Plates-A-Plenty: Rayburn Family Dinnerware

By Margo McCutcheon, Educator, Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site

Some people have china cabinets that they use to display their fine china or other dinnerware. Maybe they collect the china they display, or perhaps the china was a family heirloom. Whatever the reason may be, that single china cabinet might be all a person needs to show off the things that they love.

Sam “Mr. Sam” Rayburn’s family in Bonham also had a china cabinet to display several of their dishes…and four hutches to display and hold the other dishes that didn’t fit in the china cabinet. Visitors to the Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site can’t miss the amount of china and other dinnerware that the Rayburn family owned. But they could miss certain pieces that we have stored behind the cabinets that stay closed.

Visitors can see a few plates and teacups that are difficult or impossible to find on a regular tour, proudly displayed in our Visitor Center until the end of August. These artifacts on display actually have some things in common that we only discovered once we began researching them, so read on to see if you can spot the connections yourself.

“Dinnerware” is a broad term for just about anything you place on a table to use to serve food. The word “china” with a lower-case “C” refers to a specific type of dinnerware that is also called “porcelain.” What word you hear depends on where you are in the world. Porcelain objects produced in China and distributed around the world fused the word “china” with delicate, often-white objects used for eating or decoration. Most of the dinnerware the Rayburns used is ceramic, which is a catch-all term for anything made from baked clay, and porcelain is a type of ceramic.

What could possibly be our oldest piece of china on display is a small, delicate salt dish crafted by O&E.G. Royal of Austria in 1918 or earlier. The “O&E.G.” stands for brothers Oscar and Edgar Gutherz. The Gutherz brothers manufactured their pottery in the Karlovy Vary region of what was once Austria-Hungary (now Czechia/the Czech Republic). This hand-painted dish features a floral pattern, which was typical of the O&E.G. brand.

All O&E.G. china was created from 1889–1918, which we know because the Österreichische Porzellan Industrie AG bought O&E.G. in 1918. Neighboring Czechia to the west is the German state of Bavaria, where another of our pieces was made. Fritz Thomas opened his porcelain factory in 1903 with business partner Ens in the town of Marktredwitz in Bavaria. Once Ens left the company in 1907, Rosenthal AG essentially bought the company, though its name remained Porzellanfabrik Thomas from 1908–1960.

Based on the backstamp, this white plate with a repetitive golden symbol all around the front was likely produced between 1908–1939. In contrast with the other overtly floral plates in our collection, this plate appears to have more of an abstract version of a flower, or perhaps some other design.

A Solian Ware cake plate made in the early 1900s brings us to a distinctive area of England. Soho Pottery Co., Ltd. in Cobridge, England, made earthenware pottery and functioned from 1910–1944. Operated by members of the Simpson family, the owners changed the name from Soho Pottery Co., Ltd. to Simpsons (Potters) Ltd. in 1944. Soho’s original location in Tunstall and later Cobridge are both part of the city of Stoke-on-Trent in England, a famous hub of pottery makers in the nation. The Solian Ware line existed at least in 1909, and likely earned a maker’s mark by 1913.

The marking on the Rayburn plate was used until about 1930. In 1913, an article in The Pottery Gazette reported that the Solian Ware “has made its way into the very best houses, probably by reason of the extreme whiteness of its body and the brightness and up-to-dateness of its designs.” Our white plate decorated with drawings of flowers and fruits in colors of gold, pink, green, blue, red, and purple certainly displays a bright, vivid image.

Crossing the Atlantic Ocean, we have two plates from Vernon Kilns commemorating the existence of two American cities. Luckily for us, Vernon Kilns was not shy about putting its name and some information about the plate on the back of its productions. Willie Reed Rowe designed a commemorative plate to celebrate 200 years of Goliad, Texas (1749–1949). Cattle brands on the edge of the plate encircle images of Goliad: Presidio la Bahía, Espiritu Santo Church, Rosario Mission Ruins, the flag of Goliad, and the buildings of Goliad State Park including the Fannin Monument, Custodian’s Lodge, the Parks Memorial Building, and the main building. Every building pictured on this plate is now a part of the Goliad State Park and Historic Site, El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail, or the Texas Historical Commission.

