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Beginner’s Guide to Collecting Vintage Dishes

Whether you’re a pro at spotting CorningWare with blue flowers from a mile away or are looking for a way to embrace colorful maximalism in your kitchen, collecting vintage dishes is a beloved hobby for people around the globe. From scouring the aisles of an Indiana vendor mall to joining a passionate community, becoming a vintage dish set collector is endless fun every step of the way. Learn about the most sought-after vintage dinnerware brands and find inspiration for your own unique collection with our helpful guide.

The Beauty of Collecting Vintage Dinnerware

It’s so fun designing and setting a table you love, and with a uniquely curated collection of vintage dish sets, every tablescape can bring you joy. Taking the time to hunt down specific vintage dinnerware patterns to complete a matching set or unlocking your inner designer and mixing together multiple styles is half the fun. When you set your table with vintage linens and your collection of plates, bowls, and platters, the setting will always be one-of-a-kind. 

If you’ve ever thought about making sustainable shopping switches, investing in durable and stylish vintage dish sets is a wonderful place to start. And with so many collectors offering countless antique and vintage dinnerware designs, you’ll own a little piece of history in your cupboards. 

What Makes Vintage Dinnerware Valuable?

Place setting on dining table with vintage plates

When it comes to searching for vintage dishes at thrift stores, Florida vendor malls, and flea markets, there seem to be countless designs—but just because they’re vintage doesn’t mean they’re valuable. There are five elements that make a vintage dish set valuable: brand, rarity, pattern, age, and condition. As you shop for vintage dinnerware, it’s important to learn about the different designs from brands, look for any damage, and research the rarest styles to fetch a pretty penny.

On the flip side, other people collect vintage dish sets for a different reason: nostalgia. Whether they inherited their mother’s love of CorningWare with blue flowers or are searching for a specific dish pattern that reminds them of their grandfather’s kitchen, many people buy vintage dish sets purely for sentimental reasons.

3 Popular Vintage Dinnerware Brands

Walking through an aisle filled to the brim with carefully stacked dinner plates and elegant fine China can feel both exhilarating and overwhelming. What are you meant to look for? What brands have a higher price point? Which ones bring you joy? Learn about the three most sought-after vintage dinnerware brands to discover your niche and narrow down your search: 

1. CorningWare

Spice of Life CorningWare

CorningWare, or Corning Ware, was first introduced in 1958 as a unique glass-ceramic cookware brand based in the United States. The company used Pyroceram to create a seemingly unbreakable dish. Its claim that the dishes were able to be taken straight from the fridge or freezer and used in the oven, on the stovetop, or even in the broiler sent the kitchenware community into a tizzy—they raised the standards for good!

As you’re shopping for vintage dishes, keep an eye out for the tell-tale patterns CorningWare is known for. Although there are plenty of similar ceramic dishes and copycat brands, CorningWare vintage dish set patterns are famous for their bright, detailed floral designs. From the quintessential “Cornflower Blue” dish design, with blue petals and a white background, to the “Country Festival” design featuring two blue birds facing one another surrounded by orange and yellow tulips, CorningWare patterns typically draw colorful inspiration from nature. 

Which CorningWare Pattern is the Most Valuable?

While the classic CorningWare blue flower dish is a timeless classic, a later design, originally called the “Wild Flower” pattern, is the most popular and increasingly valuable dish to this day. This floral detail was featured on all kinds of dishes, from dinner plates to casserole dishes. Nowadays, spotting one of these in the wild is quite rare, so if you do spot one, snatch it up! It could be worth a pretty penny.  

CorningWare Pattern Production Eras

  • Blue Cornflower (1958-1988): from casserole dishes to coffee pots, the three simple blue flowers of this CorningWare dish became the staple style for the company.

  • Starburst (late 1950s-early 1960s): with a space-age inspiration influencing the starburst shape, the blue, black, and platinum vintage dishes mirror the obsession with the Space Race.

  • Floral Bouquet (1971-1975): with its combo of blue and yellow blooms, this design was beloved for years.

  • Blue Heather (mid-1970s): similar to the original design, this CorningWare with blue flower design fuses vines and leaves to create a pretty picture.

  • Nature’s Bounty (1971): recognized by its mustard yellow color and plentiful vegetable design, this pattern was an ode to fresh foods.

  • Spice O’ Life (1972-1987): with retro ‘70s inspiration, the earth-toned illustration of mushrooms, artichokes, garlic, and shallots make this one of the most purchased vintage dinnerware designs.

  • French White (1978-1990s): with a geometric texture and an all-white hue, this was the favorite of top chefs, such as the wonderful Julia Child

  • Wild Flower (1977-1984): the drawing of a colorful bunch of orange, blue, and yellow poppies remains a treasured favorite vintage dinnerware design worldwide.

  • English Meadow (1980s-1990s): with a more pastel approach to delicately drawn flowers, this design was inspired by the gardens of Buckingham Palace, making it a prized pattern for the Royal-obsessed.

2. Fiestaware

Fiesta dishes at an antique mall

If you love the look of bright and bold solids in your kitchen cabinets, Fiestaware is the perfect vintage dinnerware to collect. Originally created in 1936 in West Virginia, this colorful brand is known for its extensive designs, from gravy boats to fruit bowls and more. It’s also famous for retiring colors periodically and releasing a new color each year, so collectors will never be bored!

Fiestaware vintage dishes can be spotted mainly by their color. As one of the most collected vintage dish set designs, it’s one of the most recognizable. Whenever you see a mug, dinner plate, salad bowl, serving dish, or bowl with a single body color and that glazed ceramic sheen, odds are, you’ve found one!

