Appletree Bowls by Homer Laughlin
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The Appletree bowls were a set of nested mixing bowls made by Homer Laughlin during the 1930s and into the early 1940s. They were designed by art director, Frederick Rhead.

They were developed from late September to mid December 1931, The first time Rhead mentions them in his journals is on September 21, 1931:

J. M. Wells asked for Colgate Bowl, tree design 9 ¼ by 4 inches. The best height for practical use and appearance. Sample needed in 8 days [snip] to see A. V. [Albert V. Bleininger] on blue and yellow mattes [glazes] also look up green.

Later that same day he writes:

Commenced work on bowls. Model to Al Kraft and Bill [Berrisford] to model tree pattern in wax for shipping. Saw A. V. on yellow and blue mattes and gave him samples of green

For the next several days, the art department worked solely on samples of the 9 ¼" Appletree bowl. The log entries reveal the work that went into creating the piece so samples could be reviewed on time:

Sept. 24, 1931 Worked all day on bowls [and] at night until 10 pm
Sept. 25, 1931 Finished modeling bowls - being blocked and cased
Sept. 26, 1931 Three of each in three colors in glost kilns - placed in kilns ourselves
Sept. 27, 1931 More bowls modeled and put in glost kilns
Sept. 28, 1931 Six bowls out satisfying. Six more out, chipped at bottoms, but glaze satisfactory
Sept. 30, 1931 J. M. Wells to NY with Colgate bowls and Woolworth's samples

The hard work paid off. On October 2, 1931, Rhead noted that five sizes were ordered and they were to nest. The original design had to be changed so they could nest properly. On October 6th, J. M. Wells reviewed all five sizes of the Appletree bowls and Rhead had to explain, "the difference in appearance and capacity due to change in the shape for clay fit." On the 7th, modeling of the bowls was complete and an HLC embossed marking was made on the 9th.

Another design was made on November 30th. Rhead called them the "B" models and noted the sizes as 9 ¼", 8 ⅝", 7 ⅝", 6 ½", and 5 ½". Finally, on December 16, 1931, Rhead noted: "J. M. Wells phoned from NY... Colgate bowls O.K."

Colgate offered the green Appletree bowls (which tends to look more blue than green) throughout the 1930s as premiums. Customers could get sets of bowls by using their Octagon soap coupons.

Copies of Colgate's Octagon soap promotions featuring the Appletree bowls, mid-1930s
Larkin Soap premium, 1935

The Appletree bowls were made until the mid-1940s. The most common color is the Colgate green glaze. It is always called green in vintage advertisements and in HLC records. It can photograph as either green or blue, depending on lighting. This special green/blue glaze was also used on Empress shape teapots. The bowls were also made in melon yellow and ivory glazes. The ivory bowls were sold as either blank or decorated with colored bands or decals. The 9 ½" size can be found in OvenServe's orange (pumpkin) glaze.

There are two sizes of the largest bowl - 9 ½" and 9 ¾". Records indicate there were only five bowls to a set so the larger bowl was either sold as a separate bowl or served as a replacement for the 9 ½" version. The 9 ¾" bowl is often found either unmarked or with a general HLC backstamp and date code, usually from the 1940s.

While the official name for these bowls is Appletree, many collectors call them Orange Tree. Authors Sharon and Bob Huxford dubbed them Orange Tree when writing various editions of their Fiesta book. In the Collector's Encyclopedia of Fiesta, 8th Edition, ©1998, on page 120, they wrote, "Though we've always referred to these at the "orange tree" bowls because of their resemblance to Fenton's carnival glass pattern of the same time, some collectors call the design "peach tree."

All six Appletree bowls.
Courtesy: Matthew Whalen

Appletree bowls in melon yellow, orange (pumpkin) and Colgate glaze
Courtesy: Candy Fagerlin

A set of five Appletree bowls in Colgate green, melon yellow, and ivory.

A set of five Appletree bowls in the Colgate green glaze.

These next three examples in nonstandard glazes are from the collection of The Fiesta® Tableware Company

Large Appletree bowl in light green on display at the FTC museum in Newell, WV.

Large bowl in rose.

1945 backstamp.

Experimental art glaze blue.

Impressed marking.

To the left is a portion of an article that ran in the East Liverpool Review on Tuesday, October 13, 1936. It talks about Japanese companies copying both American and British wares. The photo captions are: Top - The Homer Laughlin China Co. Coronet tea set at right and the Japanese duplication on the left. Below - The Laughlin Appletree mixing bowls at bottom and Japanese duplicates on top.

Here are portions of the article relating to HLC:

The Laughlin Coronet tea set was on the market less than six months until the Japanese came out with virtually an exact duplication. No difference could be found in the saucer, while the [Japanese] cup was a shade smaller in size and had the identical Laughlin modeling at the base instead of the rim.

The set of Laughlin Appletree mixing bowls was copied in its entirety - exact in shape and pattern. Only the most experienced eye could detect the inferior quality of the duplication glaze and body and poor workmanship.

American industrialists have recourse in such cases to the federal trade commission and Joseph M. Wells, general manager of the Homer Laughlin China Co. protested to Washington after sending samples of both ware, but nothing apparently ever came of it.

Frederick H. Rhead, art director of the Homer Laughlin Co., who designed the Coronet and Appletree shapes, points out that "the Japanese commercial ceramic work today has neither style nor artistic merit. The Japanese manufacturer is not interested in these qualities. His only concern is to place a vastly inferior product at a price which will both yield a larger profit and yet undersell American wares. The majority of the designs and decorations are not typically Japanese at all, but are poor and often atrocious copies of American and European best sellers. In this he is strongly supported by his government, which from time to time makes large purchases of American and European wares exhibited at the various international expositions and in the various stores, to be used as samples for the Japanese manufacturers."

HLC embossed marking.
The 9 ¾" will usually have a backstamp.

Large size Appletree bowl made in Japan.
Inset shows how it is marked.

Listing of treatments on the Appletree bowls from the 1937 Pound Sterling catalog.

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