Passionate Geeks is a monthly feature (the second Monday of the month), where I invite people to explore and share about those things that they are passionate about.
What kind of a Geek are you?
Today’s Passionate Geek is Diana from Part Time Monster!
Diana is a nerd, a bookworm, a feminist, and a social media junkie. She is a freelance writer and researcher and the administrator of the blog Part Time Monster. You can follow her on Twitter @parttimemonster or find her on Facebook at facebook.com/parttimemonster. She lives in New Orleans with her son, her husband, and one very energetic terrier.
I should tell you now—I can’t cook more than the most rudimentary of dishes, but I own more chinaware than pairs of shoes. It’s probably true that books are the only thing I own more of than dishes, actually. I’ve been collecting vintage Fiestaware for about 10 years now, and I’ve been collecting Iris and Herringbone dishes for far longer than that, probably more like 20 years.
Of course, that timeline means that I’ve been collecting depression glass since I was about 10 or 11. That seems right, as my collection started on a day of what my mom called “antiquing” with my aunts–going to a town within a few hours’ drive that had several antique stores and flea markets and spending the day combing through their wares. I’d often go on these day trips with my mom and one or two of her sisters, perhaps one of my cousins. And those antique shops were some of my most fertile learning grounds, places where objects prompted questions that led to conversations and looking things up in reference books at home.
At home, my mom had a few pieces of depression glass, and we always looked at it when we were in the antique stores. Depression glass, I would learn, was inexpensive glassware produced between the late 1920s and the 1940s by several U.S. manufacturers; the glass was produced in a variety of patterns and color, and though it was low-quality, it was inexpensive and often used in giveaways.
One of the reference books that my mom had was a book about depression glass, and I loved looking at that book with its bright red cover and glossy photos of such beautiful glass. I learned from that book, too—I learned how to use it to look up glass patterns and find out what years they were made, what company made them, how to know if a piece was a reproduction, and the approximate value of the pieces (though by then the book was a bit out-of-date—the prices are probably hugely different now, as the glass is even more collectible).
The glass I loved the most was Iris and Herringbone, the crystal sort. My mom had a piece or two at home, a pitcher and a candlestick, perhaps a bowl. It was so pristine, so elegant. I imagined grown-up lives for myself in which I had enough of the glass to eat from On Special Occasions. I learned that it was produced by Jeanette Glass Company starting in 1928, and that the crystal color was the first introduced. I learned which pieces had been reproduced and how to know if I was looking at the reproduction or depression glass.
I was delighted when, one afternoon, my grandmother handed me four berry bowls that she’d had in her china cabinet for years. And I was also happy when my mom bought me a few pieces of the glass here and there. It made me feel grown up, and I imagined those dinners I’d eventually have.
When I was finally ready to move into my own apartment, though, I was nowhere near needing–or being able to afford–that set of Iris and Herringbone. And besides, those were just for special occasions. I needed an everyday dish, didn’t I? Even if I left home with no clue how to cook more than what came from the freezer case with instructions on the box, I still needed to eat that on something.
I’d long-abandoned the pretense that I would be having Special Occasion Dinners on a regular basis, losing much of my desire for formality and elegance and growing into a desire for comfort and Occasional Elegance. And I’d had my eye on Fiestaware for a while.
Fiestaware was launched by Homer Laughlin Company in 1936, and it was different than most every other mass-produced dinnerware in the U.S.—the shapes of the pieces were clearly influenced by art deco, and the dinnerware was solid-colored and un-patterned. And it came in bright, gorgeous colors, sold as separate pieces instead of sets, so dishes were more affordable and could be mixed and matched.
The company stopped making Fiestaware for a while in the mid-1970s to early 1980s due to waning popularity, but they relaunched the line in 1986 with new colors and updated shapes. And when I was ready to move into my first apartment in 2004, my mom helped me buy a set of new Fiestaware in a variety of colors. And over the years, she’s given me a vintage teapot and a few other pieces to add to my collection, including a set of beautiful Christmas dishes that we use each year.
I still have those first pieces she bought for me. Those dishes have lived in every place I’ve lived after moving out, and they still make me happy when I open the cabinet. It’s nice to be greeted by an array of colors. I’ve also added a few pitchers and serving pieces and another vintage teapot to my collection.
I’m still learning about which colors were produced when, because there are so very many; and that’s part of the joy of the pieces, too. Always more to learn from them.
And I haven’t given up on the Iris and Herrigbone dishes, the Special Occasions. They are living at my parents’ house right now, where they’re more securely stored than they would be here, but I have collected quite a few of them. And even though I know that I have more dishes than I need, I still stop and look every time I see the depression glass or Fiestaware in an antique store or flea market or second-hand store. I think I always will.