Franciscan Montecito

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Gladding-McBean Franciscan Montecito

Spurred on by their success, Gladding-McBean introduced Montecito in 1937. Montecito had angles where El Patio was round. Montecito came in Eggplant (purple), Coral, Turquoise, Celadon Green, Yellow, Satin Grey and Satin Ivory colors. Through its run from 1937 until 1942, the Montecito line included roughly 40 standard dinnerware items. In 1938, GMcB glazed Montecito in their signature duo-tone glazes, with combinations of Grey/Maroon, Coral/Turquoise, and Green/Yellow, often mixed between satin and gloss glazes.

Del Oro, a yellow/white gloss glaze on the Montecito shape, was offered from around 1938-39, and in line with their move to hand-painted dinnerware, the Mango and Willow patterns had a short lived run in 1938.

Franciscan Coronado

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Franciscan Coronado Advertisement

Gladding-McBean’s second dinnerware offering, Franciscan Coronado, followed shortly after the introduction of El Patio in 1935. Featuring an elegant swirled pattern (a style Metlox copied for their Yorkshire line in 1937), Coronado was initially offered as a limited short set in matte ivory, green, and blue. As the line grew in popularity, additional pieces and colors were were added, including satin turquoise, yellow, and coral, as well as gloss yellow, turquoise, coral, and maroon. By the end of its long run in 1954, the entire line only included roughly 40 pieces. Tea and coffee services were very popular and are easily found today.

Franciscan Coronado Place Setting

Franciscan Coronado Place Setting (click to enlarge)

Metropolitan

Franciscan Metropolitan

Modernist architect and industrial designer Morris Sanders designed Franciscan Metropolitan for a 1940 exhibition, 15th Contemporary American Industrial Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The Museum began this series of exhibits in 1917, featuring the work of notable “designers and makers.” The committee responsible for the exhibit in 1940, included luminaries such as Gilbert Rohde, Walter von Nessen, Russel Wright, and Raymond Loewy.

This year the Metropolitan Museum will present its fifteenth comprehensive exhibition of Contemporary American Industrial Art. Like the others in the series, which began in 1917, the exhibition will consist of house furnishings. All the pieces included by been designed and made in the United States by permanent residents of this country and, with the exception of structural materials and plain goods, none has been publicly shown before.

It is always of decided interest to the Museum to show the work of as many designers and craftsmen as possible. Though the Co-operating Committee numbered only twenty-two, the unselfish assistance of its members brought the total of designers and craftsmen to 170. The objects and materials exhibited total far in excess of a thousand and were produced in twenty-one states by 409 firms and individuals…The exhibition of 1940 shows together, as they are used in daily life, the products of craftsmen and those of quantity-producing industry.

The exhibition brochure lists three “Metropolitan” pieces in the display: a teapot and two plates. Each plate featured a design, one by Witold Gordon and the other by Joan Kahn. Unfortunately, no detailed photos are available. In the photo, you can see the dinnerware on the left hand side in the middle display. Also featured in the display is a bowl and platter designed by Mary K. Grant with a glaze by Max Compton for Gladding-McBean.

GMcB made the line available for regular production from 1940-42. The line only has around 15 separate pieces, but includes standard dinnerware and coffee/tea service pieces. The coffee and teasets are fairly common. All Metropolitan was produced in satin duo-tone glazes with ivory on the interior and lids. Contrasting colors included coral, turquoise, gray, mauve, yellow, and pink. The line was also available in single-tone ivory. While Metropolitan was only produced for a couple of years, the shape was recycled and expanded in the late 1940s in their solid-color Tiempo line.

 

Franciscan El Patio

Franciscan El Patio Beverage Set

Franciscan El Patio Table Ware

Gladding-McBean introduced their first dinnerware line, Franciscan El Patio, under their Franciscan Pottery division in 1934. El Patio initially came in eight colors, and expanded to 18+ in the almost 20 years that the line was produced. The chart below shows the official glazes available throughout the production period. El Patio has been found in different variations of these colors, and the carafe has been seen in black.

