Dear Helaine and Joe:
I was wondering if you could look at the attached picture and tell me if this set of dishes has any value. This is only one piece of the collection.
S.S., Barnesville, Georgia
The quick and simple answer is yes, this dinnerware pattern is a classic and was made by an important American factory — so, these pieces do have value.
The pattern in this case is known as “Blue Willow” or simply “Willow” after the prominent willow tree that is found in most of the patterns. This design originated in late 18th century England, but it was made deliberately to look like the origin was China.
It was patterned after wares made in Canton and Nanking and had a story about two young lovers with disapproving parents who attempted to elope. Pursued by the parents, the star-crossed youths prayed to the gods to be united forever, and as they crossed the arched bridge, they were turned into a pair of doves (yes, be careful what you wish for).
This was passed off by English merchants as a Chinese legend, but that was utter poppycock and was a thinly veiled concoction based on William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” The pattern was very popular, however, and over the past 200 years, it has been manufactured by any number of makers who produced it in many variations of the original pattern.
This particular design was made by the Homer Laughlin Company, which according to their website was founded in 1871 by two brothers — Homer and Shakespeare Laughlin — in East Liverpool, Ohio. The company was originally called the Laughlin Brothers Pottery. The company was incorporated in 1896, but one year later, Homer sold his interest to a group of Pittsburgh investors who changed the name to Homer Laughlin China Company, though Homer Laughlin was no longer involved with the company.
The company, which in the 1920s moved across the Ohio River to Newell, West Virgina, is said to have produced up to one third of all the restaurant and home use dinnerware made in the United States during the 20th century. They are most famous for their Fiestaware, but they produced many other patterns — including Blue Willow — that interest collectors.
S.S. might like to know the mark on the back of her piece gives the approximate date this particular item was manufactured and in which Homer Laughlin plant it was made. It is a bit hard to read in the photograph, but the dating cipher appears to be “H 44 N 6 or 8.” This means the piece was produced in August 1944 (“H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet and August is the eighth month) in plant No. 6 or 8 in Newell.
As for value, we have no idea what is in S.S.’s collection, but according to Replacements Ltd., a teapot is about $160 and a 15-inch oval platter is about $70. On the other end of the scale, a saucer is worth approximately $6, while a bread and butter plate should retail in the $7 range, and a dinner plate about $20.