The more colorful plate for the Topeka, Kansas, centennial celebration (1854–1954) features brown and yellow leaves and flowers encircling vivid depictions of Topeka’s culture: Kansas Avenue in 1888, the first home built in Topeka, the State Capitol building, the city from above in 1954, a combine harvester going over a wheat field, and the Cyrus K. Holliday memorial (he founded the city of Topeka). Jo Cunningham wrote about Vernon Kilns in her 1995 book The Best of Collectible Dinnerware. George Poxon bought a tile plant in Vernon, California, that he eventually remade into a pottery factory named Poxon China, which later became Vernon Potteries, LTD. before Faye G. Bennison bought the plant in 1931 and renamed the company Vernon Kilns. In 1958, Metlox Manufacturing Company operated under the Vernon Kilns name and changed its production line to Vernonware.

From California we travel to Ohio, where two pottery manufacturers operated within an hour’s drive of one another. We feature a plate, saucer, and teacup from Homer Laughlin China Company’s Virginia Rose “Fluffy Rose” line in our display case. Brothers Homer and Shakespeare Laughlin began selling pottery in East Liverpool, Ohio, in 1871. When Shakespeare left the business in 1877, it became Homer Laughlin China Works, then the Homer Laughlin China Company, and eventually turned into The Fiesta Tableware Company in 2020 according to the company website.

Frederick Hurten Rhead designed the Virgina Rose plate shape during his time as design director from 1927–1942. Rhead, the son of potters from the famous pottery city of Stoke-on-Trent in England, also created the Fiesta dinnerware line in 1936. The Virginia Rose stamped on the back of this plate refers to the shape of the plate, not the pattern on the plate, and was named after a company manager’s granddaughter. In production from 1929–1970s, author Joanne Jasper considered this plate shape one of the most popular kind produced by the Homer Laughlin China Company. According to Jasper, the Virginia Rose pattern features an embossed rose shape along the rims of every piece of dinnerware. Plates have six roses, serving dishes have four, and even cups feature embossed roses just below the rim along the outside (though these are difficult to see).

The website has a lot of information about the Virginia Rose and the Homer Laughlin China Company. From this website, we were able to determine how to know the month, year, and plant number for the types of Virgina Rose plates that the Rayburns owned. For instance, our plate has “L 53 N 8” stamped on the back. The first letter indicates the month (during the 1930s and 1940s, the company stopped using the letter “I”); the second number is the last two digits of the year it was made; the “N” indicates the pottery was made at the Newell, West Virginia, facility that the company expanded to in the early 1900s; and the “8” refers to the pottery plant the dinnerware was made in. So, this piece of china was made in November 1953 at the Number 8 plant in Newell. This plate pattern is the “Fluffy Rose,” in production from the 1930s–1970s and one of the most familiar patterns of the Virginia Rose.

The other set of china hailing from Ohio was manufactured in the town of Salem. According to the Smithsonian Institution, East Liverpool, Ohio, natives Pat and John McNichol, Dan Cronin, and William Smith founded the Salem China Company in 1898. They sold the company to F.A. Sebring in 1918. The company created and distributed china from 1898–1960, when it became a distributor only.

This china set was probably made in the late 1950s, possibly 1956 or 1957, based on the backstamp image of this plate and one additional piece of this china in the house dated to 1957 based on its backstamp. The wheat pattern on this china is called “Joci” or “Royal Joci.” Our version of this china is very special, as some pieces say, “Made Especially For The Honorable Sam Rayburn,” on the back. If you peek in our exhibit case and wonder why we have a bread plate and teacup displayed instead of a teacup and saucer, it’s because the bread plate has this message on it unlike the saucer.

The one unmarked piece in our displayed collection was difficult to trace. Based on its shape, we determined that it was some sort of celery, relish, or asparagus dish. However, we didn’t have much else to go on without any maker’s markings. Our volunteer, Susan, helped my research along when she discovered very similar plates using the keyword “Victorian.” The term “Victorian” refers to an era defined by the reign of Queen Victoria of the British Empire from 1837–1901. But again, without anything on our plate to indicate a date or manufacturer, the usage of the term “Victorian” to describe this plate may not be accurate even though some people online are using the term to describe plates almost exactly the same as the one on display.

Members of the Rayburn family collected these pieces of china from areas of Europe and America known for their ceramic production. An eye for beauty and floral patterns brought together one of the most popular pieces of dinnerware in America and a small dish made over 100 years ago in a country that no longer exists. These are but a few of the connections between the items we have on display, and perhaps you’ll find more when you come to the Sam Rayburn House and see them for yourself.

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