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Featured Museum Piece

Metlox Potteries Cookie Jars and Canister

For this month’s Replacements, Ltd. museum feature, we discovered in our vault two very special cookie jars and a canister, all produced by Metlox Potteries.  Cookies jars and canisters have always been very popular as collector pieces, and the fact that these pieces usually come in a fun variety of shapes and sizes makes their appeal universal.  The first two items are the “Katy Cat” cookie jar and a cookie jar from the Metlox’s collection entitled, Year of the Dinosaur.  These jars were both made by the popular and historic artware division of Metlox Potteries.  During the late 1960’s and 1970’s, Metlox produced a large variety of cookie jars, canister sets, and figurines that managed to remain popular despite the falling sales of Metlox dinnerware patterns.  It should be noted that in design and execution, Metlox cookie jars and canisters look very similar.  They are often used interchangeably and novice collectors will mistake one for the other. 

The third featured piece, the “Bear With Red Bow” canister, is from a 5-piece collection of figural bear housewares that included three canisters and a salt and pepper set.  Each bear in the set was a different size and each one was crafted with a uniquely colored bow.  So far, we’ve been unable to determine the exact year of production for each of these pieces, but we are continuing to research them.  To understand the history of Metlox is to understand how the company was able to produce artful designs that have captured the interest of consumers, and now collectors, for over 80 years.

Metlox Potteries was founded by T.C. Prouty and his son, Willis Prouty, who in 1919 settled in Hermosa Beach, California.  They set out to make superior architectural tile and, after a year of experimenting with clays and glazes that were derived from the area, the Prouty’s patented a tile body that was made primarily with talc.  In 1921, they opened a company called “Proutyline Products.”  At first, they sold only architectural tiles from a two story factory at 719 Pier Ave. in Hermosa Beach.  In 1927, T.C. and Willis Prouty opened Metlox as a division of Proutyline.  The name Metlox was derived from a combination of the words “metal” and “oxide.”  The Metlox Factory opened on June 3, 1927, and was located in Manhattan Beach, California.  It also had the distinction of being the first electrically-welded steel building on the West coast.  At this time Metlox added large outdoor ceramic signs to their product selection.  These signs were quite popular with new theatres that desired distinctive outdoor signage. 

As the Great Depression began, T.C. Prouty passed away.  His son, Willis, realized the company’s need to diversify as demand for large ceramic signs began to dwindle during the Depression.  As a result, the company expanded into dinnerware and began in 1932 to produce the “200 Series” line of dinnerware.  This line was also called “Poppytrail.”  The company garnered a great deal of positive response due to offering this dinnerware line.  In 1938, the company began producing miniature figurines which were also very popular with consumers.  During the war years, Metlox stopped producing dinnerware and began producing shell castings and fasteners for the armed services.  After the war, Metlox attempted to sell toys but began losing money. 

In 1946, Metlox was sold to Evan K. Shaw, owner of the lucrative Evan K. Shaw Company and American Pottery.  The American Pottery Company was known for its line of Disney figurines, but its factory was destroyed by a fire in 1946.  Shaw heard that Willis Prouty was looking to sell Metlox Potteries, placed a bid on the factory along with the Metlox and Poppytrail names, and received formal ownership of the factory and company branding on November 8, 1946.  Shaw had the ambitious goal of making Metlox Potteries the most profitable dinnerware manufacturer in America, helped by the fact that European dinnerware exports to the U.S slowed during the 1940’s and 1950’s as a result of the war fought on European soil.  It is said that the most important decision Evan Shaw ever made was to hire Bob Allen and Mel Shaw (creators of Metlox’s most popular pattern, California Provincial ) as his art directors (we have been unable to determine whether Evan Shaw and Mel Shaw were related).  Both Bob Allen and Mel Shaw had a background in cartoon art.  In fact, Mel Shaw worked on the Disney classics “Bambi” and “Fantasia.”  During this time, Metlox dinnerware was marketed using the trade name “Poppytrail.”  In 1958, Faye Bennison, a friend of Evan Shaw’s, decided to close Vernon Kilns, another popular ceramics maker.  He sold the rights to the Vernonware name to Shaw.  Because of this, Metlox Potteries is often called “Metlox, Poppytrail, Vernonware.” 

Through the 1950’s and 1960’s Metlox’s only real competitor in their core product line was Franciscan, an immensely popular California maker of dinnerware.  During the 1970’s, Metlox began to fall out of favor with American consumers.  Hand-painted dinnerware patterns with large selections of piece types were no longer desirable.  While having almost no foreign competition to this point, Metlox began to have to compete with popular Japanese firms.  Evan Shaw passed away in 1980 and the company was inherited by his daughter, Melinda Avery.  By May, 1989, the company had closed it doors. 

As one can see, for many decades Metlox Potteries created a wonderful and rich piece of American history as a result of the dedication and conviction of the Prouty and Shaw families.  You can see great examples of their work in our canister and cookies jar museum features this month.  While these museum pieces are not for sale, we do have a wonderful selection of patterns by Metlox-Poppytrail-Vernonware that are quite stylish, and are for sale.  Come visit us and see these amazing Metlox pieces in person!  Our Showroom and Museum are open from 9am to 7pm ET, 7 days a week (except holidays); free tours are available from 9:30am to 6:00pm ET, 7 days a week. The Showroom and Museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40.  Make plans to visit us this summer!

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