December 2, 2015 Leave a comment
It’s been a while since our last blog post but we’re careful not to blog for the sake of blogging.
Many of you may know that Tabletopstyle is a retail “handle” for Steelite. We established the website in the USA to enable individuals to purchase the dinnerware they experience at their favorite restaurants. Our mother-ship in England has more then 600 craftsmen (and women!) creating hundreds of thousands of pieces each week to very exacting, high standards that we’ve become known for.
When you visit England’s Stoke-on-Trent pottery region, you can’t help by be smitten by the proud history of pottery craftsmanship that still exists, all-be-it on a smaller scale than in decades past. Many reminders of yesteryear, the bottle kilns… have been preserved for antiquity. They represent much more than a curiosity… they represent the foundation of the region, a tie to its industrial roots.
Even in Steelite’s factory, an operating chinaware factory since the late 1800’s, one can still see an old steam engine that is kept as a keen reminder of our honorable past.
Now flash forward and several thousand miles to the west, to New Castle, PA… our USA headquarters. What do we have to do with all that tradition?
Well, our history is similar indeed, steeped in chinaware lore from decades gone by. We’re about 40 minutes from East Liverpool, Ohio, the birthplace of pottery here in the US. We share a curious common ancestor in James Bennett, who came from Stoke-on-Trent and started the whole “pottery thing” in America. Interestingly, Steelite’s factory in Stoke began as Dunn Bennett. The “Bennetts” were no doubt entrepreneurial cousins, each seeking their chinaware fortunes in different parts of the world.
From Ohio in 1901, a chinaware seed floated over and took root in New Castle, later to be known as Shenango China.
Growing up in New Castle, PA, nearly every family ate their daily meals off of Shenango China. If you didn’t have an aunt or uncle who worked at the “pottery”, you could visit the outlet on Wilmington Rd and purchase from a wide selection of Shenango’s hotel dinnerware. Today, it’s almost impossible to read a New Castle News obituary without seeing “worked as a gold liner at Shenango China” or “formerly employed by Shenango China.” The Shenango and Castleton China brands were known throughout the world for nearly a century.
Sadly, Shenango closed its doors in 1991, a victim of losing its soul in a world of emotionless corporate takeovers, consolidations, and deal making. I remember attending the auction early in 1992, the massive kilns, now cool.
Flash forward to today, or more specifically a couple of months ago when I toured the still vacant, decaying shell that was once home to this dinnerware giant. Those massive brick kilns still stand empty and cool. I could almost see the ghosts of New Castle’s past; wheeling carts of biscuit stock, jiggering plates, making molds with a skilled eye and steady hand.
I noticed ware still strewn about, and with the permission of the owner, I picked up a few souvenirs, each old, but in new condition. Some 24 years later and the vintage look is back yet again. These designs might even sell today.
An interesting footnote is the multi-colored back- stamp that was once used by Shenango. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore?
Or maybe they do… at least we do… at Steelite. We still care about the product, the quality that goes into the process, and we care about the people that make it possible. That’s what separates Steelite from the rest. If the ware is marked Steelite, it is made in the UK, at the same factory that began in the 1880’s and is still producing great chinaware.
Here’s a link to learn more about Shenango China
After a super busy week of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Sales and Extended Sales… hopefully you’ve found this article interesting and refreshing in that we didn’t try to sell, upsell, or market anything. We appreciate your support and pledge our continued commitment to excellence.