Franciscan El Patio Official Color List

Franciscan El Patio Official Color List

While El Patio was available as a “short set” (limited pieces) through 1953, most of the line was discontinued by 1948.

The design of El Patio’s distinctive pretzel handled shaped cups is attributed to Mary Grant. Early cups feature the traditional c-shaped handle. El Patio is notable for its simple, clean design.

The entire line encompasses roughly 100 different pieces – everything from dinnerware to hostessware (cigarette boxes, candlestick holders, etc.). Since it was in production for such a long time, standard pieces El Patio — such as place settings and common serving pieces — are not difficult to find and prices are reasonable. As with all the California pottery produced during the period, beverage sets are very common. El Patio boasts three versions of their popular carafe – one with a wooden handle, one with a pottery handle, and another with a metal holder. Unlike the other pottery companies, carafe lids were sold separately, which is why you may see so many examples without them (or with lids of different colors).

To view some additional examples of El Patio, click here.

A year or two after El Patio hit the market, GMcB began to produce variations of the line.

El Patio Nuevo

El Patio Nuevo was offered in 1935 and featured duo-tone glazes: turquoise/white, yellow/white, and apple green/white. The interior of the pieces are white, with the colored glaze on the exterior. GMcB offered El Patio Nuevo pieces in a subset of the full El Patio line, with only around 30 pieces being produced. The yellow/white combination is most frequently found. El Patio Nuevo was discontinued in 1936.

Padua I & II

Around 1938, GMcB decided to offer a hand-painted line. Using the El Patio shape, they created Padua, which was restyled in 1939 as Padua II (with the original Padua now referred to as Padua I). The pattern is basically the same with Padua I glazed in ivory and Padua II on celadon green. Since this was their first foray into hand-painting, GMcB needed to purchase new equipment to support the lining process (spinning tables that facilitate painting lines on dinnerware items), and hire new staff (primarily women working part-time). Only 30 or so pieces were produced in the pattern, which was likely discontinued around 1942.

 

Gladding-McBean

Gladding McBean El Patio Banner

Gladding-McBean Franciscan Ware

Gladding-McBean (GMcB), California’s oldest and largest pottery, was founded in Lincoln, CA in 1875 by Charles Gladding, Peter McBean and George Chambers. As with many other pottery manufacturers, they specialized in architectural tile, brinks and other building materials in support of the California housing boom of the late 19th and early 20th century. In 1923, the company acquired a majority holding in Tropico Potteries, which gave GMcB access to additional plant and mining facilities, as well as new product lines. At the time of the acquisition, Tropico’s focus was faience and floor tile production. More importantly, Tropico’s location in Glendale gave GMcB a stronghold in Southern California. The expanded company continued to produce ornamental tile for commercial and residential buildings. In 1924, garden pottery was added to the product lineup, with products being sold through wholesalers or pottery yards. As demand for clay building materials increased in Southern California, GMcB continued their acquisition spree in the 1920s, purchasing Calco Tile Manufacturing, Pomona Tile Manufacturing, Northern Clay Company, and Los Angeles Pressed Brick Company (and several others!).

Like all other pottery producers in the area, the 1927 Southern California real estate crash and the subsequent 1929 stock market crash started to hit the company’s bottom line and demand for building materials dramatically declined. By 1931, the company was teetering on bankruptcy and needed to find new products to bring to market. In 1932, seeing the success of Bauer Pottery and Pacific Pottery‘s consumer pottery, they began experimenting with making dinnerware, but found that in testing the pieces crazed badly. They were able to resolve this issue by switching to a patented clay body type called “malinite.” Malinite’s one fire clay body resisted crazing, a point the company used in marketing the wares. Adding to their production capability, GMcB purchased the west coast properties of American Encaustic Tiling Company. As part of that purchase, they acquired Prouty tunnel kilns essential for the efficient production of dinnerware in 1933. American Encaustic had purchased Proutyline Products of Hermosa Beach in 1926. GMcB established the Hermosa Beach plant as the headquarters for their tile production under the trademarked Hermosa Tile brand until 1937.

