Starburst Dinnerware by Franciscan

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History of Franciscan Starburst Dinnerware

"Starburst" is a line of dinnerware produced by Franciscan Ware, which is (or was, rather) in turn, a part of the organization called Gladding, McBean, & Co., founded in 1875.

Franciscan Ware before Starburst

Originally concerned with manufacturing building products made of clay, like roof tiles, sewer pipes, and bricks, Gladding, McBean & Co. chose California, and specifically Placer County, as their plant location so they could take advantage of the natural deposits of clay there. Their business took off and by the mid-20's, they were the largest manufacturer of clay products in the USA (Miller's 20th-Century Ceramics).

In 1934, they expanded production and created Franciscan Ware, a pottery and tableware line. Though mostly solid-colored in the beginning, it would grow to include hand-painted patterns such as "Apple" (1940), the best-selling "Desert Rose" (1941), "Wildflower (1942), and "Ivy" (1948). This pottery line was joined by a line of Franciscan Fine China introduced in 1942.

Make-Up of Franciscan Pottery

All this advancement in industry was made possible by a special mixing and firing technique Gladding, McBean & Co. had developed and continued to perfect as they produced their dinnerware lines. They called their clay formula "Malinite." As they explained in a 1942 catalogue:

    Both Franciscan Tableware and Catalina Art Pottery are made from the material called "Malinite," which was developed by the chemists of Gladding, McBean & Co., and which is covered by a number of U.S. and foreign patents.

    "Malinite" is the most important technical achievement in the pottery industry in the past century. Instead of wares being made from clay, the basic material of Malinite is rock, the same material from which "talcum powder" is produced. Combined with the talc is an amorphous flux which, in the heat of the kiln, so binds together the molecules of talc that an extremely tough and durable body is formed, highly resistant to thermal shock and free from internal flaws.

    The most important feature of Malinite is the fact that glazes become so fused with the body that they cannot craze. Another glaze feature lies in the brilliant palette of colors and inimitable matte textures that can be produced.

    (Franciscan- an American Dinnerware Tradition)


Basically, they had discovered a way to make pottery less porous, so that it would last longer and resist cracking. It was of a better quality and had a built-in sales incentive.

Introduction of Franciscan's Starburst line

And this brings us to the creation of the Starburst pattern in the mid-50's. With the prosperity that came after the war, consumers were ready for something new. And the futuristic starry design on Franciscan Starburst fit in well with a new chrome kitchen and advanced appliances.

Introduced in 1954, Starburst is a smooth, decal-pattern design, as opposed to a raised, hand-painted one. The pattern was designed by George James and was placed on the Eclipse dish shape. Starburst shares this peculiar dish shape with two other Franciscan designs of the 50's: "Duet" and "Oasis."

Miller's Collectibles states that the Starburst pattern was only produced from 1954-1957. However, information on the company in the 50's is sketchy and hard to come by, so I'm not sure this is completely accurate. I believe I've seen, from other sources, mention of Starburst pieces being produced through the early 60's. Much of the confusion could stem from the change of ownership and management that was to come in the early 60's.

In 1962, Gladding, McBean & Co. sold the Franciscan Ware plant and production operation to the Lock Joint Pipe Company, who then formed the International Pipe and Ceramics Corporation, or Interpace, in 1968. Interpace combined production of Franciscan shapes with other ceramic manufacturers they had bought up. Then, in 1979, Interpace sold Franciscan Ware to Wedgewood. The California plant was shut down in 1984, and production was moved to England. Now, the remaining Franciscan patterns still in production are sold under the Johnson Brothers name.




If you'd like to know more, check out my sources:

Atterbury, Paul, Ellen Paul Denker, and Maureen Batkin. Millerís Twentieth-Century Ceramics: A Collectorís Guide to British and North American Factory-Produced Ceramics. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2005.

Page, Bob, Dale Frederiksen, Dean Six, and Jaime Robinson. Franciscan: An American Dinnerware Tradition. Greensboro, N.C.: Page/Frederiksen Publications, 1999.

(c)2008 by Jennifer Johnson. All rights reserved. Contact me at jennlizjohnatgmaildotcom