Friday, October 25, 2013

Collecting Swiss Chalet Dinnerware


Swiss Chalet and me

My mother, like most 1950s housewives, had a set of fancy China that she brought out for special occasions. For everyday meals, however, we ate off a pink set of plastic Melmac that I loved and vividly remember.

Then in the early ‘60s (1962, to be exact), Mom began buying plates and bowls offered as “premiums” at our local supermarket. During the postwar era, when consumerism was just starting to flourish, low-cost dinnerware and utensils were offered as a lure to get customers to shop at various stores. If you spent a certain amount on groceries, for instance, you could buy a box of that week’s featured dishes for, say, 25 cents. My mom eventually acquired a complete set of silverware, plus several ceramic plates and bowls. But she never completed the dinnerware set—I’m guessing because, even at just 25 cents a box, the cost was too prohibitive for our lower-middle-class family. Since the plates and bowls didn’t match any of our other dishes, I took them and the silverware with me when I moved out of the house 35 years ago.

Place setting for one

I still use the silverware, but never had much affection for the dinnerware. Basically, the dishes were white with a pattern of blue and green leaves arranged in a circle in the center of each piece. To me, they were more practical than attractive.

Distinctive Swiss Chalet design

But then, about 10 years ago, Tim and I were strolling through the antiques aisles of the Rose Bowl flea market, when I spotted what looked to be a complete set of the dishes. And it suddenly occurred to me how truly beautiful they were. I also got extremely nostalgic and almost started to cry, but ended up walking away, leaving them behind.

What a mistake! For weeks, I kicked myself for not buying the set when I had the chance. So later that year, while visiting my sister in Snohomish, WA—the “antiques capital of the Pacific Northwest”—I found and bought my first pieces of what turned out to be “Swiss Chalet,” ceramic dinnerware manufactured by the Stetson China Company and sold under the Mar-Crest brand. I was absolutely hooked.


Swiss Chalet box

When Tim and I—and even Karen—first started looking for Swiss Chalet, we could easily find the same plates and bowls I’d been schlepping around for decades. Slowly, through research (mostly online) and a lot of serendipity, we began discovering other more exotic pieces: ultra-modern, A-lined salt-and-pepper shakers, a sugar bowl and creamer, a butter dish, a gravy boat, two sizes of ashtrays, a fabulous teapot, and one of my favorite pieces, a blue casserole with a white top decorated in the blue and green leaves. Plus, of course, there were serving platters, several sizes of plates and bowls, and three (!) different coffee cups/mugs. Who knew?

Common, as well as many of the more
difficult pieces to find

For a long time, the most elusive piece was the blue pitcher that had no markings other than a Mar-Crest imprint on the bottom. Replacements.com, which, 10 years ago, was one of the few sites that carried Swiss Chalet, provided a photo of the pitcher, but didn’t have one in stock. After many, many months of looking, Karen finally found one on eBay and surprised me with it for my birthday a few years ago. Our collection was now complete . . . or so we thought.


The elusive blue pitcher

Then, while antiquing in Ocean Beach (San Diego), I stumbled upon two pieces of what looked to be Pyrex, decorated in the distinctive Swiss Chalet blue and green leaves. Completely by accident, I had discovered the Fire-King line of Swiss Chalet, which includes several shapes and sizes of bakeware, in addition to a coffee mug and multi-piece set of mixing and serving bowls. A set of outstanding Swiss Chalet glassware (my hands-down favorites) has also been attributed to Fire-King. But after reading Michael Pratt’s wonderful book, Mid-Century Modern Dinnerware (Schiffer, 2002)—which includes several pages on Swiss Chalet—I’m thinking the glassware may have come from Stetson, which, according to Pratt, did make glassware to accompany some of its dinnerware lines. (More research is needed.) So now I had the ceramic dinnerware, plus a complete line of Fire-King accessories.

Glasses and Fire-King mug

But wait, there’s more! While searching online for the elusive blue pitcher, Karen uncovered yet another line of Swiss Chalet: Decoware tinware, apparently also made in the early 1960s to complement the Stetson Mar-Crest dishes. As soon as we found these, I bought a set of nesting canisters and an enormous cake tin. The leaves are much more stylized than on the ceramic dinnerware, but the connection is obvious. I never would have guessed that my mom’s few inexpensive “premium” purchases had such a far-reaching influence on kitchenware design.

