Place setting for one
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.
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.
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.