Cake; 11", various prints such as Red Velvet Cake or German Chocolate Cake, the plate with the cake and coffee set has "Winter in the Country-Getting Ice"
  • Plate, Cake, individual;"American Homestead Winter"; 7" (4 included with Hostess set)
  • Plate, Egg; 11"

Milk Glass Ware

  • Bowl, Cereal; "The Old Farm Gate"; Mar-crest, no scrolls
  • Bowl, Chili/Soup with handle; "Star of the Road"; Mar-crest, scrolls on sides of design
  • Bowl, Mixing, 1 qt; "The Express Train"; Mar-crest, has scrolls on side of design
  • Bowl, Mixing, 14 oz; unknown; Glasbake J-2427, has "Currier & Ives" at lower right of design
  • Bowl, Mixing, 1 1/2 pt; unkown; Glasbake J-2354 on bottom
  • Bowl, Mixing, 1 1/2 qt; "The Express Train; Mar-crest, has scrolls on side of design
  • Bowl, Mixing, 1 1/2 qt; "Early Winter"; Glasbake, has "Currier & Ives" at lower right of design, J-2355 on bottom
  • Bowl, Mixing, 2 1/2 qt; "The Rocky Mountains", Mar-crest, has scrolls on side of design
  • Bowl, Mixing, 2 1/2 qt; "The Birthplace of Washington"; Glasbake, has "Currier & Ives" at lower right of design, Glasbake J-2356 on bottom
  • Bowl, Mixing, 4 qt, unknown, Glasbake J-2357 on bottom
  • Casserole, Covered, 1 1/2 qt; "Early Winter"; Mar-crest, scrolls on either side of design
  • Casserole, Covered, 2 qt; "The Old Inn-Winter"; Glasbake, has "Currier & Ives" at lower right of design
  • Casserole, Divided; "The Road-Winter"; Glasbake J2352 on bottom, has "Currier & Ives"at lower right
  • Cup, Custard/Desert; "Star of the Road"; scrolls on side of design, Mar-crest
  • Cup, Custard/Desert; unknown rural scene; Glasbake, "Currier & Ives" at lower right & "Glasbake USA" stamp on bottom
  • Mug; "The Old Farm Gate"; Mar-crest, no scrolls, no backstamp
  • Mug; "A Suburban Retreat"; Glasbake, has Glasbake J-2402 on bottom
  • Mug, large; "The Old Grist Mill"; Glasbake
  • Mug, varied designs, Hazel Atlas, HA stamp on bottom
  • Pan, Baking, Rectangular, 10 1/2" X 6 1/2"; "The Harvest"; Mar-crest, has scrolls at sides of design
  • Pan, Cake, Round, 8"; "The Old Grist Mill"; Mar-crest, has scrolls at sides of design
  • Pan, Cake, Square, 8"; "A Good Day's Sport"; Glasbake, has "Currier & Ives" at lower right
  • Pan, Cake, Square, 8"; unknown; Mar-crest, has scrolls at sides of design
  • Pan, Loaf; "Harvest"; Mar-crest, has scrolls on sides of design
  • Pan, Loaf; "Harvest"; Glasbake, has "Currier & Ives" at lower right of design
  • Tumbler, Print Varies, Hazel Atlas
 
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