How to Identify Franciscan China

By Gail Cohen

When Gladding, McBean & Co., a sewer tile manufacturer founded in 1875, decided to add dinnerware to the company’s product offerings, principles expected modest success. They underestimated the appeal of the Mexican-influenced designs and intriguing brand name alluding to Franciscan monks, as the china earned a worldwide following over the next 50 years. Under the initial guidance of American pottery legends Frederic and Mary Grant, Franciscan produced hundreds of patterns and styles over the last quarter century, but there are several ways to verify the origin of your piece(s).

Look for telltale pattern designs and full or partial understamps bearing one of the company’s names—Franciscan Pottery, Franciscan Ware or Franciscan China. Identify pieces by their pattern names: “Montecito,” “Coronado” or other Spanish-inspired titles produced in the 1930s. Look for “Apple” and “Franciscan Desert Rose” to verify 1940s bestsellers (some say the latter is the company’s all-time bestseller). Check plates for images of western wildflowers as clues to 1950s trendsetters such as “Ivy,” “October” and “Fresh Fruit,” and for “Picnic” and “Madeira” to verify Franciscan China produced in the 1960s and 1970s.

Locate the name “Franciscan Masterpiece China” on literature accompanying a piece of china or on understamps to positively identify a pattern that was so popular in the 1960s, Jacqueline Kennedy ordered it for Air Force One and Richard Nixon chose it for the presidential yacht.

Be cautious about declaring a piece American Franciscan if it bears a date later than 1984, since U.S. production ceased that year and all of the company’s holdings and patterns were sold to England’s Wedgewood china brand.

Find a good china guide at the library if you’re unable to spot a back- or understamp to verify the Franciscan name. Some of these are out of print, so you’ll have to search hard. Some of the best guides: “Franciscan: An American Dinnerware Tradition” by Bob Page, Dale Frederiksen and Dean Six; “Franciscan Hand-Decorated Embossed Dinnerware” and “Franciscan, Catalina, and Other Gladding, McBean Wares,” both titles by James F. Elliot-Bishop; or anything written by noted Franciscan China expert Delleen Enge. Additionally, “Franciscan Dining Services” by Jeffrey B. Snyder, “Architectural Terra Cotta of Gladding and McBean” by Gary F. Kurutz or “The Official Price Guide to Pottery and Porcelain” by Harvey Duke may hold the answers you seek.

Seek an expert opinion by contacting a licensed and certified china appraiser to have your Franciscan authenticated. Visit the website of the Appraisers Association of America to find a local dealer or peruse the Yellow Pages. But before you agree to bring in or send a specimen from your collection to the expert, ask about the appraiser's familiarity with American pottery history. Expect to pay a fee for the appraisal from companies such as Old China Patterns Limited (link below). Always photograph and insure china before you mail a piece for evaluation, or leave it at an appraiser for authentication to err on the side of caution.

About the Author

Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.