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The Edwin M. Knowles China Company®*

© 2004, Michael E. Pratt

abridged & excerpted from unpublished work

True modern is simplicity of form, grace and dignity in manner and lines which contain rhythm and balance. --Vincent Broomhall, 1936

Early Company History

Edwin M. Knowles ( -1943) was the son of Isaac Watt Knowles
(1819-1902), a founder and partner of the firm Knowles, Taylor, and
Knowles Co., which by the turn of the century had become the largest
pottery in the world. Edwin Knowles' father had helped pioneer many
inventions that revolutionized American dinnerware manufacture.

Edwin M. Knowles entered the pottery business after receiving his
education at Allegheny College and Harvard University. He took control
of the Potters Supply Company of East Liverpool, Ohio in 1890. By 1900,
he became founder and president of the Knowles China Company, which soon
changed its name to the Edwin M. Knowles China Co.

The Knowles facility, located in Chester, West Virginia, was
described as a "model plant of the highest order." Edwin Knowles
determined that his firm would manufacture only the finest semi-vitreous
ware. One year later, product from the plant was lauded by the Crockery
and Glass Journal as the highest grade ware: "weight is light, its
finish the finest, its shapes graceful, its decorations artistic, and
its body and quality most durable." Knowles' reputation for creating
quality product became known throughout the industry. Demand for Knowles
product grew.

It wasn't long thereafter that plant No. 2 was erected, just two
miles south of plant No. 1 along the Ohio River in Chester, West
Virginia in Newell, West Virginia. The pottery was located near the
plant of the Homer Laughlin China Company, which by now had overtaken
Knowles, Taylor and Knowles Company as the largest pottery in the world.

Business at Edwin M. Knowles continued to improve post-crash and by
November 1930 production had been at its best since the ending of the
World War. The number of workers at this time was about 725 and by March
1931, with business still improving, employment was reported at about
600 workers. The firm consolidated its manufacture at the Newell
factory, selling its Chester, West Virginia plant to the Harker Pottery
in 1931.

Middle Company History

Vincent Broomhall (1906-1991) became the firm's art director in 1935.
A native of East Liverpool, Ohio, he attended the Carnegie Institute of
Technology and won an International Painting Scholarship to the Boston
School of Fine Art. Broomhall was a designer for Palm Fechtler &
Company in New York City in 1932 and 1934, prior to joining the Knowles

The deco-modern Yorktown dinnerware was introduced in 1936. The line
was characterized by many circular ridges or terraces, a common design
feature at this time. Handles and finials were curving triangular wings.
On plates, they served as lugs, suitable for carrying. Handles were
also terraced and while not solid shapes, they reiterated the wing

The form was described as "a shape of truly modern elegance". While
the line predates the more simplified forms of mid-century modern, the
innovative styling, futuristic asymmetry, and move toward simplicity
make this line an evolutionary parent of mid-century modern.

Yorktown's terraced wing & body design, while perhaps the most
popular of these design types, was actually preceded by the winged and
ribbed Cascade shape produced by the James River Pottery Company in
1935. The Cascade shape is the patented work of Simon Slobodkin, who in
all likelihood deserves the title, father of mid-century modern American

W. H. Locke Anderson, superintendent of the Edwin M. Knowles China
Company, commented on this nation's ceramic design trends in 1936.
Anderson observed:

From an artistic standpoint the American industry is gradually
divorcing itself from European influence. It is developing a style of
form and decoration that is distinctly American.

A full-featured line of kitchenware accessories was introduced by the
company in 1938. The line, designed by Vincent Broomhall, was said to
be modern and promoted the space-saving concept in the kitchen. The
ware, available in seven colors that could be mixed and matched, was
said to be in colors jointly adopted by retail organizations.

1939 was "the year to buy American," according to a Knowles'
marketing initiative. Emphasizing that even in the thirteen original
colonies, American's displayed "an amazing amount of good design", the
company introduced its new shape, Potomac, said to combine "Colonial
grace with modern simplicity". Patterns on the shape would be in "The
American Tradition", with themes from early American to American modern.