With the launch of their first dinnerware line in 1933-34, nine colors were approved:

  • Gloss: Pigeon Blood Red, Ming Red, Naples Yellow, Apple Green, Turquoise Blue, Mexican Blue, and Autumn Brown
  • Matte / Semi-Matte: Celestial Ivory, Verde Green

The company began producing dinnerware under their Franciscan Ware brand in the Glendale plant in 1934 under the leadership of Frederic J. Grant. His wife, Mary K. Grant, a former art director at Macy’s Department Store in New York City, is credited with the design of the art pottery and dinnerware sets produced by the company.

Franciscan Ware Logo

Franciscan Ware Logo

The first colorware line, El Patio, was initially produced in eight glazes (White, Golden Glow, Redwood, Glacial Blue, Mexican Blue, Tahoe/Dark Green, Flame Orange, and Yellow). GMcB quickly followed with their Coronado ware line in 1935 (both artware and tableware), featured in both matte and gloss glazes and characterized by a swirl pattern around the rims of the pieces. Coronado was produced between 1935-1954. Other notable dinnerware lines of the 1930s include the solid-colored Montecito, along with pattern derivatives of that line, and the 1940 introduction of Metropolitan.

The dinnerware lines were marketed under the “Franciscan Pottery” name, which was officially changed to “Franciscan Ware” in 1936. GMcB is also credited with marketing the first “starter sets” of dinnerware in 1936: four place settings bundled together in a single package. The sets were popular as wedding gifts. A wide variety of accessories and additional place setting items were available as open stock. By the end of its long run in 1954, El Patio was glazed in approximately 20 different colors. By 1937, GMcB introduced patterns to the El Patio line, including Padua, Del Mar and Mango (1937) and Hawthorne (1938).

1937 was also notable for GMcB: They purchased Catalina Pottery, the pottery division of the Santa Catalina Island Company. The purchase included all of the master molds, existing inventory, “Catalina Pottery” brand name, and plant assets. GMcB continued to produce many of the dinnerware pieces and added new table- and decorative ware under the Avalon, Aurora and Encanto art ware lines. The dinnerware line was relaunched as Catalina Rancho, which they produced at the Glendale plant from 1937-1941. The GMcB Catalina pieces can be differentiated from original Catalina pottery by the backstamps and marks: GMcB often included a “Made in U.S.A” mark, and “Catalina Pottery” brand; original Catalina pieces are marked “Catalina Island Pottery.” GMcB Catalina pottery is not as collectable or desirable as original Catalina pottery.

Facing hard times, GMcB sold the Franciscan division to English pottery company Wedgwood in 1979. By 1984 all Franciscan ware was being produced in England, specifically the popular Desert Rose (1941-) and Apple patterns, still made today. GMcB exists today as a producer of clay tiles, terra cotta, garden pottery and pipe.

California Pottery Colorware

California Pottery Colorware Banner

Through the 1920s, European porcelain and china dominated tables in the United States. But the years following World War I brought a trend in more casual dining. Fewer people, if any, had servants required for formal dinner services, and prohibition brought an end to some of the fancier (and liquor-rich) French food popular in the late teens. Increased commercial food manufacturing reduced the amount of time women spent cooking in the kitchen. Life in general was becoming more casual and automated. The automobile, cinema and radio were bringing disparate groups of people closer across the nation.

