Know Before You Bid: Fiestaware And Strawser’s Fiesta Auction

James Ardis
Published on
Fiestaware available in Strawser’s upcoming Fiesta Auction. Photo by Strawser Auction Group.

Collectors have strong feelings about Fiestaware. “It’s the Madonna of dinnerware,” one style magazine wrote. At least one fan even painted their kitchen cobalt blue to match their dining set. Three times a year, those passionate about this Art Deco dinnerware line flock to Wolcottville, Indiana, where Strawser hosts its Fiesta auctions. Their next event begins on Friday, March 20th. 

What Is Fiestaware?

Brightly-colored Fiestaware pieces first entered American households during the Great Depression. Payment plans allowed struggling families to pitch in fifty cents or a dollar a week towards their new dining sets. During World War II, the company ended production of its red glaze pieces, because the government needed the uranium necessary to make them for the war effort. But eventually, Fiestaware found an era that it couldn’t adjust to. The 1950s and 60s saw a dwindling interest in Art Deco pieces, and Fiesta was temporarily discontinued by the Homer Laughlin China Company in 1972.

Strawser Auction Group brings thousands of these vintage Fiestaware pieces to the auction block each year, with events in March, June, and November. They are now nostalgic reminders of childhood for Baby Boomers and of interest to Art Deco collectors of all ages. Strawser has hosted Fiestaware-related events for over twenty years. On their website, they highlight some of the noteworthy pieces they’ve sold. This includes a George Washington yellow pitcher, which went to a bidder for $1,150. In 2016, the auction house set a record for Fiesta onion soup bowls. A red-striped ivory soup bowl sold for $12,075 as part of a Strawser event that grossed $182,000.

A “Post-86” Fiesta piece available in the upcoming Fiesta Auction. Photo by Strawser Auction Group.

Which Fiestaware Pieces Are Available in This Sale?

This year’s event kicks off with “Post-86” Fiesta, which is the collectors’ term for pieces made after the Homer Laughlin China Company relaunched the Fiesta brand in 1986. Highlights include a lemongrass-colored cookie jar in the shape of a dancing woman and a baseball-themed marmalade container. But the first day also includes some pre-1986 pieces as well, like a Fiesta Harlequin relish tray. The Harlequin dish line was most popular in the 1940s and became the company’s best selling line.

Meanwhile, on day two, hundreds of vintage Fiesta pieces will be on offer. Two candle holders with a rose ebony glaze are among the featured pieces. This glaze was only used in the 1930s when Fiesta first entered the market. Also available is a Fiesta shell plate made specifically for Procter & Gamble in the late ‘30s. And if Fiesta collectors don’t recognize this syrup pitcher crossing the auction block, it’s for good reason: it’s the only one known to exist.

Fiesta shell plate available on day two of the Fiesta Auction. Photo by Strawser Auction Group. 

Fiestaware once again finds itself in harmony with the times. Not only are they boosted by nostalgia but also by younger generations gravitating towards more affordable dishware. “[N]ot many young people trot out their bone china when entertaining friends,” writes the New York Times. “Fiestaware epitomizes the concept of ‘everyday china.'” Those who were wondering “what is Fiestaware?” when they began reading this article may be surprised to learn that Fiestaware is the most collected china in America and the #1 dinnerware on American bridal registries.

Those interested in Strawser’s upcoming two-day Fiesta Auction can bid in person at 106 E. Dutch Street, Dry Dock Storage/Strawser Auctions, Wolcottville, Indiana. Meanwhile, online bidders can register on LiveAuctioneers (Day 1 and Day 2).

UPDATE MARCH, 2021: Lockdowns began around the United States in March of last year, making hosting and organizing auctions difficult. Luckily, thanks in part to online bidding platforms, Strawser Auction Group was still able to offer these Fiestaware pieces. While the tumultuous time could have weakened bidding, most of the highlighted lots met or exceeded their high estimates. One outlier was the rose ebony candle holders, which achieved $20,000 against a $6,000-$9,000 estimate. The only lot featured in this article that did not reach at least its low estimate was the one-of-a-kind Fiesta syrup pitcher, selling for $1,600 despite a low estimate of $2,000.  

The auction house’s latest Fiestaware sale was earlier this month, March 20th, 2021. It enjoyed similar success to the previous year’s event, and the top-selling lot was a bud vase, which achieved $5,000, over five times its high estimate. Also exponentially surpassing its estimate was a “Post-86” set of three plates and a saucer. Expected to cross the auction block for $40-$60, the plates actually sold for $750.

Enjoy learning what Fiestaware is and want to explore other niche auction categories? Auction Daily recently looked at the market for fine Teddy bears.

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