Potomac dinnerware, designed by Vincent Broomhall, was shown, two
years later, in the Studio Yearbook on the same page as the early modern
lines, American Modern (Steubenville) and Metropolitan (Gladding,
McBean). Although Potomac's flatware featured a rimmed plate, the coffee
pot was a simplistic modern shape with a disc finial sitting atop a
domed lid that continued the contour of the rounded body. Handles in the
line were simple rounded curves. The mid-century modern coffee pot
shape would again emerge a decade later with Accent, a coupe- shaped
line. The basic Potomac shapes would be resurrected in the 1950s and
called the Heritage shape.

Broomhall echoed Anderson's statements made in 1936 four years later
at the American Ceramic Society, stating that American dinnerware design
was finally approaching an American style that was not bogged down by
European influence. He also noted that dinnerware styling was as
important in home furnishing as were the other trappings of interior
design. He remarked:

Today's dinnerware must fit in with the times. It must show the tempo
of motion, express clarity and contain the maximum function with the
simplest lines and forms.

Commenting that tableware design may vary from the traditional to the
avante garde, Broomhall advised that the designer be aware of the
average consumer.

Edwin M. Knowles remained president of the company until his death 9
February 1943. Succeeding E. M. Knowles as president was Frederick
Blackmore Lawrence, who would continue in this office until his death in
March 1948. William A. Harris Jr. would later serve as president during
much of the fifties and into the early sixties.

By 1944, Vincent Broomhall had served in the role of art director for
E. M. Knowles for over a decade. He left the Knowles firm in 1944 to
establish his own china firm, Continental Kilns. One year later,
Broomhall became vice-chairman of the design division of the American
Ceramic Society and in 1946, he became chairman of that same division.
In subsequent years, he served as a designer for the Harker China
Company, the Steubenville Pottery Company, and the Homer Laughlin China

Mid-century Dinnerware & Designers

Virginia Hamill

The Pacific Plaids, created by Virginia Hamill, were introduced c.
1950 on the Victoria shape. The Victoria shape is a simplified
traditional shape modernized with colorful hand-painted under-the-glaze
plaid decorations. Nine different plaids existed in 1950, named
primarily after California cities. They are characterized by the
presence or absence of an edgeband. Carmel, Sierra, and Monterrey were
without an edgeband, while Laguna, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Las Vegas,
and Plaid were with an edgeband. The line was said to be guaranteed
against "crazing, acids, and detergents."

Virginia Hamill was also responsible for the Anniversary shape, described by Knowles as:

…something unmistakably new and different…It's functional…some
pieces were designed for multiple use with today's new dining fashions
and limited storage space in mind. Its fashion-setting styling…its
modern simplicity and gracefull lines were inspired by fine Oriental

Despite its modern billing, the Anniversary shape has a more dated
appearance, than its advertisements might imply. While finials were
simple, rounded spheres, flatware retained a rim, handles resembled
elf-ears, serving pieces and bowls were footed and the coffee pot had a
more traditional modified-s-shaped spout. Decorations were traditional
florals, Flower Waltz and Daisy Chain, and a the geometric Bonnie Plaid.
Patterns were said to be mix-and-matchable.

Accent Shape

The Accent shape was brought to market in 1951. This simply designed
line featured coupe-shaped flatware, modified spherical shakers,
inverted conical finials and handles that came out horizontally from the
rim and sharply turned meeting the base of an unembellished cup,
creamer and sauceboat. The coffee pot, adopted from the Potomac shape,
kept the rounded handle of that line.

Many solid decorations and patterns were added to the Accent shape
during the 1950s. One of the most striking modern patterns was a
two-toned black and white decoration. Simplicity (1955), depicted a
black freeform scrolling line with interspersed turquoise dots and
platinum trim. Gourmet (c.1956) pictured a stylized table setting with
fish, foods, and kitchen implements. Twin Oaks, portrayed a stylized
country scene in brown, pink, and green and was featured in the
1953-1954 Studio Yearbook. Sunnybrook Farm, presented a collage of
stylized farm images sectioned by line accents.

