Ask A Worthologist: The Railroad Platter
This Mimbreno-design platter was made exclusively for Santa Fe Railway’s dining-car division.
Bart N. was given this platter by a relative. The piece is in very good condition, having been packed away for 40 years. Bart plans to donate it for a charity auction. His questions regarding this piece were forwarded on to me via WorthPoint’s “Ask a Worthologist” service.
“I was given this platter by my aunt, who has been downsizing her belongings and planning to move to Florida. The platter was picked up by my uncle, who worked for a couple of railways for most of his life as a conductor. The platter has been boxed up for years, probably since he retired in the early 1960s, and is in like-new condition. It’s marked on the back “Ancient Mimbreno Indian Designs made expressly for Santa Fe Dining Car Service, Old Ivory, Syracuse.” There is also a number “94-K.” on it. The platter measures 9 1/2 inches by 6 1/2 inches. I understand some railway china is quite collectible and would like to donate this piece to a local charity silent auction. Any information you can provide about it? I’ll print out and put with the platter when it’s set up on the display table.”
The company that made this piece was founded in 1871 as Onondaga Pottery Company (O.P. Co.) in the town of Geddes, New York. The company initially produced earthenware and produced fine china at the turn of the 19th century. Its china found a strong market, largely in hotels, restaurants and railroad dining cars. The manufacturing facility in Syracuse closed in 2009 after 138 years in operation and production was removed from North America.
Railroad china is quite collectible, with values for it depending largely on the rarity of the design and the railroad it is associated with. It’s estimated that Syracuse produced two-thirds of all railroad china in the United States from the turn of the 19th century through the 1930s. Most of it is not all that rare, as commercial-grade china by its design is very durable and can handle a great deal of rough handling. This means that it tends to survive in relatively large numbers due to its durability.
This pattern, though, is quite collectible. The Mimbreno pattern was made from 1936 to 1970 and used exclusively for the Santa Fe Railway’s dining-car department. It remained in use in all the line’s dining cars until about 1971.
Like many companies, Syracuse used a date-code system stamped or pressed on the back of its china. The original intent was for inventory and production records, but today they are very useful in accurately dating when pieces were produced.
Beginning in 1920, the factory started to stamp the date-marks rather than press them into the body. In 1960, it changed its date-code system to indicate the number of years it had been in business. For example, in 1961, the company had been in business for 90 years, thus you’d see the number “90.” Letters were added in 1962 to indicate the month of production; the letter codes running “A” through “L” for January through December.
The marking on yours, 94-K, indicates it was made in November 1966. As far as value goes, we have seen other Syracuse Mimbreno pattern platters sell at auction within the last two years in the $120 to $210 range.
Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.
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