California Pottery

Most of the major Southern California potteries were busy producing commercial and residential tile, earthworks and sanitary ware to support the building boom of the 1920s. With the collapse of the California real estate market in the late 1920s, the potteries turned to dinner and gardenware to supplement their revenues. Of the original “big five” Southern California potteries – Gladding-McBean (Franciscan), Metlox, Vernon Kilns, Pacific Pottery, and JA Bauer and Sons, and the mid-coast Garden City Pottery of San Jose – only Vernon Kilns had experience manufacturing dinnerware (under an earlier incarnation of the company known as Poxon China).

The popular West coast design of styles of day (Mission, Spanish Colonial Revival, California Bungalow, Art Deco and Asian-influenced themes) carried over into their houseware designs. In another uniquely Californian twist, brightly colored glazes were introduced to enhance the simple geometric and decorative patterns. Bright colors and glazes were being used in art deco pottery design in Europe during the same period, but primarily as a decorative element. While East coast manufacturers such as Fulper/Stangl pioneered some solid-color dinnerware patterns in the late 1920s, California potteries are attributed with making the glazes commercially viable. Ceramic engineers discovered an optimal clay body that could easily bond with the solid-color glazes in a way that made them as vitreous (stain resistant glass-like ceramic finish) and craze-resistant as traditional china.

While many California potteries began producing early colorware in the late 1920s, JA Bauer is attributed with the first large-scale commercial production of their colored plainware lines in 1927. By 1930 Brayton-Laguna and Catalina Island Pottery were in production, and by 1932-35 Pacific Pottery, Metlox, Gladding-McBean, and Vernon Kilns all offered popular colorware lines. Ohio Valley potteries quickly followed, with Homer Laughlin’s wildly popular Fiesta line going into full production by 1936. Laughlin’s vast production and distribution capabilities brought colorware to every corner of the United States. While several of the California potteries had national distribution at higher-end department stores, Homer Laughlin dominated more “economically friendly” chains, like Woolworth’s.

You might find advertisements for California pottery colorware in national magazines, like House Beautiful, American Home and Good Housekeeping, but most of the local advertising was limited to the west coast. (For example, a national search of local newspapers during the 1930s only turns up advertising for Pacific Pottery as far east as Kansas, with the majority of advertising in California, Oregon and Washington.) The modern day collector won’t find much California pottery colorware today outside of the west coast.

Glazes

Once the bisque firing and decorating is complete, the pottery is ready for the next glazing process. The color you end up with is a product of three primary factors: the glaze composition (colorants and materials); the kiln temperature – colorants can be volatile or produce different colors at different temperatures; and the kiln’s atmosphere during firing and cooling (i.e. the amount of oxygen, known as oxidation or reduction, in the kiln during the firing process).

Many of the bold, beautiful colors we love in our 1930s dinnerware were created using highly toxic materials. Cadmium, selenium, uranium and lead (used to make glazes smooth and shiny) were all common components in glazes. In the late 19th century, ceramicists and glassmakers began using uranium oxide as a coloring agent. Depending on the composition of the glaze and firing conditions, uranium could produce a wide range of colors, including ivory, red-orange, green, brown and black.

Radioactive Red

Radioactive Red Glazes

“Radioactive Red” Glazes from the 1930s: (L-R: Vernon Kilns Early California, Haldeman Caliente, Vernon Kilns Early California, Metlox 200 Series, Stangl 2000 Americana, and Red Wing Gypsy Trail)

Brilliant orange-red appeared in pottery and dinnerware in the early 1930s as ceramic engineers experimented with new glaze techniques. Catalina Pottery’s Toyon Red (named after a red berry that grows on the island) shows up by the late 1920s. By the early 1930s, Bauer and Pacific Pottery are using it in dinnerware items, with the other California and east coast potteries following closely behind.

Producing the glaze was more expensive for manufacturers due to higher material and production costs. The color required a greater level of control during the firing process and achieving the red-orange color often took additional coats of glaze. Red-glazed items commanded a price premium over other colors. Price lists from the period show red items priced 10-15% higher.