Decoware canister

So why am I even writing about all this stuff? Well, last night I shared our 100+ piece collection with our antiques club and, in doing the research for my talk, discovered that there are still two Swiss Chalet items we don’t own: a Decoware bread box and a set of stacking mugs by Stetson. Unlike 10 years ago, when we first started collecting, there is now a ton of Swiss Chalet for sale on the Internet. Pieces that took us months to find are now available through a single click. Unfortunately for me, however, I am no longer the only person obsessed with Swiss Chalet. The recent resurgence of interest in all things “mid-century” has made its way into vintage dinnerware, which is being snapped-up by collectors who have also fallen in love with Swiss Chalet.

We’re now on the hunt anew! I’m buying stacked Swiss Chalet mugs and the matching Decoware bread box, if you’ve got them to sell! Please contact me via the comment link below if you’ve got something I might want to add to my collection.

28 comments:

Florecita Farm said...

I love these, Cindy. No wonder you're obsessed!

Florecita Farm said...

I love these, Cindy. No wonder you're obsessed!

Cyn said...

The market my mom got these at was on Glenoaks across from Jay Scott. Your family probably shopped there, too. Was it a Market Basket?

Karen Hovanitz said...

The Shopping Bag!

Karen Hovanitz said...

It was the Shopping Bag! :-)

Cyn said...

So Tim and I spent 2 hours, a couple weeks ago, looking through microfilm of all the Daily Review newspapers in 1962 in search of Shopping Bag ads featuring Swiss Chalet premiums. Shopping Bag offered lots of premiums that year, but none of them were Swiss Chalet. We did see lots of other neat stuff, though, including "grand opening" invitations to the new Unimart and Zodys and ads for the Cornell theater. Ah! Life in 1960s Burbank! The next time in I'm town I'll look through the 1963 rolls of the Daily Review. I'm obsessed!

Becca said...

Hi! I've just purchased a pretty full set of Swiss Chalet from a church resale shop and am now looking around for history....one online site says the pattern started in 1951. After all your research and collecting, what do you think of that date? Now to find that blue pitcher and a teapot with a lid!

Cyn said...

Hello Becca: I don't have an exact date for Swiss Chalet, but 1951 is way too early. What I've gathered from the book MID-CENTURY MODERN DINNERWARE/Michael Pratt (Schiffer, 2002), the set was released in the early 1960s, which jibes with my own memory of when my mom bought the few pieces she collected. As you can see in the comment directly above yours here, my family picked up pieces as premiums when buying groceries at Shopping Bag. My husband and I went through all the newspaper ads in 1962. My next task is to go through the ads in 1963 to confirm exactly when my family got our dishes.

The teapot has been available through Replacements.com (look under Marcrest Swiss Chalet). It's not cheap--probably more than you paid for the rest of the set!--but it is available. The pitcher is a little more elusive. Try "Marcest pitchers" as a keyword term in Google. The color--more blue than turquoise--is not an exact match; but as far as I can tell, it's the pitcher that is meant to go with the dishes. According to the book mentioned above, Marcrest created several mix-and-match plain color pieces that were meant to go with several of the decorated dish sets. I think that may be why the salt and pepper shakers are solid blue as well.

When you say you bought an entire set of Swiss Chalet, do you mean you also have the stacking mugs??

Becca's Folly said...

Hi, Cyn,
The style and colors look much more early 60s, indeed. No, no stacking mugs...I have one fire king bowl that a friend gave me a few weeks ago since she knew it matched the colors I want to do in my kitchen and the set I got this week is: 12 dinner plates, 12 cups and saucers, 8 soup bowls, 8 berry bowls, 4 bread and butter(or salad?) plates, a cream and sugar with lid, a gravy boat (I think...all turqoise), with a small "platter" for underneath. All for $25...sigh...I am so happy! I think I'll do a little looking here (I'm in Madison, WI) to see what stores might have carried them. I live in a very simple mid-century "modest" cottage/ranch and LOVE that the pattern was a premium!

Becca's Folly said...

Cyn,
Just found this after googling around...the post is a few years old, but still! http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/marcrest-swiss-chalet-alpine-apron-retro-vintage

Becca's Folly said...

And this! http://www.pinterest.com/pin/445645325598281950/

I'm really trying to only buy these when I find them "in the flesh" - I hope I can stick with that resolution!

