Fiesta® or Fiestaware is a brand of colorful dishes that’s been around since the 20th Century. In fact, Fiesta dinnerware debuted at the Pittsburgh China and Glass Show all the way back in 1936! Their main selling point? All their rainbow color variants you can avail of.
Modern-day Fiesta® dinnerware offers the safety of use in the freezer, dishwasher, conventional oven, and microwave oven. However, what of Vintage Fiestaware? So can you vintage Fiestaware?
Is Vintage Fiestaware Microwave-Safe?
Back in 1986, Bloomingdales partnered with Homer Laughlin in order to reintroduce Fiestaware to the modern home. Post 86 Fiestaware—a 30-plus-year-old vintage dinnerware in and of itself—contains zero lead and can be safely used with your dishwasher and microwave oven.
Vintage-style bakeware, on the other hand, was mostly designed for conventional ovens. You do have products that can safely work with reheating food from the freezer to the oven. Since its introduction in 1936, you could get Fiestaware in 5 basic colors—Yellow, Green, Ivory, Blue, and Red.
They introduced ore color variants throughout the decades but those five remained their mainline variants. The rarest color of them all? Green.
Microwave-Safe Vintage Fiestaware
Also, microwave ovens were already around during the time of vintage Fiestaware anyway, so it depends on how vintage your Fiesta is! Any Fiestaware in the 1960s to the 1970s should be microwave-safe in light of the microwave boom around that time period.
Anything before that should only feature oven-safe bakeware. Around 1967, microwaves became available to households. About 20 years before that, during 1947 and the 1950s, microwaves were regularly found in commercial establishments.
However, you might have bigger concerns than microwave safety when it comes to vintage Fiesta dinnerware. Did you know that a number of them have been proven to be radioactive?
Is Vintage Fiestaware Radioactive?
Fiestaware got discontinued for a bit pre-1986 due to health concerns regarding what’s being put into it (like lead). For example, items like the reddish-orange Fiestaware (“Persimmon”) produced before 1972 contain uranium oxide, which was added to the glaze to give it its color.
Some Fiestaware shouldn’t really be used in modern times for cooking, serving, and so forth due to radioactivity risk. To be clear, modern Post 86 Fiestaware has done away with lead content, uranium content, or any other harmful material (asbestos, maybe?).
Intact vintage dishes do emit radiation but not in harmful Marie Curie levels. However, radiation exposure increases if the pottery ends up cracked, chipped, or damaged. Many collectors consider radioactive Fiestaware as highly sought-after collectibles.
What Happens When You Microwave Radioactive Fiestaware?
Fiestaware in the past hilariously uses uranium oxide on its plates to give them their vibrant color. Thusly, modern Fiesta has federally licensed independent laboratories testing them to ensure they’re lead-free, microwave-safe, dishwasher-safe, oven-proof, and USA-made.
Each vintage Fiestaware plate has had their radioactivity levels published online for everyone to see. No, you probably won’t induce nuclear fission and blow up your home when microwaving radioactive Fiestaware. However, you do risk damaging a potentially non-microwave-safe plate.
As mentioned above, a cracked plate or a plate that has shattered due to thermal shock will have higher levels of radioactivity compared to the lower levels of exposure from an intact Fiestaware dish or plate.
Is It Safe to Use Vintage Fiestaware Instead of Modern Fiestaware?
You will face certain risks in regularly using old Fiestaware plates, particularly the ones containing uranium. We strongly recommend against using the vintage plates in light of many of them being radioactive (as documented extensively on the Internet).
Most, collectors collect them as curiosities, preferably intact and behind a lead safe or radiation-blocking storage facility. You absolutely shouldn’t use Fiestaware with signs of deterioration such as pitting of the glaze or cracks.
Intact vintage Fiestaware with uranium oxide on its glaze already emit low levels of radioactivity reminiscent of x-rays. These don’t pose a health risk but constant regular exposure (as in the case of x-ray technicians) could lead to adverse effects down the line.
How Old is the Company That Makes Fiestaware?
The company responsible for making Fiesta has been around for 150 years. That’s right, a century and a half. Back in 1873, Shakespeare and Homer Laughlin—two brothers—built a two-kiln plant on $300 land located in East Liverpool, Ohio.
The brothers produced quality dinnerware through that plant. The business continued as Homer Laughlin China Works when Homer’s brother Shakespeare left to pursue other endeavors. Homer opened up an even larger plant in Newell, West Virginia—across the Ohio River—as business boomed.
The Debut of Fiestaware with a Distinctive Handmade Look
The chinaware of the Laughlin brothers had a distinctive handmade look to them despite them being produced in a factory. Regardless, the handmade look of Fiesta dinnerware debuted back in 1936 at the Pittsburg China and Glass Show.
Frederick Hurten Rhread—Homer Laughlin’s art director and renowned ceramist—developed the art deco design of Fiestaware’s concentric circles. This made Fiesta look like it’s been formed on a potter’s wheel by hand instead of mass-produced and sold in Woolworths and other five-and-dime stores.
Fiestaware Was Born in the USA
Fiestaware is definitely American-made. All products of the Fiesta brand, particularly after 1986, remain American-made still. They all originate in the Newell, West Virginia plant that still runs to his day, 75 years after they came up with the iconic Fiesta design.
Collectors particularly search for hand-applied knobs and handle on originally covered casseroles during the 1930s Era of Fiestaware. A vintage Fiesta dish could fetch a price of thousands of dollars, especially if they have a measure of radioactivity to them.
To Sum Everything Up
Some vintage Fiestaware in the 1960s to the 1980s (before Post 86) features a measure of microwave-safeness when used. Anything before 1967 at best might be oven-safe as bakeware. Then again, you might have other concerns about vintage Fiesta outside of microwave radiation—like nuclear radiation!
Yes, some Fiestaware got their vibrant colors by having uranium oxide put onto them, like in the case of the reddish-orange Fiesta dinnerware. Not sure what might happen when you microwave that plate, but your food might get contaminated by more than BPA when you do so!
- “Can you put old Fiestaware in the microwave?“, EverythingWhat.com, April 29, 2021
- Lori Vanover, “10 Things You Need to Know About Vintage Fiestaware Dishes“, TasteofHome.com, September 18, 2019