Coronado

Vernon Kilns Coronado

Between roughly 1936-39, Vernon Kilns produced a premium line based off of Early California called Coronado. Premium lines were sold through gas stations and grocery stores: For every purchase you made at the store, you would receive coupons for free or reduced price dinnerware items. Coronado was a short set – meaning that only select pieces were offered. Coronado originally came in five Early California colors, red, yellow, brown, green, and blue, and exclusively offered in light green, light blue, peach, and pink. Some of the pieces – cups, creamer, and sugar – were redesigned later in the line.

Known pieces include: 6.5″ dessert plate, 9.5″ luncheon plate, 5.5″ fruit bowl, 7.5″ soup bowl, 9″ serving bowl, tumblers, coffee carafe with lid, 12.5″ platter, salt & pepper shakers, sugar bowl, and creamer. They can be found with a marked with variety of backstamps or unmarked.

Harry Bird

Harry Bird for Vernon Kilns

The artist and potter William “Harry” Bird designed several bespoke patterns for Vernon Kilns in the mid- to late-1930s. Little is known about Bird – there are rumors that he rented space in Vernon’s plant; there is no indication that he was an employee of the company and may have produced his work under contract or self-distributed. All of Harry Bird’s designs were produced on Vernon’s “Montecito” shape (Early California and others). Bird may have been the first to leverage the in-glazing technique of decorating, also used by Pacific Pottery on their decorated ware starting around 1935.

Olinala- and Montezuma-Aztec Patterns

Vernon Kilns Harry Bird AztecAccording to this advertising piece, the actress Dolores Del Rio commissioned a set of dinnerware from Harry Bird and Vernon Kilns based on traditional Mexican pottery designs.  Vernon Kilns offered it to the public as Olinala-Aztec (with rings) and Montezuma-Aztec (no rings). The pottery was available in four colors: blue, green, yellow (orange), and rose on a light beige background. As with most of Harry Bird’s designs, these patterns are hard to come by.

Vernon Kilns Harry Bird Qwkdog

Olinala-Aztec Examples & Backstamp

Vernon Kilns Olinala Aztec Vernon Kilns Olinala Aztec Vernon Kilns Olinala Aztec

Harry Bird Patterns

  • Aztec: Montezuma-Aztec, Olinala-Aztec
  • Banded Flower (BB, BP, BY and BG designated patterns; first letter is for Bird, second is for color, number indicates flower pattern)
  • Bird Series (Scarlet Tanager, Parrots, Blue Birds, Bird Ring)
  • Blooming Cactus
  • Duo-tone (unless noted, with matte glazes):
    • Beige (single color)
    • Bridal Satin (ivory color)
    • Pomegranate
    • Evening Star (blue and ivory)
    • Golden Maple (burnt orange and ivory)
    • Avocado (green and ivory)
    • After Glow (yellow and ivory)
    • Tangerine (orange-red and ivory)
  • Flower series
    • Begonia
    • Bird’s Eye
    • Cassia
    • Checker Bloom
    • Chinese Lantern
    • Columbine
    • Desert Mallow
    • Desert Poppy
    • Eucalyptus
    • Fiddleneck
    • Geranium
    • Golden Brodiaea
    • Guatomote
    • Incienso
    • Iris
    • Lady Slipper
    • Larkspur
    • Lily Blue
    • Lily Orange
    • Lion’s Tail
    • Lupin
    • Mariposa Tulip
    • Morning Glory
    • Nasturtium
    • Petunia
    • Phacelia
    • Trumpet Flower
    • Water Lily
    • Wild Pink
  • Nautical
    • Anchor, Flags, Lantern, Life Saver, Sextant, Square Knot, Wheel
  • Spectrum (geometric designs)
    • B-30X, Vert, Jaune, Multi-Flori California, Polychrome A-E
  • Tahiti A-C
  • Tropical Fish
    • Fantail

Vernon Kilns Ultra California

The design of Vernon Kilns Ultra California line is credited to Gale Turnbull, with Jane Bennison contributing the iconic upside-down handles. Vernon Kilns used the Ultra shape on many lines: It was the base shape for designs created by Rockwell Kent, Don Blanding, and Disney. The official name of the shape is unknown, but is commonly called Ultra since the Ultra California line was the first pattern to appear on the shape. While beautiful, many considered the design to be impractical, as the turned-down handles made the pieces hard to pick up.

Ultra California came in six colors: Buttercup (yellow), Gardenia (green), Carnation (pink), Aster (blue), white, and maroon. Maroon and white are uncommon. Rumor has it that Vernon Kilns only produced White in June for weddings, accounting for its scarcity. The line was produced from roughly 1938-42. Standard dinnerware pieces are easy to find, serving pieces (with the exception of the teapot, coffee pot and casserole) are rare.

