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The Answers:


- When was Vernon Kilns in business, and where?

Vernonware is collectable California pottery and dinnerware made by Vernon Kilns in Vernon, California in the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's. Vernon Kilns was the successor to Poxon Pottery and China Co, which was sold to Faye Bennison in 1931 and renamed as Vernon Kilns. Vernon Kilns went out of business in 1958 and its molds and patterns were acquired by Metlox Pottery, which produced some of the Vernon Kilns shapes and patterns as well as new patterns on those shapes under a "Vernonware by Metlox" product line until Metlox went out of business in the 1970's.

- by Tim Colling

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Were the "hand painted" patterns truly all painted by hand?   For example, the painting around the rims of the plaid pieces, especially the bowls and the pitchers, seems almost too perfect and uniform to have been done without the aid of mechanical devices like jigs or something.  Another one of the most striking examples of this is the broad, dark pink rim around the Linda dishes.

As far as the hand painting goes. I believe that the pieces were put on a wheel and that the brush was held in one place while the piece  turned.

- by Bill Stern

Bill is right about how the pieces were painted. They were put onto a decorating wheel and the brush was held steady with the piece turned. Now I do not know for sure that is how the rims were done, but I expect it is. Obviously the plaid stripes were not applied on the wheel, but the plaids were then put on a wheel and a wet brush was applied to the piece to "blend" the stripes. I have corresponded with a woman who's mother painted for Vernon Kilns. She says that she can actually recognize her mothers Plaid stripes!

- by Kevin Souza

Yes the hand painted at least for Chintz and the plaids means hand painted.  I know because my mother was one of the principal painters for about three years in the late 30s and early 40s and she painted the plaids.  According to her, and I am preparing something of a more lengthy nature with personal recollections for the plaid homepage, you get pretty good at doing this. The outer band was put on in the way you would imagine with a spinning plate, etc.  I have tried this and you can do it, I assume that after several years of practice you can get pretty good about it.  Apparently different people did various things.  She began by painting grapes on a pottery, which were just "blobs" and fairly easy and then because she has some "talent" at free hand she moved up to the plaids.  She also did some Brown-Eyed Susan, the petals.  Anyway, I am putting together some personal remembrances along with trying to scan a picture of the Vernon staff that was made about 1940 during a "staff day".  More reporting later.

- by Sharon Goad

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- Does Vernonware contain dangerous levels of lead?

Linda and I checked the glaze on one or two samples from almost every Vernonware pattern we had on hand. 

The result was that NONE tested positive for lead!

Here are the patterns we tested:

We also tested a couple of pieces which had big chips, and the test kit revealed NO lead from the chipped areas!

In case you might think that the test kit was not working right: the kit includes some lead samples to test to make sure that the test results are valid. The test kit responded correctly to the lead samples, so I believe that our results above are valid.

Of course, you should do your own testing to be certain, and should not rely upon just our results. Our lawyer made us say that. <grin> Your mileage may vary.

- by Tim Colling

Several years ago while researching an article on California Pottery I dealt with the problem of lead in dinnerware. This became an issue after a couple traced their debilitating, but "un-diagnosable," illness to the lead in the coffee mugs they were using.

The lessons they learned and taught to others are that lead leaches out of a lot of dinnerware (and crystal), and certainly not only "foreign-made" products. They found out that it takes time and a catalyst -- like the acid in tomatoes or vinegar or coffee -- for lead to leach out of a glaze. Hence six cups of java drunk out of poorly glazed mugs over a period of years took its toll on them.

The principal lesson is not to store food or drink in dinnerware (or lead crystal. Glass or Tupperware does the job nicely. In spite of the law inspired by that couple's effort which limits lead in dinnerware, a few years ago I read a news report indicating that several noted dinnerware manufacturers -- both domestic and foreign -- were still exceeding the legal lead limits.

At the time I wrote the article I tested my Vernon dishes -- mainly Early California and Modern California -- using two or more lead tests. Some tested positive (that is, over the level the tester in question considered safe) and some negative. It didn't seem to depend on any factor --color, for instance -- that I could pinpoint.

I've continued to use my Vernon as I always had.

- by Bill Stern

Here is an important link about lead in tableware and California's proposition 65:  http://www.childlead.com/tableware/twhome.html

- By Michael Pratt

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- How can I test my Vernonware for lead content?

I purchased a lead testing kit called "Lead Check" from a company called HybriVet Systems Inc, PO Box 1210, Framingham, MA 01701, telephone 1-800-262-LEAD.   It is easy to use and consists of chemical swabs which you rub against the glaze;   if the swab turns color from white to red, then there is an unsafe level of lead in the glaze.  If it doesn't, there isn't an unsafe level of lead in the glaze.