Designer Freda Diamond was enlisted by Knowles to originate new
designs for 1953. On coupe-shaped ware, she introduced Paradise, which
featured a full-plate, modern-style blooming botanical with two perching
birds. Also on a coupe-shaped line, she designed the modern florals
Corsage and Silver Spray and undecorated Platinum Grey and Platinum
White. On the traditional, rim-shaped Mayfair shape, she created Frosted
Leaves and Oslo.

Criterion Shape

The Criterion shape was characterized by its rounded square, rimless
plates. Holloware had a rounded boxy appearance, with gently sloping
sides, forming a narrower opening than base. Lids were topped with a
playful round finial, while handles were simple ovals.

Criterion formed the backdrop for many modern decorations. Some of
these patterns included Ribbon (1954), a radial-armed, whirling abstract
decoration. Choreography (1955) featured solid squares balanced with
delicate freeform lines; Scroll (1955), a continuous looping line on
looping line design with interspersed dots; and Celestial (1955), a
random assortment of radial stars. Other modern decorations included
Ebonette (1954), a popular black cross-hatch pattern on white with solid
black holloware. Mobile (date unknown) featured freeform lines and
colorful shapes on white with sky blue holloware. Pink Threads (1954)
was a Pollock-esque decoration in pink and brown lines on white. Green
Threads was also available.

Forecast Shape

Forecast, another modern group was first introduced in December 1956
for the 1957 market. The sugar and the coffee pot featured a tall domed
lid continued the elongated egg-shaped contour of the body. Finials were
inverted cones and handles arched above the rim of the creamer and
coffee pot. Shakers repeated egg-shaped theme of the holloware. Flatware
was coupe-shaped. The original group included undecorated white and
five decorations, including the modern abstract, Flight. Modern abstract
botanicals included Festival, a radial decoration on a dotted
background and Sun Glow, orange and yellow daisies on gray. Weather Vane
featured a stylized fifties rooster perched atop a weather vane.

Erwin Kalla

Award-winning designer, Erwin Kalla (1924- ), was a free-lance
designer for Edwin M. Knowles during the fifties. Kalla, who studied
under famed Swedish sculptor, Carl Miles and Eros Saarinen at the
Cranbrook Academy, was propelled to design fame when he won first prize
for his modern sterling silver coffee and tea service in a 1957 Sterling
Today Holloware Design Competition.

Kalla felt that traditional dinnerware shapes were outmoded and that
despite industry's attempts to produce better product, solutions were
inadequate. He explained that we don't cook or serve food the same as in
the past and that storage space during the 1950s had become limited.

When challenged that industry had responded to some of these problems
with multi-purpose cookware and oven-to-table dinnerware, Kalla
explained that cup handles are frequently inadequate and should permit a
better grip. He felt that consumers had become accustomed to a certain
size relationship between bowl and handle. It would be better if
consumers would accept handles that were larger.

Edwin M. Knowles® is a registered trademark of the Edwin M. Knowles China Co.

Kalla stated that dinnerware decorations should flatter food and add
to ware's aesthetic value. He suggested that more textured surfaces
should be used on both earthenware and china. Decrying the sterile,
all-white look, Kalla offered that dinnerware's form and decoration
should be more light-hearted and playful.

Kalla felt that the designer has a responsibility to himself, the
consumer, and the manufacturer, to push the design envelope within the
limits of practicality. While designers often do try to introduce
innovation, manufacturers often stand in the way of progress. [This was a
common observation of mid-century designers.]

Kalla described Edwin M. Knowles China Company as a relatively small
factory of only several hundred employees. It was, in fact, capable of
providing advanced design that would appeal to a sector of the market.

Kalla Craft

Kalla Craft was designed by Erwin Kalla and introduced to the trade
in 1958. This full-featured "hostess" group matched semi-vitreous china
with walnut accessories. Kalla Craft was an interesting modern
innovation demonstrated a simple geometry. All four canisters were
frustrum-shaped-two upright and two inverted. Canisters A and C were
topped with walnut lids on the wide base of the inverted, cut-off cone,
while canisters B and D were lidded on the smaller diameter top. Cruets
had a modified hourglass design and without their walnut stoppers,
doubled as a pair of candleholders. The hourglass design was also shared
by the wooden handle on the salt & pepper tray and the double
server. The beverage server came with walnut trivet, the covered server
with walnut warmer stand and candle, and the cheese and cracker set with
a walnut tray.