The company brochure below (this is a piece recreated off of an original brochure) seems to be from early in the line. White and maroon aren’t listed as colors, and there are several pieces missing from the list.

Vernon Kilns Ultra California Brochure

Vernon Kilns Ultra Brochure (click to expand)

Vernon Kilns Ultra California Piece Guide

PieceDescription
Bowl, individual, fruit5.5"
Bowl, individual, cereal6"
Bowl, individual, chowder6"
Chowder bowl lid
Bowl, individual, coupe soup8.25"
Bowl, serving, round8"
Bowl, serving, round9"
Bowl, serving, salad11"
Bowl, serving, 1-pint
Bowl, mixing5"
Bowl, mixing6"
Bowl, mixing7"
Bowl, mixing8"
Bowl, mixing9"
Butter tray with cover
Casserole, covered8"
Coffee pot, 2-cup, AD
Coffee pot, 6-cup
Comport, footed9"
Creamer, individual
Creamer, short
Creamer, tall
Sugar, individualopen
Sugar, shortwith lid
Sugar, tallwith lid
Cup / saucer, AD
Cup / saucer, teacup
Cup / saucer, jumbo
Egg cup
Jam jarwith lid
Muffin coverno base
Mug, handled3.5", 8 oz.
Plate, pickle, tab handle6"
Pitcher, 1-pint4.5", open
Lid, 1-pint pitcheroptional
Pitcher, 2-quartopen
Lid, 2-quart pitcheroptional
Pitcher, disk
Plate, bread and butter6.5"
Plate, salad7.5"
Plate, luncheon (small)8.5"
Plate, luncheon (regular)9.5"
Plate, dinner10.5"
Plate, chop (small)12"
Plate, chop (medium)14"
Plate, chop (large)16"
Sauce boat (gravy)
Shakers, salt and pepper
Teapot, 6-cup
Tumbler5"
Tureenette, covered7", notched lid

Vernon Kilns Early California

“The colors are truly thrilling!”

Vernon Kilns Early CaliforniaLaunched in 1934, Vernon Kilns Early California dinnerware is characterized by two concentric rings and a zigzag moderne angular design. By 1937, glazes included: yellow, turquoise, green, brown, dark blue, light blue, ivory, orange (red) and pink.  The company added maroon and white at some point, and the rarity of these colors makes them more desirable. By 1946, designers scaled back the available colors, producing pieces in blue, green, peach, turquoise and yellow. The line disappears from company price lists by 1950.

The Early California line is on the “Montecito” shape, believed to be the first shape produced by Vernon Kilns (post-Poxon China). Throughout the dinnerware line’s comparatively long run, it went through several design style changes. Earlier handled pieces, such as cups and beverage servers, have an angled handle. In the late 1930s, possibly with the launch of Modern California in 1938, the line is rounded out with softer shape. At this point the color palette in Early California shifts as well, the bright, bold colors are toned down, and the high gloss light yellow and pink colors become more prominent.

Vernon used the Montecito shape for dozens of different dinnerware lines until the company closed in 1958. Many lines, especially in the 1950s, often include a mix of pieces from Montecito, Ultra, and San Marino shapes. Montecito shapes were also adapted in the 1950s for the plaid and Brown Eyed Susan patterns.

Marshall Fields Vernon Kilns 1937In this May 1937 advertisement from the Chicago department store, Marshall Fields, Early California, Organdie, and Harry Bird‘s Tahiti line are available – Tahiti prices are more than double Early California.

Like many Vernon Kilns lines, Early California shares shapes with other dinnerware lines – in particular, the disk pitcher, tumblers and butter with Ultra California.

Vernon Kilns Early California

Vernon Kilns Montecito Piece List

As Vernon Kiln’s longest running shape, the number of pieces available across all the dinnerware lines was considerable. Pieces available in Early California are noted.

