Peggy Whiteneck, Freelance Writer

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East Randolph, Vermont 05041

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Who Would Have Thought Dark Brown Dinnerware Could Be So Appealing?

Dark brown dinnerware? Doesn't sound particularly appetizing, does it? But seeing is believing, and, in the 1960s through the 1980s, a number of American Pottery companies were producing a shiny-glaze, dark brown dinnerware with an ivory foam trim to meet what proved to be a raging consumer demand. This pottery has continued to be popular with collectors. The glaze is deep, rich, and flashy.

At right, one of several chicken-covered casseroles produced in the Hull Mirror Brown line. This one is finely modeled, from the feathering in the hen to the weaving in the nest. Note the chick peeking out from under the hen's wing! I've seen this item bargain- priced at $25, but it "books" at $50-$75, and, at a recent Vermont flea market, I sold an extra one I had for $35 - within an hour of opening. [Photo by the author, from her own collection.]

Companies that made this brown drip/brown foam pottery included, among others, Hull, McCoy, Harker, and Terrace (the latter a brown-drip "Maizeware" made from Shawnee cornware molds after Shawnee closed). Pfaltzgraff also made a version of brown drip dinnerware, but the glaze is so dark as to be almost black; consequently, while the other companies mentioned produced items that can easily be mixed and matched, Pfaltzgraff isn't visually compatible with the rest.

The market demand was strong enough to inspire Asian copies. Although these items look, on their face, to be identical to those of American companies, American potteries all marked their wares, usually with a company name but sometimes just with the letters USA. The unglazed "dry ring" under all the items produced by American companies shows a white to ivory-colored pottery as the base material. The Asian copies are typically unmarked and the dry ring shows a reddish, terra-cotta clay.

Today, brown-drip pottery remains a relatively affordable collecting passion. Items such as plates and mugs can be purchased for as little as $3-$5 each. The expensive items in these lines are the figural planters and animal covered dishes, especially those made by Hull. These can go as high as $75-$100 or more.

Hull made innumerable "Corky" pig banks in various colors and poses, including several in Mirror Brown. In addition to this "sitting Corky," there is a standing model (made in two sizes) with a red cork nose that has a pull ring. Note the turquoise accents on the model at left; the pigs were made with various accent colors in the foam including blue, turquoise, pink, and yellow as well as the regular ivory. Depending on size and pose, value on these brown Corkies ranges from about $65 to well over $100. (Rare base colors may go even higher.) [Photo by the author, from her own collection.]

For kitchenware items, the "foam" lines - which, by the way, Hull also made in other colors such as tangerine, turquoise, avocado, sand, gray, and green agate - were designed to be oven-safe and to be durable enough for outdoor/backyard use. To emphasize this versatility, Hull called its entire line of foam drip wares "House 'n Garden" and its flagship dinnerware color "Mirror Brown."

Despite its built-in versatility, the dinnerware does have some practical drawbacks. The pottery is heavy, making it difficult for older people and children to manage. The lids on Hull's covered items usually have very stubby handle-knobs that are difficult to grasp. The teapot in the Hull line is cute, but a design flaw left its spout too short to pour cleanly. (Because it is so compatible with the same colors produced in the McCoy line, I normally use the McCoy Brown Drip teapot instead.) Finally, the casserole lids don't always fit snugly and sometimes rock a bit on their bases - especially the animal covered casseroles.

On the other hand, the best pies I've ever made have been those I bake in my Hull Mirror Brown pie plates - must be something in the heat-conductivity of pottery. And the Hull Mirror Brown cookie jar is unbeatable for keeping items fresh. I recently "rediscovered" a handful of cookies I'd thrown into the jar some weeks before, then forgotten. When I finally found them again, I was pleased and astonished to find them as fresh and crunchy as the day I'd put them in there!

- © Peggy Whiteneck

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