This is a hard to find ramekin shallow bowl and saucer set, made by Syracuse China and prized by Santa Fe Railroad collectors. So pretty in the exquisitely lifelike pattern named "California Poppy," this one likely was made for railroad restaurateur Fred Harvey, or possibly the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe.
Made by Syracuse China (which actually grew flowers at the factory to ensure the artwork was lifelike), different stages of poppy blooms appear: a tight bud, a partially opened bud and a flower in full bloom. The gracefully shaped bowl is approximately 3-1/2 inches across and 1-1/2 inches tall, with all three stages of bloom gracing its sides.
CONDITION: Extremely nice, wonderfully clean and it has all three floral decals: a Poppy in full bloom, another partly open and a third in the bud stage. All the artwork is beautiful, bright and cheerful. There are NO cracks, chips, flakes or repairs and no age darkening or yellowing.
We cannot be positive whether these ramekin sets went to Fred Harvey or to the Santa Fe, but most California Poppy dinnerware purchased by the railroad was marked with a special railway marking that does not appear on Harvey-ordered pieces. Although ramekin pieces are more delicate than the substantial, thick commercial type that makes up most railroad china, this particular set is recognized in the hobby as genuine and railroad ordered. An important note is that they carry the standard Syracuse China manufacturer stamp. This saucer is bottom marked correctly with a date code of 5-KK (May 1956). The bowl somehow escaped being marked, but we guarantee it is absolutely authentic and a perfect mate to the saucer.
"California Poppy" was so well loved it was ordered and used right up until Amtrak began operations. Most of this ware was used by Fred Harvey, who operated eating houses along the Santa Fe's route, catered meals aboard the railway's dining cars, and established a chain of hotels he built called Harvey Houses -- America's first restaurant chain.
COLLECTOR NOTE: The Santa Fe Railroad and Fred Harvey purchased exclusive rights to the California Poppy pattern, produced by Syracuse China. However, this ownership apparently applied only to heavy restaurant/hotel commercial weight ware. Syracuse China also made and sold lighter household weight china decorated with identical “Poppy” artwork -- "thinware" that is often mistaken for railroad china, BUT the lighter weight dishes were never sold to the railroad or used on trains. Instead, intended for household use, all were distributed through standard retail outlets.
Beware especially of pieces with “S.S.” (“Store Selection") in the bottom marking. This mark was applied to high-quality seconds that would be sold at Syracuse factory outlets. However, although this ware has no collectible value to railroad china collectors, many enjoy using it on the table, while their authentic Santa Fe pieces sit safely on display cabinet shelves.
BACKGROUND: During the 1880s and 1890s, an enterprising man named Fred Harvey teamed with Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad in the southwestern United States with a goal of providing railway travelers the finest onboard dining and rail-side eating establishments in the industry. As rail travel grew, Harvey provided over-the-rails operations aboard Santa Fe dining cars, and then further expanded into building hotels called Harvey Houses at strategic locations along the AT&SF route. At its heyday, there were 84 Harvey Houses, all of which catered to wealthy and middle-class visitors alike. The business continued to be operated by Harvey's sons and grandsons until 1968, when it was sold to a Hawaiian-based company.
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