This is a
compilation of general thoughts and specific ideas based on my experience that will make
collecting a little smoother and more enjoyable for you. - Harvey Duke
1. If you collect a particular dinnerware pattern, don't pass up a
set, complete or incomplete. Some beginning collectors want a challenge, want to put a set
together piece by piece, so they pass up a bunch of pieces or maybe buy an item or two if
they can. I believe this is a mistake as most dinnerware (other than popular lines such as
Fiesta, Luray, Russell Wright) is difficult to assemble in a set, and you should buy
everything you see.
2. Buy expensive pieces first. It is very common to see new
collectors buying the inexpensive, common items for a collection and passing up the rarer,
more costly pieces. I understand that this can be a matter of economics, but wherever
possible, buy the better piece as soon as you can. For one thing, you might not the see it
again so fast. And more important, the price might go up more dramatically than for the
common pieces. [Top]
In the Field
1. Measure your finger span so that you can measure a piece
"in the field" if you don't have a ruler or measuring tape handy. It is 9 inches
from the tip of my thumb to the tip of my little finger when my hand is fully extended.
This knowledge has come in very (pardon the pun) handy when I wanted a rough measurement
and didn't have a ruler with me.
2. When checking for damage, your fingers can be more discerning
than your eyes. Run your fingers around rims, bases, spouts, and lids -- in other words,
any edges and even over the surface. You might feel some chips or roughness that your eyes
3. Beware marriages: mismatched tops and bottoms. Sometimes
they're immediately apparent; other times they're not. It is not always possible to tell a
marriage just from the shape, especially if you are not familiar with the piece. If you're
buying via mail order, you can return it; if you buy a marriage at a flea market and
discover it when you get home, you're out of luck.
The decoration can provide useful clues. In solid-color pieces,
the colors must match of course. Yes, colors can vary slightly from batch to batch, but
lids and bottoms are usually glazed and fired at the same time, so batch differences
should not apply here. (To complicate things a little, don't forget that sometimes lids
and bottoms have deliberately contrasting colors.)
In pieces decorated with decals and lines, remember that a lid
might not have a piece of decal, especially small pieces such as sugars and AD pots.
However, lids and bottoms always had the same lining. If a bottom has, say, a gold line
and the lid a silver line or no line, or if the lid has a blue line and the bottom a black
line, or whatever, then it is a marriage.
A related tip: in the 1940s we begin to see pairs of dinnerware
shakers where one is tall and one is short. You need to know if the shakers in your set
were made that way or if, as on rare occasion, a set was made with two sets of shakers,
one tall and one short (Salem's Victory shape is an example of this).
And don't forget to count the holes in your shakers. There are no
rules about how many holes a salt or pepper should have, but if your pair of shakers each
has the same number of holes, you have two salts or two peppers.
4. A word about center-handled serving pieces, either one-, two-,
or three-tier. You will find that the holes in the plates, through which the handles and
stems are inserted, have been either molded or drilled.
If they have been molded (identifiable by the smooth, glazed edges
around the hole), this was done deliberately at the pottery, with the intention of
producing a center-handled serving piece. Chances are these were assembled at the pottery,
though this work might have been farmed out.
If the hole has been drilled (identifiable by rough edges and
minor chipping around the hole), this was probably done out of the pottery, by a firm with
or without permission to do so. Though these are nice pieces to have, it is important to
know that they were not intended to be part of the original line. [Top]
Be careful buying an item that has the price in marker or ink
right on the piece. If the piece is crazed (and sometimes it is not easy to see the
crazing), the ink can ]each into the body and will be difficult if not impossible to
remove. And if you pass up such an item, you might tell the dealer why. A little education
can't hurt. [Top]
Here are some basic rules for cleaning pottery. People will tell
you they've done otherwise successfully, and I'm sure they have, but I can't cover every
,~ituation, so these are general rules to save you grief.
