Dinnerware is collectible and affordable By Ivy Loughborough Published in the Red Wing Republican Eagle on 12 July 2007 One of the best known post-war dinnerware patterns was Eva Zeisel’s Town and Country line. Zeisel was an established ceramics designer who’d already worked for Castleton China and Homer Laughlin when Red Wing president H.H. Varney asked her to design a new line of dinnerware. Town and Country would be casual and inexpensive as well as modern and stylish. Its asymmetrical, biomorphic shapes (exemplified by the nested “Schmoo” salt and pepper shakers), and range of mix-and-match colors were a departure for Red Wing, but the pattern proved successful and was produced for ten years. The true measure of Town and Country’s enduring design is its current popularity; it remains one of the most collectible patterns Red Wing made, commanding high prices and inspiring devotion even among people who don’t collect Red Wing. Zeisel, still designing at 100 years old, is regarded as one of the leading ceramics designers of the twentieth century. 1947, the year Town and Country was released, was also the year Red Wing stopped producing stoneware, after nearly seventy years. They continued to make art pottery, but dinnerware was now their mainstay, and by 1952 it made up 85% of their output. Town and Country was followed by the short-lived Dynasty and Fancy Free lines, and in 1951, the popular and enduring Village Green pattern, one of six in the Village Green line. The brown and green colors are similar to the earlier Bakeware line, and both patterns are often confused with similar patterns made by other potteries, such as Louisville Stoneware’s Country Fare. After a few years, we wanted a second set of Red Wing dishes for everyday, and a fellow collector knew someone who was practically giving away a set of Village Green. We now use these for all our daily meals, and we don’t mind the inevitable chip or crack. We put ours in the dishwasher and even in the microwave, although I don’t recommend this without testing it on a piece you don’t really care about. The postwar boom in manufacturing was reflected in the prolific production of Red Wing dinnerware in 1950s. While continuing to make many of the earlier patterns, they regularly introduced new patterns. 1953 brought the Anniversary line with its six patterns, celebrating Red Wing’s 75th year in business. Next was the Casual line, which included Bob White, the best-selling pattern in Red Wing’s history. It sold phenomenally well from when it was first released until the potteries closed in 1967. This ubiquitous pattern was used as a prop by a centerfold model in the February 1956 issue of Playboy, which some say increased its popularity, but I doubt Playboy’s readers were choosing china patterns. Todd and I play a game when we’re in a new antique store- spot the Bob White- we’ve seen it in stores with no other Red Wing dinnerware, and all over the country. Two other popular patterns in the Casual line are Smart Set and Round-Up. Smart Set is a classic 50s abstract modernist pattern, highly sought-after by collectors of the mid-century modern style, while Round-Up’s cowboy scenes are prized by collectors of all things Western. Two divergent groups of collectors, both avid Red Wing fans. The Futura line, first introduced in 1955, was offered in ten different patterns. One of these was Tampico, a colorful tropical pattern with melons and vines, notorious for having the most brush strokes of any pattern. By 1960, when the True China line came out, Red Wing, like most American potteries, was fighting competition from imported dinnerware, and, like many other potteries built in the nineteenth century, the plant was deteriorating. Throughout the 1960s, patterns became simpler, with less hand-painting, in order to save costs. The pottery tried to diversify and expand, selling dinnerware in supermarkets and producing more specialty items, but after a three-month strike in the summer of 1967 following declining sales throughout the decade, the company’s shareholders liquidated the company. Ten years later, a group of Red Wing pottery lovers got together and started a collector’s club. Few, if any, of those founders of the Red Wing Collector’s Society collected dinnerware, but as time passed and the membership expanded, people began to appreciate the beauty (not to mention the affordability) of Red Wing dinnerware.
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