The Taste of the Nation: Lenox Chinaware

Myself (at right) with Mellon Fellow and PhD student Emily Mazzola (at left) examining preliminary sketches and drafts of presidential china designs (specifically the Clinton/200th White House Anniversary china set) at the Detre Archives at the Senator John Heinz History Center

 

The Taste of the Nation: Lenox Chinaware

Museum Studies Intern with the AW Mellon Fellowship research project – Spring 2019

When local glassware and porcelain manufacturer Lenox Inc. closed its doors in 2002, the Senator John Heinz History Center received all their archival and design materials. Boxes filled with papers ranging from sketches to memos to product catalogues are now available at the History Center’s Detre Library & Archives. Lenox acquired the Bryce Brothers company in the 1965 and through this merger began creating both porcelain dinnerware and glass and stemware. The sketches of both glass and porcelain designs reveal much about the design process, as do the internal memos, but perhaps some of the most interesting pieces from the collection were the bits of local advertisement across their history that were saved in manila folders by the company. 

How Lenox sought to reel in their Pittsburgh clientele and the ways in they marketed to the public are very telling of both their products and market audience. As Lenox had been given the opportunity to provide their services for several US Presidents and Vice Presidents from the early twentieth century to the present, the Mount Pleasant based company fancied itself an important player in international diplomacy, and would frequently use the opportunity to make the public aware of this through their marketing. As an intern through Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh aiding the creation of an online exhibition exploring Lenox’s presidential china and stemware, one of my tasks was to discover local press that mentioned their presidential contribution. In my research with digitized newspapers, I discovered an ad from a clipping within a Joseph Horne department store advertisement in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from May of 1925 that describes Lenox China as “one of the world’s finest achievements in Chinaware,” and President Woodrow Wilson’s selection of 17,000 pieces of Lenox China for his White House as a “fine tribute and an indication of the high standard of Lenox.” This advertisement was one of the first of many instances of their promotion of their relationship with the White House and other dignitaries. 

Frequently seen alongside such self-descriptors as “fine,” “bone white,” and “hand-crafted,” Lenox prided itself on its “all-American” manufacturing and artisan-based design. Targeting upper and upper-middle class families in the Pittsburgh area, their advertisements emphasized this state relationship also through promoting their replications of presidential china that were reimagined and sold to the public. This way, the Pittsburgh family could partake in their own homes in the dining of the American political aristocracy. Lenox would frequently host elaborate production displays and demonstrations in Pittsburgh department stores to further engage with the public in their marketing attempts. The way in which brands utilize sociopolitical trends to market their products is a topic of great interest to me that I hope to explore while completing my Masters at the University of Brighton in the History of Design and Material Culture. My engagement with the Detre Archives encouraged that interest and helped me to gain experience utilizing archival materials to craft curatorial narratives in this subject area.

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