1. Clean pottery with liquid soap and a soft sponge. Do not put
them in the dishwasher. You can help the cleaning process with a liquid cleaner such as
Fantastik, as well as a soft brush for comers and crevices. In general, do not use steel
wool or other abrasive pads, and do not use abrasive powders. Even if your piece is
protected by a clear glaze, remember that, while glazes are durable, they are not
impervious. Decals, which are usually overglaze, are vulnerable, and gold or silver trim
will very quickly wear off-as I have discovered to my chagrin.
2. If you buy an item that is crazed and has brown staining around
the craze marks, or some marker residue, you might try soaking it in a solution of baking
soda and water, either overnight or for a few days. I have tried this, and it seems
promising, but I have not done it enough to make any specific recommendations. I have also
heard that soaking in a bleach and water solution can help. When trying anything for the
first time, test the process with a disposable piece of pottery.
3. Some labels will wash off easily in warm water. Other labels,
and especially the residue of the gum on the back of labels, can be difficult to remove.
The same applies to Scotch tape and masking tape, especially if it is old and dry. This is
easy to remedy. First, take a small sharp knife or one-sided razor, and scrape off as much
of the label or tape as you can. Next apply some solvent with a rag or paper towel to the
residue; rub firmly and reapply as needed. Some residue will come right off-, some will
need a little work. With some of these products, make sure you are in a well-ventilated
The solvent I prefer is nail-polish remover. Others I have seen
mentioned are lighter fluid and cooking oil (which will then require soap and water, an
extra step). [Top]
1. 1 don't think I am exaggerating when I say that we have all
heard of those instances where a dealer has sent out a perfect piece of pottery, only to
be called by the buyer and told that it was "as is" in some way, asking for a
refund. When it is returned, it is indeed "as is," and it is also not the piece
the dealer sent out originally.
To remedy this, some dealers note that their label must be intact
if a piece is returned. I like that idea but would be concerned about unscrupulous people
playing around with the label. A better idea is a rubber stamp with the dealer's name and
address (or whatever). Using a regular ink pad, stamp this on all items shipped, lids as
well as bottoms in the case of covered pieces. Let buyers know that the stamp must be
intact on returned items. The idea is basically tamper-proof, and the ink rubs off easily
if the buyer keeps the piece.
2. A lady wrote me from the Midwest saying that she had had her
mother's Autumn Leaf shipped to her from California and was now looking for a way to sell
it. Though there were some nice serving pieces, most of the flatware was chipped. What
saddened me was the fact that she had paid $175 to a professional packer/shipper in
California. She was willing to ship it on to a buyer, and I had to tell her that most
dealers don't want chipped pieces, but more important, they certainly don't want to pay
shipping costs for them. Even if she could sell the flatware locally, she had already paid
too much just to have it shipped to her. Please don't fall into this trap. [Top]
1. 1 think bubble wrap should be reusable, which is why I find it
a nuisance to struggle with exhuming something in bubble wrap that has been encircled
several times with thick tape. My solution to this, and I have been putting this request
in with my orders, is to put a few rubber bands around the bubble wrap rather than tape.
They hold just as well, make unpacking quick and easy, and the wrap is available for
2. 1 dislike Styrofoam peanuts, so here's a new idea: wood
shavings. They come from scrap wood of trees that had been cut for other purposes and
would be a fine addition to a mulch pile if not an inoffensive addition to a landfill. I
don't know how easy it is to get these shavings, though I believe they have begun to
appear in packing material catalogs. Over all, I still prefer wadded newspaper.
Finally, if you talk to some collectors, every dealer is bad news.
And if you talk to some dealers, every collector is a pain in the neck. These are
stereotypes. A good dealer-collector relationship adds an important dimension to both
areas. For dealers, yes, it enhances business, but there is satisfaction in educating
collectors and helping people build collections. Many dealers feel good knowing they are
guiding a beginner down the right path or have added to an important collection.
And for collectors, an experienced dealer can provide access to
pieces they might not otherwise have gotten and information that is not in any book.
Knowledgeable collectors and dealers help educate each other. And learning is an important
part of collecting. [Top]
For more tips on packing dinnerware for shipping, please
review the United
Parcel Service Guidelines for packing and United States Postal