Collecting Vintage Blue Ridge Pottery Dishes Made in Appalachia
These Vintage Dishes are a Very Desirable Collectible
Nostalgia and charm are two reasons collectors scour flea markets and yard sales for pieces of folk art known as Blue Ridge pottery. The plates and dishes made from the 1930's to 1950's by Blue Ridge Southern Potteries in southern Appalachia, feature bright colors and whimsical designs. Manufactured during the dreary days of the Great Depression and World War II, they quickly became popular with homemakers as a way to bring a little cheerfulness into their homes. They are a very desirable collectible today and are in high demand.
History of Blue Ridge Pottery Dishes
Blue Ridge Southern Pottery began making their popular line of Blue Ridge dishes in 1938 in Erwin, Tennessee, an economically depressed area of Appalachia. Most dishes during that time period were made with dull, lifeless decals for decoration. The use of a method of hand painting the dishes before the final glaze was fired, resulted in vibrant colors which made the designs come alive. Women were recruited from "up in the hills" who had no artistic training to learn the basic folk painting strokes used in creating these works of art. Using broken pieces of china for practicing, they soon acquired the speed and skill needed to produce the pieces. The technique gave the dishes a happy and less formal appearance that was very endearing to customers.
Working in a group of 4 to 6 women, one person would paint stems, another would add the leaves, while others were adding petals and additional details. The patterns and jobs were changed frequently to prevent the work from becoming too monotonous for the painters.
Sales of the dishes flourished during the 1940's especially during the years of WWII when imports were restricted. Much needed jobs were created by the plant as they employed as many as 500 painters who were earning an average pay rate of 13 1/2 cents an hour. They were turning out an amazing 324,000 pieces each week.
At that time, Blue Ridge Southern Pottery was the largest hand painted china producer in the United States. They had 11 showrooms throughout the country including one on New York's Fifth Avenue. The dishes became a popular premium item offered by companies such as Quaker Oats and Avon. Stanley Home Products had their own Blue Ridge Pottery pattern called "Stanhome" which was offered as an incentive to purchasers of their home products. Major catalog retailers such as Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward carried the Blue Ridge dishes in their mail order selections. Grocery store chains offered them as a reward program gift to their faithful customers.
After the war, trade with Japan was reopened and imports came flooding in to the US. Most American potteries could not compete with the lower priced imports and the increased labor costs associated with production. Another astonishing factor which led to decreased demand was the introduction during the 1950's of "unbreakable" plastic dishes. Sadly, Blue Ridge Southern Pottery closed its doors in 1957 and discontinued production of the beautiful and loved dishes. Fortunately, they were able to pay their debts and stockholders and avoided filing bankruptcy.
I use this reference book often to identify confusing patterns.
Appealing but Sometimes Confusing to Antique Dish Collectors
Collecting these beautiful and colorful antique dishes is appealing to collectors, however, sometimes the hunt can be confusing. It is believed that there are between 4,000 and 5,000 different dish patterns. However, most of the design records have been lost or destroyed over the years. Add to that the fact that Southern Potteries didn't name the patterns because they operated basically on a numbering system. Most of the patterns were named by the collectors. Therefore, you might have a description in a reference guide which refers to a dish pattern by one name and then find the same design in another source listed with a different name.
Surprisingly, the fact that the vintage dishes were painted by hand added to the confusion. Painters sometimes added a flower, eliminated a piece of fruit, painted on extra leaves or made other alterations either by accident or intentionally. No two pieces were ever 100% alike. Collectors admit this sometimes prevents them from identifying a particular pattern but it is all part of the charm of Blue Ridge pottery compared to other dishes.
My favorite pattern is known as "Mirror Image" and is shown above. When I set the table with my collection, I can't help but wonder about the hands that painted the beautiful red flowers. These ladies from the hills of Appalachia spent their days visiting with each other while they busily painted dishes that would become a part of history. If I listen closely I can hear the clatter of the dishes and the laughter of the folk artists.
Collectors Club Sponsors Annual Event
The Erwin National Blue Ridge Pottery Club is headquartered in Erwin, Tennessee. They sponsor an annual show each October for collectors to buy, sell or get appraisals for their Blue Ridge pieces.
The Blue Ridge Collectors Club hosts a show and sale the same weekend, also in Erwin. There are opportunities for you to win door prizes and purchase Blue Ridge at bargain prices. There are many beautiful displays which feature a variety of patterns.
2018 Blue Ridge Pottery Show
The Blue Ridge Pottery shows for 2018 in Erwin, Tennessee are scheduled for October 4th, 5th and 6th.
Brochure for 2018 Show and Sale
Display at Blue Ridge Collectors Club Show and Sale
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Which is Your Favorite Blue Ridge Pottery Pattern?
If you are a collector of these beautiful dishes, please share with us in the comment section below which is your favorite pattern?
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Thelma Raker Coffone