Gladding-McBean introduced their first dinnerware line, Franciscan El Patio, under their Franciscan Pottery division in 1934. El Patio is one of the five most important California colorware lines of the 1930s (alongside Pacific Hostessware, Bauer Ringware, Metlox 200 Series and Vernon Kilns Early California). Launched in 1933 and produced out of their Glendale plant, El Patio was GMcB’s first foray into the dinnerware market. As one of the leading ceramics manufacturers of the day, GMcB leveraged their research and development capabilities to develop a one-fire production process that eliminated crazing, a common glaze defect in pottery production that can appear immediately after firing or over time.
El Patio is notable for its simple, clean design and its iconic “pretzel” shaped cup handle. This distinctive design is attributed to Mary Grant, the wife of plant manager Frederic Grant. Early cups feature the traditional c-shaped handle.
El Patio initially came in eight colors and expanded to 18+ in the almost 20 years that the line was produced. The original lineup included: Flame Orange, Yellow, White, Golden Glow, Redwood, Glacial Blue (turquoise), Mexican Blue, and Tahoe Green. Due to the cost of the depleted uranium used in the red-orange glaze, Flame Orange commanded a higher price. Later colors used in El Patio changed with the tastes of the period. In the late 1930s, GMcB introduced a series of matte and gloss glazes in a softer color palette (coral, ivory, grey, etc.). Collectors will also find El Patio pieces with blended glaze effects, most commonly in Glacial Blue with dark blue and White with lavender.
A year or two after El Patio hit the market, GMcB began to produce variations of the line, including a duo-tone glazed El Patio Nuevo and the hand-painted line, Padua. 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. GmCB also launched an artware line also based on El Patio called Ruby Art Ware (1935-36).
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).
For collectors interested in collecting Franciscan El Patio, I recommend the comprehensive El Patio Table Ware (2011) guide published by James Elliot-Bishop. Mr. Elliot-Bishop is also the author of the Franciscan, Catalina, and Other Gladding, McBean Wares (2001) book by Schiffer Publishing.