- by Tim Colling

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- Is it safe to wash my Vernonware in the dishwasher?

We DO put our Vernonware in the dishwasher, but we only air-dry them,   i.e., we never use the heated drying that the dishwasher is capable of.  Also, we only use the "normal" wash setting, i.e., not the "pot scrubber" wash setting.

- by Tim Colling

I don't own a dishwasher, will never own a dishwasher...and would never place my prized old dishes in a dishwasher! The water is much too hot and the dishwashing detergent too abrasive. Besides, I like washing dishes by hand, about the only household chore I actually enjoy!

- by Cadia Los

I agree with Tim. I've been putting my Gingham, in the dishwasher every day for the past 10 years. It looks exactly the same as it did when I first got it. The same with May Flower, which also goes into the dishwasher after use, just as it did when my mother purchased it in the 50's. I put all Franciscan patterns into the dishwasher. (D. Rose, Apple and Coronado.) However, I have a set of Coral Reef, and would definitely wash it by hand if and when I ever use it. Have only used Santa Barbara, a few times so far, and have hand washed it. The Ultra  patterns seem to me to be a bit more fragile---maybe because I know they are older than my other sets?

- by Marilyn

Why do people put good china in dishwashers? It boggles my mind. Why not just roll it around in sand and be done with it. My tip is when you serve your guests on your Vernonware, use plastic cutlery or serve chicken a la king and mashed potatoes so they don't cut your dishes.

- by James Kaplan

As for the dishwasher: I have found that it has caused my EC and MC plates to develop small nicks on the edges.

- by Bill Stern

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- Is it safe to heat my Vernonware in the microwave?

We generally do not microwave our Vernonware. We know from experience that dinner plates in the MayFlower pattern (on the "Melinda" shape) will crack if heated in the microwave. We know of many people who do microwave their Vernonware patterns that are executed on the "Montecito" shape, such as Homespun, and  Linda and I occasionally do so with the Montecito patterns that we collect (Tam O'Shanter, Calico, and Coronado).

- by Tim Colling

I do gently re-heat a plate of food in my half-size microwave...but only for about 30 seconds or so, not enough to get the plate hot.

- By Cadia Los

 

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Salt & pepper shakers: Should I replace the corks or stoppers on salt & pepper shakers?  

Those corks are perfect homes for bacteria and other germs. Unlike Vernonware pottery, they're porous and will absorb all kinds of nasty liquids. When you buy antique shakers, replace those corks, for your health's sake. You can purchase more at any hardware store.

- by Tim Colling

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Salt & pepper shakers: How can I remove a cork which has been pushed up inside a shaker?  

Have you ever bought a salt or pepper shaker which had the cork pushed up all the way into the inside of the shaker, so that it rattles around inside and won't come out on it's own? Have you wondered how the heck to get it out?

Here's what we do: buy a small package of bamboo skewers at the store and use one of them to poke at the cork until it breaks up. The resulting small pieces will then easily be shaken out of the holes in the bottom of the shaker!

- by Tim Colling

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What is the difference between the pattern "Linda" and the pattern "836"?

Take a look at the two links below; they pretty much tell it all.  The 836 pattern has much more detail in the flowers and the leaves and is, in my opinion, far more desirable than the Linda pattern.

Luncheon plates comparison photo
Detail comparison photo

- by Tim Colling

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Did Vernon Kilns manufacture the speckled dinnerware marked as "Monterey - Made in California" with a map of California as part of the mark?

Monterey was made by Metlox after they bought molds and patterns from Vernon; e.g. Tickled Pink, Heavenly Days, etc.  The chowder bowls are the same shape but the colors are slightly different.  Comes in a speckled turquoise, pink, yellow, pale green, and a non-speckled black-that I know of.  I think  Lois Lehner lists Monterey as a Metlox mark in her book on American Pottery Marks.  Everyone should have this book, "the big orange book of marks". Monterey is not in Carl Gibb's book on Metlox and I keep forgetting to ask him if he has any info on it.  Anyway Monterey is not a Vernon pattern, but a close relative.

- by Reba Schneider

I should have asked Reba this question a long time ago.  What is really odd is that Vernon had a Monterey pattern that was on the Melinda shape and certainly not anything modern.  When Metlox bought the molds and patterns from Vernon, I find no record of any Monterey transfer.  The mark in the Lehner book I am assuming is the Vernon Monterey on the Melinda shape as all my pieces have an outline of California with Monterey over it.  My Lehner book does not mention Monterey as a Metlox pattern.  In all the China, Glass, & Tables and Journals of Crockery and Glass that I have searched, no mention has been found yet for Monterey.  However I have come to the same conclusion that Reba has that Monterey is Metlox for several reasons.  1) In the records of patterns transferred, no mention of Monterey can be found, 2) The California outline on the stamp certainly looks like the Poppytrail logo with Monterey replacing Poppytrail, 3) Vernon glazes--and the last time I checked they seemed identical.  It is my understanding that Metlox bought the rights to these as well, 4) It is unlikely that Vernon would have a Monterey pattern and a Monterey line.

