Dear Helaine and Joe:I would like to know if the china I have had for 64 years is valuable. I have a service for 12 and all the extra pieces, including the coffee pot, gravy boat, creamer and sugar, and salt and pepper shakers. The pattern is "California Ivy" by Metlox. — L.R., Cincinnati, Ohio
Dear L.R.: Metlox was founded in 1927 as the Metlox Manufacturing Co., and its principal products were outdoor ceramic signs that could be fitted with neon tubing. It specialized in making theater marquees, including the one for the famous Pantages Theater in Hollywood, Calif.
The company was started by T.C. Prouty and his son, Willis. They had a factory in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and another in Hermosa Beach that made architectural tiles from Death Valley talc. The name "Metlox," incidentally, is derived from the combination of two words — "metallic" and "oxide" — important ingredients in the products they made.
When T.C. Prouty died in 1931, his son decided to take the company in a different direction by focusing on the manufacture of dinnerware. The first pattern was called "California Pottery," and the "Poppytrail" line (named after the California state flower) first appeared in 1934.
World War II curtailed the production of dinnerware, and the company made aircraft parts, shell casings and nuts and bolts. After the war, Prouty tried making toys but had to sell the company to Evan K. Shaw in 1946, whose American Pottery factory had burned down.
Shaw had the insurance money and a contract with Disney to produce Disney-related figures. He was also interested in reinstating the making of dinnerware on a grand scale. To facilitate the production of the dinnerware, Shaw hired the design team of Bob Allen and Mel Shaw, who had been film animators and had designed the Howdy Doody puppet.
The first line was "California Ivy," and it was introduced in 1946. This new line was marketed under the old "Poppytrail" line name, and it was followed by such patterns as "California Apple" and "California Peach Blossom." "California Ivy" was a big success, and in the company's brochure, comedian Gracie Allen is shown at home with her "California Ivy" dinnerware.
For insurance replacement purposes, we checked with Replacements.com and found that a five-piece place setting was available for approximately $54. A single dinner plate (10 1/2-inch diameter) is priced at $20, a luncheon plate (9 1/2-inch diameter) is $15 and a salad plate (8-inch diameter) is valued at $20.
The gravy boat with its underplate is $20. However, a wall pocket based on the gravy boat form is valued at about $100. The teapot is $150, but the larger and somewhat more common coffee pot is a bit less at $110. Hard to find pieces include the mug ($70), the six-piece lazy Susan with its original metal frame ($700), and the egg cup ($50.)
Metlox's "California Ivy" went out of production in 1984, and the company itself went out of business in 1989.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of the "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Questions can be mailed to them at P.O. Box 12208, Knoxville, TN 37912-0208.