Coraopolis shop is a Fiesta fanatic's dream
A new shop on 5th Avenue in Coraopolis boasts thousands of colorful cups, plates and other dinnerware. Still, owner Rebecca Taylor readily admits she didn't know much about Fiesta until the 1990s, when she went antiquing with her mother and happened upon an iconic coffee pot from 1954. It was a seminal moment.
Bewitched by its cheery, original green glaze and art deco styling, she was instantly hooked.
“It was the design,” she recalls, noting the signature band of concentric rings. “The lines just stood out with the color.”
Eager to scratch that newfound itch, the Missouri native started looking for and buying vintage pieces for her dining room at flea markets, auctions and antique stores. It wasn't until she extended her search to the world's biggest marketplace — Facebook — that she “broke it wide open,” she says with a grin.
By the time she relocated to Neville Island from Florida in 2011, Taylor had stacks of Fiesta ware in a rainbow of colors and styles — everything from coffee cups and saucers to tea pots, plates, vases, sugar bowls and egg cups. Multiple visits to Fiesta's factory outlet in Newell, West Virginia — where lines can stretch a mile during their annual tent sales — only added to her extensive reserve.
rebecca taylor collectionRebecca Taylor, owner of Keeping it Real Collectables in Coraopolis, started collecting vintage and new Fiesta ware 30 years ago.
Taylor had so much Fiesta, both new and old, that in 2019, she opened a booth inside Emma Jeans Relics in Coraopolis. With her ever-growing collection soon piling up in a back room, she knew she “had to get out” and open her own store. On Small Business Day in November, she did just that, launching Keeping it Real Collectables next door in the space formerly occupied by One Man's Junk.
She has met lots of fellow Fiesta fanatics, and she's not surprised by their devotion.
“It's the bright colors and variety,” she says. “And the durability.”
Based in East Liverpool, Ohio, Homer Laughlin China has been making ceramic dinnerware since the 1870s.The pottery introduced its brightly colored, ceramic-glazed “Fiesta” collection of dinnerware in 1936 at the Pittsburgh China & Glass Show. Almost immediately, it became a crowd favorite. By the time the company introduced a sixth color — turquoise — a year later, more than 1 million pieces were weighing down American cupboards.
Homer Laughlin had to stop making its Radioactive Red dinnerware during World War II because uranium was a key ingredient in the color formula — the heavy metal was needed for bombs — but demand remained high. In 1948, Fiesta sales peaked with 10 million pieces sold.
By the 1960s, however, the dinnerware had fallen out of favor, leading to its discontinuation in 1973. It made a comeback in 1986, when Bloomingdale's department stores reintroduced it with a contemporary color palette to mark the brand's 50th anniversary.
Since day one, Fiesta has been sold by the piece as open stock instead of in sets; buyers were encouraged to mix and match the different colors. Its brief discontinuation made it collectible because vintage pieces are in such short supply.
polka dotted fiestaThis polka-dotted Fiesta mug set was exclusively produced for a collectors conference. Each attendee got a place setting.(PostGazette)
The rarest items — such as an 8-inch lapis vase Taylor has listed for $325 and an ivory demitasse coffee pot for $414 — command high prices. A vintage turquoise covered onion soup bowl — a Fiesta collector's Holy Grail — could go for as much at $4,000 in today's market, says Taylor.
A NIP (not in production) specialty piece can fetch even more. Among the collector's items is a raspberry presentation bowl unveiled in 1997 and limited to 500 pieces (with only 15 offered to the general public).
“Some people see prices and are like, `What?'” Taylor says.
Back when she started feeding her obsession, “you couldn't find vintage without going into the wild,” she says. Today, there are collectors' clubs and Facebook groups, and the nonprofit Homer Laughlin China Collectors Association — formed in 1998 as an educational resource for collectors, antique dealers and historians — even holds a yearly members-only convention. Limited to 350 people, the next one is in Pittsburgh this July and most likely will sell out in minutes.
Taylor started a “secret” Facebook page in 2015 to buy and sell Fiesta because you need a wide group to scour estate sales, antique shops and flea markets for collectible pieces.
It's a double-edged sword: While collectors have so much information about styles, patterns and colors, they're also less likely to get a deal because, well, people know how to research things on the internet.
What keeps it fun is that Fiesta introduces a new color each year and retires colors that aren't selling well — shamrock and cobalt blue bit the dust in 2021. The company also discontinues unpopular items, such as a new-inthe-box Fiesta drink dispenser Taylor has listed for $325.
One way to tell old from new, says Olive Hinzman, a Fiesta lover who helps Taylor run the store, is to examine the underside. Vintage pieces will be completely glazed whereas post-1986 pieces have a wiped, “dry foot.”
Fiesta ware bottomTo verify whether Fiesta ware is vintage, flip it over and look on the underside for pin marks and a glazed finish. (Gretchen McKay/ Post-Gazette)
Old Fiesta also will bear three pin marks on the base that were made when the plate or bowl was propped up on metal rods called sagger pins in the kiln so the glaze wouldn't stick to the rack.
While chips and cracks will kill Fiesta ware's value, imperfections make pieces unique because they show a hand's touch, she says. Even newer dinnerware has value because there are a lot of hands involved in production, even if it's just attaching a handle or putting on a decal.
Taylor says about half of her store's display space is dedicated to specialty items that can be hard to find, such as the red, blue and green polka-dotted Fiesta that was made specially for a HLCCA conference a few years ago. But you'll also find lots of everyday items like plates, bowls and casserole dishes. The 500 millionth piece of Fiesta was produced in 1997, after all.