Buffalo China

Ava Gardner
Have you ever been watching a 1930s or 40s movie where someone walks into a diner or a roadside hash house or some little drugstore lunch counter, and they order a donut and coffee or a cheeseburger "hold the onions" and coffee or "no thanks" just coffee, and the waitress brings them a thick, clunky cup and saucer, and the waitress pulls a pencil from behind her ear and fills out a little ticket for the thing, even though there's hardly anyone else in the place, and it's Saturday night, and if she had any kind of life, she would blow this town, but from what she's seen of the world one sorry little burg is just as bad as another, so what the hell? I digress. The clunky cup and saucer combination is called restaurant ware, and the best examples were made by companies with names like Buffalo China, Carr, Shenango, Jackson, Sterling, Syracuse, and Wallace. They had to be thick and clunky so they could withstand years and years of rough use by tough customers and manhandling by the dishwasher in the back who says he came from Kansas City, but he don't know nothing about Missouri or Kansas, and the waitress spotted a gun in his room on the one and only time she ever visited it, and sometimes it's just better not to ask too many questions.
Barbara Cook
You can stop by an antique store and buy one of these little gems. And if you ever use it, like pour actual coffee into it and drink from it, well, you'll realize that they only hold about six or eight ounces of liquid. Which, along with the prices back then, might explain why the character at the diner in the movie only pays a nickel for his cup of coffee.
Buffalo China
Buffalo China
If you go to eBay and look up the word "restaurant" under the Pottery & China category, you'll find oodles of them. Can I say "oodles" here? (American English is such fun, isn't it? For our foreign visitors "oodles" basically means "scads.") Buffalo China cups and saucers make nice accents for bookshelves and video shelves. On one of my bookshelves, I have a Shenango cup and saucer next to my copy of Weegee's Naked City. On one of my video shelves, I have a Syracuse cup and saucer in front of Union Station and Half Shot at Sunrise. They complete that art deco retro noir look you're longing for.
Ava Gardner
The above photo is not really a good example of Buffalo China-type restaurant ware, because it's Ciro's and the cup handles are kind of bigger than the clunkier stuff. But you'll notice that Ava Gardner (Mrs. Mickey Rooney/Mrs. Frank Sinatra) has already finished a smoke (it's in the ashtray), while Howard Duff (Mr. Ida Lupino) is still holding his. And the publicity guys have swept away all the vodka glasses and replaced them with coffee cups and saucers. And these two notorious boozehounds are not ordering food anyway, but the Ciro's menu in the photo is good for business. The look in Ava Gardner's eyes tells us that a bullfighter in tight pants has just entered the restaurant. (That's a lot of history in one photograph.)


Campaspe said...

Yes, I know exactly what you are talking about and now you may well have me scrounging ebay (is "scrounge" okay? :D) to get my own set.

the refills were free, though, weren't they? that must have been a blessing.

Mr. Herbert Hoover
says that now's the time to buy
so let's have another cup of coffee
and let's have another piece of pie!

Great post but damn if I know how to classify it.

Karen said...

There's actually a store in NYC called Fishs Eddy (sic--there's no apostrophe) that sells remaindered restaurant ware pretty cheap. It's FAB. I've bought a ton of stuff there. But you're not kidding about its weight: that stuff would survive an earthquake.