Last week’s Thrift Store Tuesday post discussed my exciting find of a few pieces of Homer Laughlin Eggshell Nautilus china in a thrift store. I’m still a little amazed about this find and very overwhelmed by the complexity of the pattern, the complexity of Homer Laughlin China Company’s history, and the revelation of how to decode the back-stamp on the underside of the pieces. But I find it very interesting and have found myself lost in the world of china and pottery!
Homer and Shakespeare Laughlin won a competition sponsored by the East Liverpool, Ohio, City Council by agreeing to build a four kiln pottery producing white ware. The pottery industry was already well established, producing a yellow ware from the local clay; the Council felt it was waning in popularity and wanted to introduce white ware to compete with the England markets. The prize was $5,000 and the Laughlin brothers, while lacking in the technical aspects of making ware, built their plant and began production on September 1, 1874. The plant struggled; the story has been told that the cup handles fell off the cups after the first batch cooled!
In time, the plant became productive and was established as a quality producer of white ware. In 1877 Homer bought out his brother and in 1896 renamed the company “The Homer Laughlin China Company”. Homer would retire in 1897 and the business would pass from generation to generation of several owners and management employees. The demand for HL china grew and the company expanded their plants and produced many patterns and styles of high quality china. Continuous firing tunnels were added in the 1920’s, greatly speeding up production time.
Fiesta ware was introduced in 1936 and quickly became an American favorite and was reintroduced in 1986 with a lead-free formula. It has a story of its own as well as the wildly popular Harlequin pattern sold by Woolworth’s and manufactured in plant 8 which was devoted exclusively to Harlequin manufacture. The company also produced bowls that were packed in oatmeal boxes for the American Cereal Company.
Most sources indicate that Eggshell Nautilus was introduced in 1937 and continued production until the 1950’s. There is not just one Eggshell Nautilus pattern – eggshell refers to the type of glaze used on the china. The glaze was developed to make the dinnerware thinner and stronger than earlier HL products as well as prevent fine cracks appearing as the dinnerware aged. Nautilus refers to the design of the various pieces, not the pattern. During the years of Nautilus manufacture, many of its designs were created by Frederick Rhead, design director from 1927-1942. In 1940 several new shapes were added to the line: a salad bowl, teapot, and square plate.
It is a common mistake to think that the number in the back-stamp is the pattern number, but it is a code to its date of manufacture and the plant that produced it. Only one of the pieces I found had the pattern number, N1583, stamped on its back.
The first letter represents the month of manufacture with A being January, B February, etc. The next two numbers indicate the year, The following letter and number indicate the plant’s location and its number.
And, yes, a trip to the Factory in Newell, West Virginia is now on my must see list after diving into the world of Homer Laughlin. Up next – either more on the Eggshell Nautilus patterns and designs or a dive into the Blue Willow pieces that Homer Laughlin produced.