In 1943, the US government suspended commercial use of uranium oxide for use in the war effort for bomb production. The government allowed manufacturers to use it again in 1959, but by that time, the only pottery primarily producing solid color dinnerware was Homer Laughlin. Don’t worry, radioactive red dinnerware won’t harm you.

Lead

Potters commonly used lead as a bonding or pigmentation agent. With use, the lead can leach out of the glaze into foods (especially those with a high acidic content) and then be ingested. Lead glazes were pretty common in the United States up through the 1970s. Imported wares (from China and Mexico in particular) often still contain lead. That said, there’s no reason to not use your vintage colorware if it’s in good condition. Avoid pieces with cracks or ones that are heavily marked from use.

The 1930s Color Palette

Colorware Panel - Brights

Colorware Panel – Brights

The 1930s was characterized by two distinct color themes in dinnerware. The first wave dominated from around 1930 to 1938 and is characterized by bright and bold colors. Each manufacturer selected a palette of colors for their dinnerware lines, and where possible, colors that could distinguish themselves from their competitors. However, almost all of the colors fall into the list shown to the left.

Interestingly, some colors are more common than others in different dinnerware lines. For example, red and yellow are the most commonly found colors of Pacific’s Hostess Ware and Bauer’s ringware lines. Burgundy was a Bauer specialty (although it is a harder to find color) and the rose pink uniquely belonged to Metlox. Of all the manufacturers, Gladding-McBean (GMcB) – with their Franciscan lines – was the most innovative – they were the first to produce an actual high gloss red glaze, and included colors such as “eggplant,” “golden glow” and “redwood” in their El Patio lineup.

White and black were most often special order colors and not commonly available in retail outlets. Some potteries specifically produced their lines in white only during the June wedding season. White is available in Pacific Pottery Hostessware and Vernon Kilns Early California (very rare) and Ultra California (uncommon). Black is available in Pacific Pottery Hostessware (extremely rare) and Bauer (available, but commands a price premium over other colors).

But no design style lasts forever. Changing consumer tastes in the late 1930s lead to a softening of the dinnerware color palette. Additionally, the government began to appropriate the heavy metals used to make colorware glazes vibrant, leaving ceramic engineers scrambling to find new glaze combinations that would still be effective and appealing to consumers. While many potteries continued to offer their “brights,” pastel colors became all the rage. In fact, many bright dinnerware lines were just reglazed in pastels and given a new name. Popular pastel California dinnerware lines (1938-42) include:

Colorware Panel - Pastels

Colorware Panel – Pastels

Metlox Yorkshire, 200 SeriesVernon Kilns Modern California, Ultra California; Bauer La Linda; Pacific Pottery Arcadia; GMcB Franciscan Coronado

The trend was not specific to California potteries. Other manufacturers including Homer Laughlin (Serenade, Nautilus) and Taylor, Smith & Taylor (Lu-Ray) among others followed the pastel bandwagon. However, with most manufacturing companies — potteries included — switching over to war production around 1942, almost all the pastel lines are discontinued.

The War Years

As the United States goes to war, potteries turned over the majority of their production to the war effort. Potteries produced any number of goods to support the US – from dinnerware for Navy, sanitary ware, pipe and tile, ceramic insulators, etc. In fact, all manufacturing companies had to produce goods for the war effort in some way – if not, they were not allowed to make capital improvements in their infrastructure, leaving them unable to invest in new equipment. Pacific Clay Products used the opportunity to get back into much more profitable industrial production for the government, and completely shut down their pottery operations in 1942. Manpower at the plants was also in short supply, with their skilled employees sent off to war.

The dinnerware industry undergoes an interesting shift during this period. GMcB’s Franciscan division introduces a new hand-painted pattern called “Desert Rose,” and for a period throughout most of the 1940s, hand-painted dinnerware lines are popular with consumers. The design shift represents a desire on consumers’ part to return to a simpler, more homespun state of mind in response to the war.