As popular as the Fiesta is today, I figured there must be some other Straight Dopers who are also fans and/or collectors.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with Fiesta Dinnerware (colloquially referred to as “Fiestaware” by many), here’s a brief history-
Fiesta was introduced at the Pittsburgh China & Glass Show in January 1936. It has always been a product of Homer Laughlin China Company in Newell, West Virginia (about an hour west of Pittsburgh). I had the opportunity to tour the actual factory when I went to Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving and it was a very interesting and enjoyable experience. The ‘seconds’ room located off the main outlet/store was also a real treat. For $56, I bought nine pieces of Fiesta with a retail value of over $190!
(Interesting bit of geographic trivia- Newell, WV is the northernmost settlement in the state of West Virginia. It located in the panhandle between Ohio and Pennsylvania just above Wheeling. According to the U.S. Census, which considers West Virginia as part of the ‘South’, Newell is also the northernmost settlement in the Southern United States. The obvious problem is that West Virginia is not a part of the South by any other measure.)
Fiesta was introduced as a line of colored, open-stock dinnerware during the Great Depression. The concept of ‘open-stock’ was new and it allowed customers to purchase it by the piece rather than by the place setting or table setting. It also encouraged customers to mix and match colors. It was an instant success, selling more than one million pieces in 1936 alone. At introduction, five colors were available- Red (orange-red), Blue (cobalt), Green (light), Yellow (deep golden) and Old Ivory (yellowish cream). In early 1937, Turquoise was added as the sixth color.
The Fiesta line sold well initially, but sales slipped during WW2 and never recovered. The original lineup was cancelled in 1969. Some of the products were modified or redesigned entirely in an effort to modernize going into the 1970s. The line was renamed “Fiesta Ironstone” and three colors were available (Mango Red, Turf Green (avacado) and Antique Gold (or Harvest Gold as the rest of us knew it). In 1972, they finally took it out back and shot it (figuratively speaking…but having seen those hideous colors first hand, I could enjoy using some green and gold salad plates for skeet practice)!
The products from 1936 to 1969 are commonly known as “Vintage Fiesta” now. The line was reintroduced in 1986 and has been in continuous production since. All items made from 1986 to the present are considered ‘modern Fiesta’ but most collectors call it “Post-86” to avoid any confusion with the vintage!
I have been collecting Fiesta (on and off) for more than half of my 41-year life. As a man, I am a tiny minority within the collector community but that doesn’t bother me a bit. I have found other Fiesta collectors to be among the nicest people I’ve ever met…unless we’re at the Factory Outlet Semi-Annual Tent Sale, then all bets are off! A sugary sweet Mom from the South will break the first thing she can reach and use the biggest shard to shank your ass at the Tent Sale!
I currently have at least one piece in 23 different colors. There were 13 different colors offered during the Vintage phase (not including those three awful Ironstone colors) and about 35 in Modern or Post-86 Fiesta, so far. For years, my plan was to eventually own at least one piece in every color ever offered. I have since decided that I should only add colors I actually LIKE to my collection. For example, the Black and White are both very boring to me. I also don’t care for Rose, Lilac, Cinnabar, Ivory, Chocolate, Flamingo or Lemongrass (all retired except the Lemongrass).
My interest in collecting Fiesta was reignited late last year (2014) when I realized that they were finally offering a beautiful bright blue color called Lapis! I have always loved a very-limited-production called Sapphire Blue which was only made from 1986-1987 and sold exclusively at Bloomingdale’s. I have a plate in Sapphire (cost me $70 on Ebay in 2007). It is very difficult to distinguish between the Sapphire and the new Lapis blue.
I intiially bought service for four in Lapis (blue) last December. Even though they offer 4-piece and 5-piece plate settings, the bowls and salad plates are far too small to be serviceable. The only item from the place settings that I buy is the 10.5" Dinner Plate. Along with it, I got the 9" Luncheon Plate (instead of the 7.25" Salad Plate), the 38oz Medium Bistro Bowl (instead of the 19oz regular bowl) and 18oz Jumbo Mugs in place of the 10.25-12oz Coffee/Java Mugs. Sure, it cost about $20 more per place setting, but I’m much happier than I would have been with the boxed place setting and undersized dishes.
As much as I love the Lapis color, I’ve always been a huge fan of mixing Fiesta colors and not having everything in the same color. It took me a while to decide, but I chose Poppy (orangey-red) as the best complement to Lapis. I bought service for four in Poppy so I now have eight place settings, half in Lapis and half in Poppy!