Colorware History & Design

The Maximalist

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.

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