For our museum feature this month, we’re showcasing a variety of beautiful (and rare!) items in the Hall China Autumn Leaf pattern: a clock, a mug, a teapot in the “Nautilus” shape, a figural car teapot, a percolator, and a butter dish. Autumn Leaf was the most popular pattern produced by Hall China, a 108-year-old company with a rich history that extends well beyond its most famous pattern.
Hall China was founded in 1903 by John W. Hall, Charles Hall, and Robert Hall in East Liverpool, Ohio. At first, the new company primarily produced pitchers and other pieces, mainly for use in hotels. They even made chamber pots! The new company faced difficulties early on with competition from the many surrounding area potteries, and their problems were compounded by John W. Hall’s death in 1903, followed by Robert Hall’s death in 1904. Robert’s son, Robert Taggart Hall, assumed control of the company after his father’s death, and almost immediately began to experiment with new manufacturing techniques that would give the company a competitive advantage. Specifically, Robert set out to create a china product that wouldn’t craze.
At the time Robert began his experiments, most pottery was fired two different times, and at two different temperatures. First, a piece of unglazed, air-dried pottery (or greenware) was fired at a specific temperature to harden. Then, a glaze was applied to the hardened piece (called a bisque). The glazed bisque was then fired at a higher temperature, creating a relatively weak bond between the glaze and the bisque. Once purchased by customers, as the glaze and body of the pottery expanded at different rates over time, small cracks (crazing) would appear in the glaze. Robert knew that a Chinese process used during the Ming Dynasty produced china that didn’t craze, and he set out to replicate the ancient process with the technology of the day.
From 1905 to 1910, Robert experimented with different firing techniques, glaze and material composition, and temperatures before finding the right combination that produced “craze-proof” products in 1911. His formula was similar to the ancient Chinese process that fired the bisque and glaze together at a higher-than-normal temperature to strengthen their bond. Robert’s success was partially due to using a leadless glaze that could stand up to the higher firing temperature (around 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit). This discovery proved invaluable to Hall China, as durability was of the utmost importance to Hall’s service-industry market. Single fired china also allowed for a greater depth and variety of color, which Hall took full advantage of, producing more than 47 different colors of its wares using this new process.
When World War I prevented European pottery companies from supplying the American market, American companies like Hall expanded to meet the new demand. Hall’s single-fired, non-absorbent, and odor-free products like steam-table inserts, teapots, and casseroles quickly gained a reputation among the hotel and food service industries for being high-quality, durable items. Even after European companies resumed production after the war, many businesses remained loyal to the more expensive Hall products. Around 1917, Hall began adding gold decorations to previously unadorned pieces such as teapots. These gold-decorated teapots became so popular in the 1920s that Hall expanded its production to include many different teapot shapes and colors. As production boomed, the company explored decorating its wares with renewed vigor. It was around this time that Hall began producing pieces as “premiums.” To stay competitive during the Great Depression, many companies began offering free items included with the purchase of a product. China and glassware were popular premium items offered by many companies. Hall’s products were used as premiums for such companies as Cook Coffee Company, Enterprise Aluminum Company, McCormick Tea Company, Lipton Tea Company, and others, including the Jewel Tea Company.
Hall first began supplying teapots as premiums with the Jewel Tea Company in the 1920s. In 1933, Hall began producing a large 9-inch mixing bowl decorated with the Autumn Leaf pattern as a Jewel Tea premium. Later that year, Hall added two smaller Autumn Leaf bowls to create a three-piece utility set. The Autumn Leaf design is believed to have been created by artist Arden Richards, but didn’t have an official name until the 1940s (the pattern was referred to simply as “Hall,” “Jewel,” or “Autumnal” until that time). The Autumn Leaf decal was originally produced in the 1920s and 1930s for many different dinnerware manufacturers, but became exclusive to Jewel Tea with Hall’s Autumn Leaf pieces in 1933. Autumn Leaf china was originally distributed with Jewel Tea products like laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, linens, baking powder, coffee, and many other household products, and could only be purchased through an authorized Jewel Tea route-person. Autumn Leaf became hugely popular for a number of reasons. The pattern was attractive and elegant, but the quality of the pieces made them perfect for everyday use. Hall also added new Autumn Leaf items regularly (many with short production runs), which kept Jewel Tea customers interested in getting these newer pieces. The exclusivity of Jewel Tea Autumn Leaf products also enticed customers to remain loyal to the brand.
During World War II, Hall had to suspend its pottery production to help with the war effort, but after the war they successfully entered a new market: refrigerator ware. Pieces in this new line included butter and cheese dishes, “leftovers” containers, water jugs, and other refrigerator-specific items for all major refrigerator manufacturers. Beginning in the 1950s, Hall produced a number of popular designs created by talented artists like Eva Zeisel and Donald Schreckengost. Zeisel’s “Century” dinnerware was particularly well received, as were Schreckengost’s cookie jar and teapot designs. The prolific Autumn Leaf pattern was produced for over 40 years, until it was discontinued in 1976. However, a number of Autumn Leaf items reappeared briefly in 1978, and limited pieces are still made for the National Autumn Leaf Collectors Club. Today, Hall China’s Autumn Leaf pieces are highly sought by collectors.
Although the featured Autumn Leaf items in our museum are not for sale, we do have many wonderful Autumn Leaf pieces available for purchase from our inventory; be sure to browse our web site. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you’ll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles! Our retail store and museum are open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm ET, 7 days (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm ET, 7 days. The retail store and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!