Cyn said...

Becca: OMG!! The apron is amazing. I had no idea there was such a thing. Plus, the long-handled creamer. None of the printed materials I've seen show this. I'm almost wondering if Marcrest made a one-off of this. So much more to look for--Yikes! So much Swiss Chalet, so little time . . .

Martha Harding said...

Hi,

Are you still looking for a decoware breadbox? I have one and can send you pictures, if you like. My name is Martha Harding, email: mrlcha@earthlink.net

Thank you!

Martha said...

Hi!

My name is Martha Harding and I have a Decoware bread box in the patern you are interested in, if you still need it. My email is: mrlcha@earthlink.net.

Thank you!

Michael Morasse said...

Becca,
Thanks so much for sharing this information. I have been collecting Swiss Chalet for years and have amassed a pretty sizeable collection. I didn;t know about the tinware by Decoware and never knew about the pitcher (I use an Blue heaven one. My grandmother collected this set and it holds a great deal of sentimental value to me. I use Swiss Chalet as my everyday dishware I love it so much..it also inspires the colors of my kitchen redo. Keep collecting!

Cyn said...

Hello, Michael: Thanks for your comment. I continue to be stunned by the number of people who adore and collect Swiss Chalet. Be sure to checkout the Marcrest Swiss Chalet Pinterest page. I need to update my post with photos of the stacking mugs and Decoware breadbox I've acquired in the past year. Now I need to find the long-stemmed pitcher and apron Becca mentioned in her comments!

Maureen said...

I inherited a set of these from my mother, who inherited them from her mother, and they are my prized possessions. I feature them in my food blog photos, and I just ordered a few more pieces on eBay. Yours look beautiful!

Cyn said...

Thanks, Maureen. I need to update the blog. In the past year, I found the stacking mugs, plus bought the Decoware breadbox. I think I now have all pieces. Do you own something I don't have?

Rhonda said...

Hi there, Cyn! I saw your post from 3 years ago, but I really adore Swiss Chalet too. How durable is it? Would you recommend it for daily use still? TBH, buying vintage/used stock isn't that much more than buying new at Crate and Barrel, for example. This pattern had more charm than anything made now. Thanks! -Rhonda

Cyn said...

Hi Rhonda: I still have pieces from my childhood, so you can guess how durable they are. But I don't use Swiss Chalet for everyday meals. I use my set as others would use fine china--instead, we tend to eat on melmac/plastic. Swiss Chalet is ceramic and so will break, like any other glass dishware. But I do throw it in the dishwasher and it still looks good as new, though some pieces have crazed. I hope this answers your question. cm

Rhonda said...

Thank you! That is a great perspective. Thanks for sharing and happy collecting.

Cyn said...

Thank YOU, Rhonda! As a result of your message, I decided to poke around eBay to see which Swiss Chalet pieces are now selling and was surprised to find a sugar bowl I had never seen before! I bought it immediately and can't wait to see it in person. cm

Marjorie Parkis said...

I LOVE this article. I have only one piece of this pattern, but your enthusiasm and story has made me cherish it. Thank you so much for sharing, and the great pictures.
Marjorie in Portland

Cyn said...

Thanks, Marjorie! I'm so glad you enjoyed my posting. I'm so used to our collection that I often take it for granted. It's always wonderful to receive comments about the blog post, because they make me appreciate our dishes all over again. I hope you continue to collect Swiss Chalet.

Khadija said...

I'm collecting also. I can't wait to find everything I want. I won't ever try to complete the full set, but I do want a lot of the pieces. So nice to see you have a full collection. :)

Cyn said...

Thanks, Khadija! Happy collecting!

Amy Ahmed said...

I found this design years ago at an estate sale. My Granny tells me at the time not to buy it, because this was her mothers dishwear and she might have some pieces left over herself. Sure enough she had the beautiful casserole dish, some small plates and the cute salt and pepper set.

Since then I've had friends on the look out at every fair and estate sale. I have a pretty good, but uneven collection. I am so happy to see all the other "goodies" you have found. Now I'm more ramped up than ever before to find more pieces.

Cyn said...

Thanks for your comment, Amy. There's lots of Swiss Chalet out there online, though I rarely see it any more at flea markets, etc. Etsy, Ebay, and Replacements.com all sell it. Occasionally you can get a good deal. Best wishes on your collecting!