PieceDescriptionEarly California
Ashtray3" square, individualYes
Ashtray4.5" square, regular
Ashtray5.5" roundYes
Bowl5.5" fruit bowlYes
Bowl7.25" coupe soup bowlYes
Bowl6" cereal bowl
Bowl6" chowder bowl (angled handles)Yes
Bowl6" lug soup bowlYes
BowlLid, lug soup bowlYes
Bowl, serving7.5" round
Bowl, serving8.5" roundYes
Bowl, serving10" ovalYes
Bowl, serving10" oval, divided
Bowl, serving13" salad, roundYes
Bowl, serving15" salad, round
Bowl, mixing5" roundYes (San Marino Shape)
Bowl, mixing6" roundYes (San Marino Shape)
Bowl, mixing7" roundYes (San Marino Shape)
Bowl, mixing8" roundYes (San Marino Shape)
Bowl, mixing9" roundYes (San Marino Shape)
Buffet server3-partYes
Butter dishEarly (knob finial)Yes
Butter dishLater (rectangular - shared with Ultra)Yes (Ultra Shape)
CasseroleAngled handlesYes
CasseroleRound handlesYes
Coffee pot2-cup, ADYes
Coffee server / carafeRound, with lidYes
Coffee server / carafeAngled, with lidYes
Comport, footed9.5"Yes
Creamer, individualAngledYes
Sugar, individual, openAngledYes
CreamerAngledYes
SugarAngledYes
CreamerRound (optional lid)Yes
SugarRound, with lidYes
Cup / saucer, demitasseRoundYes
Cup / saucer, demitasseAngledYes
Tea cup / saucerRoundYes
Tea cup / saucerAngledYes
Egg cupYes
Jam jar5", with lidYes
Muffin tray9", tab handled with lidYes
Pitcher, diskYes (Ultra shape)
Pitcher, 1-pintBulb baseYes
Pitcher, 1-quartBulb base
Pitcher, tankard, 1.5-quartAngledYes
Coaster / cup warmer4.5"Yes
Plate, bread & butter6.5"Yes
Plate, salad7.5"Yes
Plate, luncheon (small)8.5"Yes
Plate, luncheon (standard)9.5"Yes
Plate, dinner10.5"Yes
Plate, divided grill11"Yes
Plate, divided grill, tray13.5 x 10.5"Yes
Plate, chop, small12"Yes
Plate, chop, medium14"Yes
Plate, chop, large17"Yes
Plate, pickle9"Yes
Platter, oval, small10.5"Yes
Platter, oval, medium12"Yes
Platter, oval, large14"Yes
Platter, oval, extra large16"
Plate, relish, 3-part7 x 10"Yes
Gravy boatAngledYes
Gravy boatRound
Gravy boat, fast standRoundYes
Shakers, salt & pepperYes
TeapotRoundYes
TeapotAngledYes
Tumbler #14.5", banded rim and baseYes
Tumbler #24.5" rings, bulge topYes
Tumbler #3a3.75", bulb bottom, often found with bakelite/metal handleYes
Tumbler #45", flared top (Ultra)Yes (Ultra shape)
Tumbler #3b3.75" bulb bottom, pottery handleYes

Vernon Kilns

Vernon Kilns Company Photo

Vernon Kilns began its existence as Poxon China, founded by George J.W. Poxon in 1912 in Vernon, California. In its early days, Poxon produced ceramic tile, shifting production to earthenware and restaurant-ware around World War I. They also produced a limited amount of artware and vases. After struggling through the Great Depression, Poxon was purchased by Faye G. Bennison in 1931 and renamed as Vernon Kilns. In 1933, an earthquake destroyed all of the existing Poxon stock. The damage to the plant’s beehive kilns and loss of stock prompted a complete redesign of the company’s dinnerware molds. The company reinvented itself under the direction of its art department, lead by designers Jane Bennison, May and Vieve Hamilton, and Harry Bird. In 1936, Gale Turnbull joined as their art director and revitalized their dinnerware lines. One of the first shapes released after the redesign was called Montecito, used in dinnerware lines through 1958, when the company closed their doors. Many of the Vernonware lines were able to live on at Metlox, who purchased the molds and trademarks. They continued to manufacture many Vernon patterns in their new Vernonware division.

Vernon Kilns Montecito

Vernon Kilns launched their first colorware line on the heels of some of their competitors. The first colored dinnerware line, Early California, was released around 1935 and is on the Montecito shape.  Montecito is believed to be Vernon Kiln’s first official dinnerware shape and was in production until the company closed.

Around 1937, a pastel satin-glazed version of Early California was released as Modern California (also on the Montecito shape) with redesigned round shapes in place of Early’s angled handles. Vernon phased out the angled pieces in Early California, replacing it with the rounded shapes from Modern California, possibly in the early 1940s. Early California also shared pieces with other dinnerware shapes, including Ultra California (butter dish, disk pitcher, tumblers) and Casual California (mixing bowls) (San Marino shape).

Vernon Kilns Modern California Teapot with Demitasse Cups/Saucers

Vernon Kilns Modern California Teapot with Demitasse Cups/Saucers

A “premium” variation of Early California came out in 1938-39 as Coronado. According to Nelson (2003), Coronado was available through gas stations in the eastern region of the United States, and as a supermarket premium in the west. Coronado shares the same basic Montecito shape, but have a slight ripple along the edge of the pieces. It can be found in a similar color palette as Early California with dark blue, orange, green, turquoise and yellow most commonly found. With its long production run and nationwide distribution, Early California is fairly easily found in the marketplace. It’s not as popular with collectors as some of its competitors, which keeps prices low.

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.