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Decora Ceramics records

 Collection
Identifier: H-Mss-0276

  • Staff Only

Scope and Contents

This collection contains catalogs, price lists, designs, photographs, and ceramic objects documenting the history of Decora Ceramics, and its predecessor, Ylyne Studio, makers of Smithware and Florencita, circa 1947-1953. The designs are watercolors of some of the earliest products in the Smithware and Florencita lines. Other materials include posed and candid photographs of the owners and employees of Decora Ceramics, extensive photographs of Decora Ceramics' products, and the pocket book of co-owner Smith Russell indicating the cash amount paid to employees for each item manufactured. The ceramic items consist of three plates, a jelly plate, two butter melters, and a jar for bobby pins.

Dates

  • 1946-2009
  • Majority of material found within 1946 - 1953

Creator

Language of Materials

The materials are written in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish or to reproduce, please contact Honnold/Mudd Library, Special Collections staff.

Historical Note

Smith Russell (1895-1979) was born in Lincoln, Illinois, the son of a faculty member at Lincoln University. In 1904, the family settled in Claremont, where Smith's father, William Polk Russell, had taken a position as instructor in mathematics at Pomona College. Smith graduated from Pomona College in 1917. He began his career in ceramics in 1946 by purchasing Yylyne Studio in Los Angeles, whose assets at that time consisted of a single employee, a small electric kiln, a small mixer for making slip, a paint booth, glazes and some molds. Smith began develioping proprietary glazes and designed new articles which were painted, glazed and fired essentially one item at a time.

In May 1947, Smith's youngest son, Wilfred "Bill" Russell, purchased Palm Garden Pottery located in Inglewood for its manufacturing facilities. Smith and Bill became partners, and Ylyne moved to the Inglewood location, where the additional kilns and other equipment were put to use. The business expanded, with Smith creating new original products and glazes and supervising production of paster molds in house from his designs. The products were identified with the trade name "Florencita", after Smith's wife, Florence Mildred (Dodge) Russell (1895-1998), also Pomona College class of 1917.

In May 1949, the partners incorporated under the name Decora Cermics. The company created decorative household ceramic items such as ashtrays and wall plaques. Decora Ceramics enjoyed popularity nationwide, but by mid-1952 Japanese copies of their products, identical in design, precisely copied, and priced well below Decora's production costs, began to flood the market. Decora's profits plummeted and the partners reluctantly concluded that the company would not be able to remain competitive in the business. Not wishing to endure liquidation, the owners sold surplus production equipment to others in the industry not yet impacted by the Japanese pottery manufactuerers; other assets were sold at auction, the property was leased, and Decora Ceramics closed in the summer of 1953.

Source: Bill Russell, History of Decora Ceramics, Inc. (August 20, 2009) (box 1, folder 1).

Extent

3 boxes (19 folders and 7 ceramic objects)

Overview

This collection contains catalogs, price lists, designs, photographs, and ceramic objects documenting the history of Decora Ceramics, and its predecessor, Ylyne Studio, makers of Smithware and Florencita, circa 1947-1953. The firms were founded and co-owned by Smith Russell (1895-1979), Pomona College class of 1917, and his son Bill.

Arrangement

The collection is organized in two series:
  • Series 1: Decora Ceramics Records
  • Series 2: Decora Ceramics Products
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Gift of Lorelyn Lewis, 2009.

    Related Materials

    Smith and Florence Russell Family Papers, Special Collections and Archives, Honnold/Mudd Library, Claremont University Consortium.

    Separated Materials

    Smith Russell, The History of Smith and Florence Russell and Family (typescript, 1968-1971), transferred to Smith and Florence Russell Family Papers, Special Collections and Archives, Honnold/Mudd Library, Claremont University Consortium.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Jonathan Gillett for Archival Studies 311, Claremont Graduate University, Spring 2010. Revised and encoded by Michael Palmer, January 2011.

    Creator

    Title
    Finding Aid to the Decora Ceramics records
    Status
    In Progress
    Author
    Jonathan Gillett
    Date
    May 2010
    Description rules
    Describing Archives: A Content Standard
    Language of description
    English
    Script of description
    Code for undetermined script
    Language of description note
    Finding aid written in: English

    Repository Details

    Part of the 01 - Special Collections, Honnold/Mudd Library Repository

    Contact:
    800 North Dartmouth Ave
    Claremont CA 91711 United States