East Texas Kitchen Care: Collecting vintage yellow ware, or the ‘Tupperware of the old days’

East Texas Kitchen Care: Collecting vintage yellow ware
Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 5:27 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 2, 2023 at 8:57 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - Yellowware, or yellow ware, depending upon individual collectors’ preference, is a type of earthenware named because of its yellow appearance. That color comes from the clay used for its production, and sometimes a bit of enhancement from the glaze. Yellow ware is highly-fired to make it hard and glass-like, and usually has a clear lead or alkaline glaze applied over it. (Because of the lead content, we now know these old bowls are not good for food or drink storage.)

Part of Mama Steph's yellow ware collection.
Part of Mama Steph's yellow ware collection.(East Texas Kitchen/Mama Steph)

Originating in the United Kingdom in the late 18th century, yellow ware was also produced in the eastern United States from the late 1920s. The exact date it started being made is not known, but it is believed in general it was produced in the mid to late 1700s. Around the mid 1800s, skilled potters from England emigrated to the United States and brought their skills, talent and knowledge with them.

According to Skylark House, some of the immigrants who were well-to-do brought pieces of yellowware pottery from their homeland with them to the United States. So there were two significant events that coincided, the author says. The first was that there were a limited number of potters who could make yellowware in the United States. Second, there were some pieces of yellowware in the United States that were made in the United Kingdom and brought to the U.S. That’s how yellowware arrived and started being produced in the United States.

Most of us have someone in our family who have a vintage bowl or two that was handed down from a great grandmother or other older family member. That may just be the best thing about them, in my opinion. When I look at the ones my sweet mother-in-law has given me, it reminds me of her and how many things I’ve learned from her over the years in the kitchen and all the fun times we’ve had together. When I see some of my Fire King bowls I think about my mom, who found them for me at yard sales and made sure to buy them, knowing how much I’d love them.

These two I especially like because of the beehive pattern and green stripe on the left, and...
These two I especially like because of the beehive pattern and green stripe on the left, and the blue stripe on the right.(East Texas Kitchen/Mama Steph)

Old things come with stories. I like to collect the good ones, and I hope this encourages you to do the same. Even the bowls that have cracks or stains or a chip out of an edge are still beautiful, just like people. I like to place my collection above my kitchen cabinetry as a display; some people put them in china cabinets, on bookshelves or countertops. If they’re a bit cracked, I just turn that side toward the back and display them anyway; they’re still beautiful.

I also use some of them as centerpieces, filled with apples or lemons, for example, or Christmas ornaments. I also have lined a pretty blue one with white linen napkins and used it instead of a bread basket to serve homemade rolls. It looks so pretty on the table, and takes no more effort than serving rolls any other way, really.

Now that my sons are grown and out of the house, I’m working to learn much more about the things I love to collect. Here’s a book I just ordered about yellow ware’s history and how to know how old yours is and what the value of your pieces is, in case you’d like to grab a copy or, better yet, check one out at the library, too. Enjoy!