- by Michael E. Pratt 

You should add the color "sand" to the list in Reba's account of Monterey. I have an original box Monterey came in. Unfortunately there is no indication on it of who made it.

- by Bill Stern

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When did the spouts on Montecito teapots change from ice lip to elongated, or vice versa?  Which came first?  Why was the change made?

1) The ice lip style came first. . . .that is the style you will find on *all* older Montecito-shape patterns.

2) The change must have occurred in the early to mid-1950's; this would explain why both shapes are found in the Plaids (which, except for Organdie, were produced from roughly the late '40s through 1958).

3) Why?  Who knows?  I suspect that VERNON KILNS may have viewed the ice lip style as dated, and the little spout as more contemporary, but that's nothing but a guess.  This change is certainly in keeping with the redesign during the same time period of the creamer and sauce boat and the discontinuation of the bulb-bottom jugs.

- by Bob Hutchins

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What's the difference between the turquoise color and the light blue color in the Coronado pattern?

The turquoise and light blue colors are difficult to distinguish for two reasons.  First, they're not all that dissimilar.  Just as important, there are enormous variations in the glazes on different turquoise pieces.  So here's the distinction to keep in mind:  The light blue pieces have a distinct grayish cast.  Turquoise pieces may range from a light, bright robin's egg blue to a *much* darker shade, but do *not* have the grayish color of the light blue pieces.  (You will also find some color variation in the glazes on other colors, but the variations are not nearly as pronounced with the other colors as with turquoise.)

- by Bob Hutchins

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What's the difference between the saucers for round-handled and angular-handled cups in the Coronado pattern?

The round-handled cups have wider bases than the angular-handled cups.  There are also different saucers for the two types of cups.  These are difficult to distinguish unless you have a practiced eye, because the only difference is that the indent in the center of the saucer is a little larger on the saucers made to accompany the round-handled cups than it is on the saucers made for the angular-handled cups.  The rule of thumb (fairly obviously) is, if the round-handled cups fit inside the indent, it's a saucer for round-handled cups; if not, it's a saucer for angular cups.

One thing that makes this a bit easier to keep track of is that. . . .well, let's call them the redesigned creamers, sugars, cups and saucers (I can't say round-handled, since the redesigned saucer [of course] and sugar bowl don't have handles) appear to have been made in all colors except white.  Angular pieces, on the other hand, were not made in the pastels (pink, peach, light green and light blue).  So if you have a white piece, it's angular; if you have a pastel piece, it's redesigned.  The other colors (brown, cobalt, green, orange, turquoise, yellow) were made in both shapes.

- by Bob Hutchins

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How Many French Opera Reproduction Plates did Vernon Kilns Make?

According to "Collectible Vernon Kilns" by Maxine Nelson, published 1994:  

 "These were copies of 19th century French plates depicting scenes from eight operas.  In the original French series, there were 12 scenes.  In the Vernon Kilns series of eight, numbers 1,3,5,6,7,9, and 10 [were reproduced, and] operas 2,4,8, and 11 were not reproduced.  A 14" chop plate with the No. 3 Le Barbier de Seville was [also] made for this series...The Vernon Kilns operas are:

No. 1 Le Pre Aux Clercs has also been reported in blain brown print with the opera number omitted."

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Did Vernon Kilns make the French Opera Reproduction plates marked "PV" on the back? 

No, according to "Collectible Vernon Kilns" by Maxine Nelson, published 1994:  

 "Another company in the United States having the trademark "PV" (Peasant Village) also reproduced the plates for an importer, Mitteldorfer Straus, Inc. of New York City, which has caused some confusion to collectors.  Though sometimes difficult to distinguish the "PV" plates from Vernon Kilns on the surface, Vernon's are backstamped "French Reproductions by Vernon Kilns, U.S.A."

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What information is available about the number, colors, shapes, and years of production of Vernon Kilns commemorative plates and ashtrays? 

No factory production records have been found regarding the number, colors, shapes, and years of production of specific Vernon Kilns commemorative plates and ashtrays.   Thus, by virtue of knowing which commemoratives collectors now have, we know which items were produced, but not necessarily when, or in what quantities, or in which colors.

Most Vernon Kilns commemorative plates and ashtrays are listed, and in many cases, pictured, in Maxine Nelson's "Collectible Vernon Kilns".  

