Dear Helaine and Joe: The enclosed pictures are of an inheritance my mother received approximately 50 years ago. The decorations on each item appear to be hand-painted. There is a complete service for eight plus a large platter and a covered oval vegetable. They are marked "Eggshell Georgian Homer Laughlin Co. Made in USA F43K5 or K41N5." We were wondering about the age and value. Thank you, B. & I.M., Portland, Texas
Dear B. & I.M.: There is some controversy about when the Homer Laughlin Co. came into being. Some claim the predecessor to this now-well-known firm came into being in 1869 when Homer Laughlin formed a partnership with Nathaniel Simms in East Liverpool, Ohio. Others maintain the origin was in 1871 when Homer and his brother, Shakespeare Laughlin, built a two-kiln pottery near the Ohio River in East Liverpool.
Still other sources say the year was 1874. Whichever version is correct, Homer bought out Shakespeare's interest and operated Laughlin Brothers Pottery until 1896 when the company was incorporated.
In 1897, Laughlin sold out his interests to Pittsburgh investors, and although Homer was gone, the company was renamed the "Homer Laughlin China Company." The new owners began expanding the operation by building new pottery plants. In 1909 one was built across the Ohio River in Newell, W.Va., and over the years the company's other facilities were built in that location until the last East Liverpool location was closed in 1929.
In 1937, the company decided that it wanted to appeal to the fine-china market and introduced "Eggshell," which was a lightweight body with thin "chinalike" edges. This body was used on four different shapes — "Nautilus," "Swing," "Theme" and "Georgian."
Pieces with the "Eggshell Georgian" shape did not appear until 1940, and they were all decorated with transfer-printed — not hand painted — designs in various patterns. The pieces belonging to B & I.M. are Eggshell Georgian in the "Countess" pattern, and each piece is marked with a date code that signifies when and where it was made.
Homer Laughlin had been dating its products since about 1900, and the code "F43K5" signifies that pieces with this designation were made in June 1943 in Laughlin's plant No. 5. The K41N5 indicates that the pieces were made in November 1941 in plant No. 5. Therefore, all these dishes are approximately 55 to 56 years old.
Determining values for this type of dinnerware can be tricky. Check with a china-replacement service and you will find that the retail value for a dinner plate is around $14 to $16. But check other online sources and it will soon be discovered that these dinner plates can be purchased for as little as $2 to $3 each.
The most valuable pieces in this set are the covered vegetable, which retails for around $40 to $45; the large platter, which retails for between $32 and $35; and the sugar bowl and cream pitcher, which should be valued in the $55-to-$60 range for the two pieces. However, at the current moment, sets of china such as this are extremely hard to sell, and when they do sell, they fetch disappointingly small amounts of money.
For a full list of retail values, check with Replacements.com under Homer Laughlin "Countess" pattern.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Contact them at Treasures in Your Attic, PO Box 27540, Knoxville, TN 37927. E-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.