Institutional Wares (Hotel China)
Institutional wares are vitreous white-bodied wares, generally in thick-walled and durable tableware forms. These wares were originally manufactured for institutional use, but were used in homes as well. They go by a number of different names, including hotel china, restaurant china, American hotel china and institutional ware (Myers 2016:110).
This type of ceramic was produced for use by institutions like schools, hospitals and prisons, commercial enterprises like restaurants, hotels, boarding houses, railroads and airlines, as well as the armed forces. The vitreous body and the thick walls of the vessels made this ware difficult to break and thus highly serviceable for high-volume institutional use. The production of these wares began around 1879 and took off at the beginning of the twentieth century in places like New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio (Venable et al. 2000:124-125). Hotel wares were popular during the first half of the twentieth century, with production peaking in the late 1920s and again in the late 1940s (Myers 2016:110, 113).
Hotel china appears to have developed from white granite in the late nineteenth century as part of a push to manufacture more durable earthenware (Huddleson 2013:57). The Greenwood Pottery Company of Trenton, New Jersey may have been the first manufacturer of fully vitrified china produced for institutional use (Venable et al. 2000:124). An 1878 advertisement placed by the company in the Crockery and Glass Journal describes “Thick” china ware (as cited in Venable 2000:124).
Other North American potteries quickly followed suit in producing vitrified wares. Notable U.S. manufacturers included the following companies in Trenton, New Jersey: Greenwood Pottery Company (1868 -1933), Trenton China Company (1880-1892), the Maddock Pottery Company’s Lamberton Works (1892- 1923) and the Scammell China Company (1923-1953). In New York, the Onondaga Pottery Company, the Buffalo Pottery Company and the Iroquois China Company produced vitreous institutional ceramics. Sterling China in Ohio and the Mayer China and Shenango Pottery Company, both in Pennsylvania, were also producers of institutional china. The Homer Laughlin China Company in West Virginia made many hotelwares and are still in operation today. Hotelwares may be marked with not only maker but merchant (e.g., Dorflinger), and institution (e.g., Seelbach). Date marks or codes also appear on some hotelwares, like those made by Homer Laughlin and Buffalo China. Maddock’s marked their thicker-bodied wares “Trenton” and their thinner-bodied wares “Lamberton” (Venable et al. 2000: 125).
“Much of the pottery produced in the United States by midcentury was institutional wares for hotels and restaurants” (Venable 2000:185). Vitreous hotel wares did eventually find a home market, sometime between the second and fourth decade of the twentieth century (Majewski and O’Brien 1987:124). Many hotel wares are marked with manufacturer’s names and sometimes date codes. The decline in the production and use of hotel china in the mid-twentieth century can be attributed to the increasing use of hard plastic tableware (Akhurst 2004).
The sherds shown on this website are wasters from various manufacturers in Trenton, New Jersey. For more information about these sherds and the manufacturers, click here.
These wares are characterized by a dense vitreous white-pasted body composed of clay, flint and feldspar (Newcomb 1947:227). Despite being vitrified, like porcelain, the majority of these wares are not translucent because of the thickness of the vessel bodies. The paste may appear granular along the broken edges of sherds. Institutional china was sometimes made with colored clay pastes, producing solid colored wares in blue, green, pink, tan or yellow (Conroy 1998:356).
Institutional china is finished with a hard stain, craze- and scratch-resistant lead glaze. Hotelware manufacturers created a glaze that expanded and contracted at about the same rate as the ceramic body to limit crazing.
Some hotel china wares are undecorated and those that are decorated tend to have minimal and relatively simple, understated decoration. Typical are painted bands and lines placed along the rims of vessels.
Lithographic decals were commonly used on institutional china. Commercially viable by the 1890s, lithographic decals had largely replaced underglaze printing on ceramics before the end of the first decade of the twentieth century (Venable et al. 2000:120; Henry 1987:368, Blaszczyk 1994:148). On hotel china, these were used for institutional logos and other motifs. Decals had the advantage of producing multi-color decoration in one step that did not require specialized training of skills to apply (Blaszczyk 1995:113).
Other decorative techniques include transfer printing, airbrushing (since the late 1920s, but more common by the 1940s) and stencils used in combination with airbrushing (Conroy 1998). Starting in the second half of the twentieth century, some motifs on plates were created through a process called direct printing. In what was essentially an automated form of rubber stamping, a design was molded onto a piece of silicon rubber. Inked color was stamped onto the vessel with this stamp. Direct printed motifs can be multi-colored, although each color is printed separately (Conroy 1998:349).
A variety of vessel forms were produced in hotel china, including plates, platters, bowls, mugs, cups (handled and unhandled) and saucers, teapots, creamers, butter pats and sauceboats. Shapes are generally simple, without excessive molding or elaborately shaped handles. Rolled (chip-resistant) rims or edges were introduced in 1896 (Conroy 1998:325); some vessels had welted rims designed for the same purpose. Narrow rimmed commercial vessels, designed to be space saving for use on railroads and airlines, were introduced in the 1930s (Conroy 1998:325).
Three separate grades of hotel china have been designated based on vessel wall thickness (Newcomb 1947:228, Myers 2016:112). Vessels with the thickest walls (7.9 – 9.5 mm) were used by the armed forces and lunch counters; vessels with walls ranging between 3.9 and 6.4 mm saw service in hotels and restaurants. The least robust of the hotel china (under 6.4 mm thick) were more likely to be used in higher priced eating establishments and private homes