Signs You’ve Found Vintage Fiestaware

Since Fiestaware is still a popular brand today, it can easily be duped by modern designs. As you invest in building your vintage dinnerware collection, make sure you’re only buying authentically vintage Fiestaware designs, which: 

  • Show an ink stamp on the bottom that says “GENUINE fiesta,” with Fiesta in all lowercase.

  • Have a glazed bottom to match the rest of the dish (where newer designs leave un-colored clay)

  • Come in a certain catalogue of colors that were only used in their production years from 1936 to the early 2000s. 

What is the Rarest Fiestaware Color?

Whether you’re interested in becoming a vendor or think you may have struck vintage dinnerware gold at your local yard sale, it’s important to know which Fiestaware colors are going to be worth more. Any of the original colors are considered valuable, but the Medium Green hue, produced from 1959-1969, is the most difficult to find—so, of course, collectors everywhere are willing to spend a hefty sum to get it!

3. Spode

Blue Spode dishes

If you’re searching for a more formal, special-occasion kind of vintage dinnerware, Spode is the best of the best. First founded in 1770 Britain, Josiah Spode developed game-changing technology of blue transfer print under glazing, which led to the development of a new form of porcelain known today as “Bone China.” With over 250 years of production, these vintage dish sets can attract anywhere from $150 a plate to nearly $100,000.

From tea sets to wedding patterns, people have cherished Spode vintage dish sets for hundreds of years. As you shop around, keep a look out for the tell-tale delicately glazed designs. The most popular color combination is blue and white, but Spode has released countless lines featuring other colors and patterns, so it’s a good idea to take a closer look at each vintage dish set as you come across it for the Spode label.

How to Spot a Fake Spode Dish

Imitation may be the best form of flattery, but there’s no room for fakes in your curated collection of vintage dishes! When you do come across a vintage dish set that reminds you of the beloved Spode artwork, immediately search for the brand and date markings. 

If your vintage dishes have the words “Spode” or “Copeland and Garret” (as it briefly switched names) followed by a stamped-in date, you’ve likely found an authentic piece. If you find an unmarked dish, it’s almost definitely fake, non-vintage dinnerware!

Is it Safe to Use Vintage Dishes?

Detailed vintage plate set

There are plenty of vintage dishes available that are completely safe to use, eat off of, and wash. As you begin your vintage dinnerware journey, it’s important to note that while many dishes are safe, there are risks to watch out for. Luckily, when you find a vintage dish set vendor you trust, like one at our antique malls or specialized vintage events, you can rest assured knowing they will only sell the safest, useable vintage dish sets possible.  

How Can You Tell if Vintage Dinnerware Contains Lead?

When there is reason to question the safety of a dish, the first thing you should check for is lead. Not all antique and vintage dinnerware contains lead—but some does, so it’s important to air on the side of caution. The best course of action is to visit your local hardware store and buy a lead testing kit to use when necessary.

Lead-based paint was officially banned in 1978, so items made after that date tend to be lead-free. Pay special attention to possible additions to your vintage dish set collection to spot any suspicious stamped designs, metallic rims, or painted details. 

Pro tip: If you do end up with vintage dish sets that test positive for lead, they can still be safely used as gorgeous home décor. 

Can You Find Vintage Dishes at an Antique Mall?

Antique decorative plates

Good news—you can find just about anything at an antique mall, so, of course, there’s always a chance of finding beautiful vintage dishes. Whether you stop by specifically to browse a showcase full of someone’s curated Fiestaware collection or explore the aisles and happen upon vintage dishes you love, shopping for vintage cookware and dinnerware at a Highland antique store is your best bet to building your collection. 

Best Vintage Dish Set Appraisal Services

When you find vintage dishes, you can always get them professionally appraised and valued. Whether you’re learning how to sell vintage items and trying to grow your own collection or are just interested in how much your great aunt’s Corningware with blue flowers dish is worth, you can send your vintage dinnerware off to these lovely experts:  

5 Alternative Ways to Use Vintage Dishes in Your Home

Floral pattern vintage plates

Vintage dish sets can be used for more than just setting the table—with a little creative thinking and an eye for interior design, you can decorate with vintage décor and show off your favorite CorningWare with blue flower dishes and Fiestaware designs all around your home! Take inspiration from a few of our favorite nontraditional uses for vintage dishes:

1. Create wall décor: hang your favorite vintage dishes on the wall, either on their own as a statement piece or in a unique gallery wall design. 

2. Corral your trinkets: use any smaller vintage dishes as catch-alls and trinket dishes around your house; perfect for anything, from collecting car keys on the entryway table to rings on your vanity. 

3. Make a candle: for vintage dishes, glasses, and teacups that can’t be used for dining, consider turning them into candles by securing a wick to the bottom and filling it up with wax. 

4. Organize your bathroom: smaller vintage dishes and plates can be used to hold soaps, lotions, or perfumes together on a bathroom counter, keeping everything in one tidy place.

5. Make a mosaic: if any of your vintage dishes break, lean into the chaos and make a one—of—a—kind mosaic art piece!

From cornflower blue dishes to antique China, there is no shortage of beautiful and colorful vintage dishes in the world. With a few helpful vintage shopping tips and a little research, you could find an extremely valuable piece of vintage dinnerware anywhere. The next time you’re shopping at a Chicago antique mall or attending a collector’s event in Melbourne, take the time to search for unique and stylish vintage dish sets!

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