Monday, July 1, 2013

A True Premium Collectible

QUESTION: My mother died recently and left me, among other things, her set of Autumn Leaf china. When I was a kid, I remember her setting our dining room table with this colorful china on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but especially Thanksgiving because the pattern seemed to complement the occasion. The set is still in pretty good condition since she only used it on special occasions. Do you know if this has any value today? While I like it and it does bring back memories, it seems a bit old-fashioned for today’s use.

ANSWER: Your Autumn Leaf china definitely has value today. In fact, it’s held its value over the last 20 years. However, it all depends which types of pieces you have and on their condition.

The Hall China Co. began producing this decal pattern and offering it exclusively through the Jewel Tea Co. of Barrington, Illinois, in 1936, during the Great Depression. This door-to-door sales firm offered Autumn Leaf pieces as premiums for the purchase of other items, such as teas, coffee, grocery items, and laundry products.

During that time, this china was popular with housewives, who literally had to watch every penny. And the only way for them to obtain pieces were as premiums from Jewel Tea. Since the china was of good quality and had a somewhat elegant and colorful design, many housewives considered Hall’s Autumn Leaf Dinnerware as their good dishes, to be used primarily for company. Most pieces stayed in excellent condition because they washed them and put them away immediately after each use.

Determining the value of this dinnerware can be tricky. Prices vary from coast to coast and in different parts of the country. Since most pieces of this pattern would have been used, even as good dishes, they’re usually not sold in mint condition. This means that your mother’s dishes would only sell for half of the mint price. Also, Hall produced many of the more common pieces from 1936 all the way to 1976, a span of 40 years.

Generally, it seems the more odd a piece of Autumn Leaf is, the more it’s worth. Age doesn’t seem to enter into the equation. So this china is a pure collectible.

For instance, a dozen cups and saucers, labeled as “Breakfast cups and saucers” in Jewel Tea advertisements, brings about $120, or $10 each. An Irish coffee mug, on the other hand, sells for around $40. Four berry bowls also sell for $10 apiece while an oval meat platter brings only about $10.

The big money is in some of the more unusual pieces. Since Autumn Leaf sold as a premium, housewives bought a piece or two at a time—a cup and saucer, a dinner plate, a water pitcher, etc. They bought what they needed in quantities they needed. Jewel Tea never sold this china in complete sets. So the number of the more unique pieces sold—coffee and teapots, mixing bowls, salad bowls, cake plates, and such—was smaller in comparison to ordinary place settings.

One of the hottest items is the cookie jar. Introduced in 1957, the "modern-style" cookie jar has two big handles which Jewel liked to call "easy grip." The original selling price of the cookie jar was only $3.That price has since soared to nearly $200. An earlier cookie jar, introduced for Christmas 1936, sold for $1.50 and Jewel Tea offered it for only three years. Ironically, it sells for about the same price as the other jar.

Another item that’s at the top of most Autumn Leaf collectors’ wish lists is the butter dish. These came in several styles, sized to fit either a quarter pound or a whole pound of butter. The first one to be offered by Jewel Tea was a one-pound model with a long handle on the top. Introduced in 1959, it sold for $3.25. But its style proved to be inconvenient, so the company discontinued it after only one season. As with any item offered by Jewel Tea, those which housewives disapproved of were quickly discontinued. Hall produced improved versions of its butter dish with easier-to-grip bud or "bud ray" knobs. Today, collectors can’t buy a butter dish for less than $150. Those with special “wings” handles sell for over $2,000.

The Autumn Leaf pattern includes many types of accessories, including several clocks. One style, made from a regular Autumn Leaf cake plate, produced from 1956-1959, now sells for $400 to $550.

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