That book also includes a list of Vernon Kilns commemorative plates and the retailers from whom they could be purchased which was sent from Vernon Kilns in 1943 to a collector, on pages 108-116.  This list documents, at least, the plates which were available from dealers at that moment in time.

- by Tim Colling

Vernon Kilns' first commemorative plate "The Arkansaw Traveler" came out in 1936. Commemorative plates were first done with blue, maroon (mulberry) and brown transfers. They are occasionally seen in green. Later hand painted multi-colored plates were produced, usually with a light brown transfer base. Vernon Kilns was producing the commemorative plates at the time of the sale to Metlox, however I do not believe that Metlox ever produced any of the commemorative plates. 

The most common blank used was the Ultra shape (various edges - down-turned, flatter, upturned), next the Melinda shape (raised rope or flower edge) and less common the Montecito shape. Many plates were available with standard transfers (states, cities) others were special orders. Most were 10 1/2 inches, but there are some done on 14 inch chargers, especially on the Ultra blank. Seen less frequently are 4 1/2 inch mini plates executed on the Montecito blank. Backstamps ranged from the simply "by Vernon Kilns USA" to almost artwork in themselves showing state seals and logos of the company or organization that ordered or commissioned the plate. Besides states, cities, colleges and historical or geographical sites, organizations could commission a plate for conventions, club gatherings, etc. Several plates were produced to commemorate World War II. Some of the most collective commemorative plates are true cross collectibles - Aircraft, Railroad and Armed Forces. 

Besides the plates ashtrays were available in the same colors, generally with smaller versions of the same transfer available on the plates.  A lot of this information was taken from Maxine Nelson's "Collectible Vernon Kilns" which is now out of print but available occasionally from dealers or private individuals.   Maxine's book also has an extensive listing of known commemorative plates as well as the company where the plate would have been available for sale. 

- by Joe Tonn

Just a quick clarification on the blanks used for VERNON KILNS commemorative plates: The Ultra shape has the distinctly dipped edge, and many plates are found on this blank. However, in my experience, the "standard" blank is most common. This is based on the Montecito blank but does not have the ridges. Another variation is the "flat" rim, which seems to be less common. Then there is the Melinda blank, which has the leaf edge and no transfer pattern on the border.

These designations were used in a list compiled by a collector some years ago. I think I still have some Vernon Views newsletters from about 1988-90 that discuss the souvenir plates, their blanks and colors. 

- by Cadia Los

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Which missions were depicted on the California Missions commemorative plates?

According to "Collectible Vernon Kilns" by Maxine Nelson, published 1994:    

"This group has 16, 8.5" inch plates picturing 16 different missions plus one 14" chop plate.  The northern California mission plates listed in the right column below are harder to find according to collectors."

  • San Fernando Rey
  • San Juan Capistrano
  • San Gabriel Archangel
  • Santa Barbara
  • San Diego de Alcala* 
  • La Purisima Concepcion
  • San Buenaventura
  • San Luis Obisbo de Tolosa
  • San Francisco Solano
  • Carmel, San Carlos Borromeo
  • Santa Clara
  • San Rafael Archangel
  • Santa Cruz
  • San Jose de  Guadalupe
  • Dolores
  • San Juan Bautista

* This scene is depicted on both the 8.5" plate and the 14" chop plate

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Did Vernon Kilns manufacture the dinnerware bearing the name "SunsetPottery"?

According to "Collectible Vernon Kilns" by Maxine Nelson, published 1994, p. 219:    

"A 5 1/2" fruit dish identical to the San Marino shape haas been reported, backstamped "SUNSET POTTERY, MADE IN CALIFORNIA, U.S.A." and picturing the sun on the horizon.  It could possibly be a Vernon Kilns product under another name."

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What's the difference between the pattern called "Brown-Eyed Susan" and the pattern called "838"?

Most of the Brown Eyed Susan ("BES") dinnerware was made by Vernon Kilns on their "Montecito" shape.  Click here to see a photo of some BES salad plates on the Montecito shape.

However, Vernon also made a much smaller quantity of dinnerware with the same pattern as BES on its "Ultra" shape. These Ultra-shape BES pieces are backstamped with the number "838" instead of the pattern name "Brown-Eyed Susan", but the floral pattern is the same. Unfortunately, we don't have any photos of these plates handy, but you can click here to see a photo of some other plates done on the Ultra shape, in plain white. 

As you can see, the shape of the plates is slightly different from the shape of the plates shown in the first photo; the rim is different and also the Montecito shaped pieces have some rings inside the front of the plate which the Ultra shape doesn't have.

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Thanks for looking!  If you have suggestions or additions or corrections, please email Tim with the information at tim@colling.com, or write to:

Tim Colling
PO Box 110605
Campbell, CA 95011-0605

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 Date last updated: 03/04/03

 

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