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Article: Hall China - A Personal Collection, Then and Now

by Allen Kleinbeck


It all began in a thrift shop north of downtown San Bernardino, California.  There on a shelf was a Hall Autumn Leaf French Flute baker.  It was immediately appealing and of course, I bought it.  It appeared to be artistically designed, beautifully decorated, nicely made, and useful as well.  Of course it turned out to be all of those things, the very qualities that make Hall China products desirable to this day.  In any event, that was the beginning of my collection and it eventually took off from there.


The Hall China Company of East Liverpool, Ohio, was established in 1903.  Initially the company concentrated on institutional wares—toilet seats, spittoons, jugs, and some dinnerware.  By 1911 Robert T. Hall and his associates had developed a single-fire process whereby the glaze actually penetrated the body of each piece, resulting in a fusion that was virtually craze-free.  That process is still in use today.  The company continued to produce commercial wares but in 1920 introduced its now famous gold decorated teapots.  Decaled dinnerware and kitchenware followed around 1931 and the rest is, as they say, history.


In 1971 I moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and began running into and collecting Hall Drip-O-Lators.  One of the first was the Orb shape with the Bird of Paradise decal, which I found in a Kansas City, Kansas, thrift shop.  Then, in 1978, along came APEC.  The American Pottery Earthenware and China show was founded by Jo Cunningham who has dedicated many years of her life to researching and promoting American dinnerware.  In 1976 she had privately published The Autumn Leaf Story, which was an immediate success.  So was the first APEC show in Joplin, Missouri, which of course I had to attend.  Needless to say, there was a lot of Hall China for sale there and I added a Bauhaus Drip-O-Lator to my growing collection.  Happily, this year, will see the 25th APEC show and sale taking place in Springfield, Illinois, on September 28th, 2002. 


Jo Cunningham followed up the success of The Autumn Leaf Story with several more books and for many years was the editor of The Glaze, a monthly paper dedicated exclusively to pottery and dinnerware.  Another book that blazed the hall trail was Harvey Duke's Superior Quality Hall China/A Guide for Collectors published (I believe) in 1977.  Suddenly collectors could identify shapes and patterns that had previously been mysteries.  My own collection had grown and I could now give names to decaled dinnerware and kitchenware that had become favorites.  Discovering pieces in Crocus, Orange Poppy, Cactus, Acacia, or Silhouette were exciting finds indeed.  Harvey Duke followed his popular first book with Hall2 and our knowledge of Hall china expanded even further.  Today Margaret and Kenn Whitmyer's excellent Collector's Encyclopedia of Hall China (now in its third edition) reflects a continuing interest in these very fine collectibles.


As you might imagine, I now have Hall pieces stored in every possible part of my house, from the basement furnace room to the rafters of the laundry room upstairs.  For the last few years my interest has shifted, however, to the work that Eva Zeisel did for Hall.  Ms. Zeisel designed both the Century and Tomorrow's Classic shapes in 1952 as well as several decals.  Her dinnerware reflects that particular era as well as her own interest in contemporary design.  I have found the shapes and decals extremely interesting as well as rewarding to use and live with.  At last report, Ms. Zeisel, now in her nineties, is still designing for and lecturing on the ceramics industry.


Today the Hall China Company is once again concentrating on institutional and commercial wares and will soon celebrate its centennial year.