Other interesting items in this line included a cup and buffet plate
which comprised the snack set; two and three-tiered trays with walnut
posts; a round ceramic cheese dish held in a rounded triangular walnut
tray; ice lip pitcher; and a one-piece, boat-shaped bon bon and free
form servers with handle hole.

Kalla Craft came in White, the contrast with walnut best displaying
form; Silver Birch, brown-streaked wear that is only appealing with the
walnut contrast; Weather Vane, a rooster on weather vane stylized
decoration; and Delft, featuring geometric and stylized florals.

Kalla Craft's Delft decoration was later adopted into the Americana
group, which featured wide-rimmed plates and a more traditional cup,
saucer, cream and sugar-the Americana shape. The Americana line also
borrowed the Kalla Craft-shaped coffee pot and salt and pepper shapes
into the Americana group. It is unknown whether other Kalla Craft
accessories were brought into the new line.

An interesting colorful geometric in Americana was called Fjord
Yellow. It appears that some holloware in this line was solid-colored
rather than decorated.

Esquire by Russel Wright

Russel Wright's Esquire dinnerware, introduced in 1956, has a sculptural beauty that sets it apart from many dinnerware lines.

A dealer display, showing the 13 steps of Esquire production, was
available from the Knowles company as a sales aid. Each step was
accompanied by an actual Esquire production photo depicting that phase
of manufacture. According to the display holloware was cast, with the
exception of the cups which were jiggered. This meant that cup handles
had to be later attached. While color and print was applied underglaze,
decals and gold application were an overglaze process. Gold decoration
was applied automatically by machine.

A Knowles' House & Garden advertisement for the Esquire patterns
in 1956 introduced: Grass, blades in green and gold on a light blue;
Antique White, undecorated matte white; Queen Anne's Lace, the floral in
soft yellow, green, and gold on antique white; Seeds, in sandalwood and
gold on a soft lemon yellow; and Snow Flower, delicate botanical in
white and gray on pink carnation-dominated by House & Garden colors
and gold.

Introduced in 1957 were Solar, a golden star decorations in gold and
blue on antique white, and Botanica showcasing fifteen different wild
leaves, ferns, vines and pods in white outline form on a tan background.
The entire Esquire line represents some of Russel Wright's most
pleasing aesthetic designs. Botanica is one of the most highly prized
patterns by collectors. This same year, new holloware pieces were
brought to market--a divided vegetable bowl, coffee pot, sauceboat and
relish dish (centerpiece server).

Russel Wright commented that the matte glazes were the eventual
demise of Esquire, citing a large number of rejects during production.

Four Seasons

Modern decorations in Four Seasons included: White (1959),
undecorated white, Washington Square (1959), depicting a stylized tree
and overlapping squares; Modern Classic (1960), a modified Greek key
motif in blue and green; and Reflections (1960), a modern abstract
utilizing arcs and triangles. Modern florals included Flower Chain
(1959), a daisy motif; Triad (1959), a delicate, tiny flower motif; and
Ring-A-Round (1959), depicting a modern rose decoration. A stylized
flower cart was featured on Street Song (1959).

Four Seasons featured accessory sets for serving informal meals.
Available was the "Dinner Duo", a large brass and walnut carrying tray
with two warmers for the covered casserole and coffee pot; a "Coffee
Caddy", a short, single-warmer version of the "Dinner Duo"; and the
"Salad Center", about the size of the "Dinner Duo", accommodating the
large salad bowl and vinegar and oil cruets.

Latter Company History

The company ceased operations in late 1962 citing a lack of
foreseeable profits. This was largely blamed on tariffs which were said
to encourage the importation of foreign dinnerware at prices so low that
E. M. Knowles could not be competitive.


*Name Trademarked

In 1982, the Edwin M. Knowles China Company name was trademarked by a
firm with the same name that is an exclusive supplier of products to
companies in the Bradford Group, a company that includes the Bradford
Exchange, Ltd., the world's largest source of plates for collectors
(limited edition porcelain plates which display artwork).