This article, written under my married name Kitty Hanson, was first published in All About Glass, Vol. XI No. 4, pp. 8-14, Jan. 2014.
A Beginner’s Guide to Gay Fad
People often ask me, “What’s your favorite Gay Fad design?” Answering that question is as impossible as asking a mother to disclose which of her children she loves most! For starters, there are over 1,000 different individual Gay Fad designs, ranging from kitchy cartoon and/or stick figures to an abundance of fruit, flower, and animal designs to exquisite gold-enhanced modern art and geometrics. Fran Taylor and her group of designers were nothing if not prolific and Gay Fad Studios decorated a prodigious amount of glassware during its relatively short life from 1945 to 1962. To complicate matters even further, many pieces carry neither the Gay Fad insignia nor one of the variously styled Gay Fad signatures. And yes, there are “fakes” out there, or at least “Gay Fad” items being sold by unknowledgeable dealers who assume they have a Gay Fad piece when they really don’t!
So what’s an aspiring Gay Fad collector to do? This article will get you off to a good start by showing a representative sampling of Gay Fad designs period by period.
1940-1949: The Early Years
Fran actually started Gay Fad Studios in 1937-1938 from her home in Detroit. A talented artist and entrepreneur, she bought a gross of metal wastebaskets, decorated them with her own designs, and sold them to various department stores. Luckily for us history buffs, a 1947 magazine article1 included a photo of “one of the wastebaskets that started it all.”
Fran soon switched to decorating glass since metalware was difficult to come by during World War II. While we have virtually no examples of her early work, having yet to discover a Gay Fad article or ad dated prior to 1945, we do know that she was producing her Rose design, complete with the Gay Fad insignia, at least as early as 1941. When one of her brothers was married in Detroit that year, Fran presented him and his bride with a pair of hand-painted Rose lamps as a wedding present. Their daughter still has those lamps today! This same design first appeared in a Gay Fad ad in the July 1948 issue of China, Glass and Decorative Accessories and was available on both clear and frosted tumblers, as well as frosted zombie glasses.
In the autumn of 1945, Fran relocated her entire operation, including Red Burn, her husband and Gay Fad’s general sales manager, and Wilhelmina Butcher, Gay Fad’s head designer, to Lancaster, OH, the heart of the glass manufacturing industry. There she purchased two pieces of property on Pierce Avenue. One of them contained a 2-story building where the Burns and the Butchers took up residence and set up shop. For the neighboring property, Fran designed a production facility, obtained financing, and proceeded to act as her own contractor for its construction.2 She also bought and installed a modern Surface Combustion continuous type lehr so her newly-hired artists would be able to use the special ceramic paints required for fired glassware.3 Unlike the earlier cold painting technique where designs were simply painted onto glassware, the firing process fused the painted design with the glass, resulting in a design that lasts the lifetime of the glass itself without chipping or rubbing away.
One of the first designs to come out of the lehr was the Fruit design, actually a set of eight frosted tumblers, each one featuring a different fruit with Gay Fad’s characteristic squiggly stems. Additional stand-alone fruit designs, such as Pineapple, appeared on juice sets, while still others, such as Tomato, appeared on beverage sets. These fruit designs were quickly followed by International Ballet, a set of 8 frosted tumblers, each depicting a dancer in the native costume of his or her country, and Poppy, which comes in four different colors: red, yellow, orange, and blue.
In 1947 Fran introduced Frantasia, her exclusive line of snack sets, which she designed herself – not a design to paint and fire on glassware, but the glassware itself! But since Gay Fad was a decorating company, not a glass manufacturer, she entered into an arrangement with Hazel-Atlas, the glass company from which she bought the majority of her blanks, whereby Hazel-Atlas would manufacture the glass and Gay Fad would decorate the pieces that, in fact, were decorated. The undecorated version was called Crystal Clear. Numerous Gay Fad designs, such as Ivy, Country Modern, and Magnolia, graced other Frantasia sets.
By the way, Fran and Red were divorced in 1947, so while the earliest Frantasia ads say “designed by Fran Burn,” the later ones say only “designed by Fran.” Fran subsequently married Bruce Taylor in 1948. He quickly became Gay Fad’s general manager and their only child Stephanie was born in 1950.
Gay Fad also produced a number of animal and bird designs, such as Giraffe and Flamingo, both from 1948. Collector alert: Gay Fad’s flamingo stands squarely on both of its legs. Any flamingo with an upraised leg is not a Gay Fad design.
In 1949 Gay Fad created its own equipment and process for silk screening designs onto glass. Now much more elaborate and detailed designs could be produced, like the Currier and Ives series introduced in the July 1949 issue of China and Glass and the Charles Dickens series introduced in the August 1949 issue of Crockery and Glass Journal. The Currier and Ives series, meant to coordinate with Royal China’s Currier and Ives dinnerware pattern, features eight separate Currier and Ives prints in three different color combinations: pink and white, blue and white, and full color with hand-painted accents The Charles Dickens series features eight separate Dickens characters, two each from A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, Pickwick Papers, and Oliver Twist.
1950-1954: New Lines, Souvenirs, and Novelties
In 1950 Gay Fad introduced its Gay Nineties design, available in a full line of barware. Most pieces were frosted glassware, but some have the full-color design on a painted white background. Gay Nineties includes a number of individual designs depicting caricatures of people in period costume. Collector alert: Mom and Dad were featured on their own Hazel-Atlas mugs, one of the few instances where Gay Fad decorated milk glass pieces.
Gay Nineties was such an immediate hit that Gay Fad soon introduced three sub-lines: Here’s To, Portraits, and Beach Scenes. The Here’s To series features both new and familiar Gay Nineties characters, this time on frosted mugs, frosted tumblers, and frosted zombie glasses, each including an appropriate jingle which always begins with “Here’s to...” One of the most often seen is “Here’s to you! Gal of distinction, and other things I dare not mention!”
The following year Gay Fad introduced Portraits, the Gay Nineties sub-series featuring eight “ancestors” on two sizes of frosted pilsner glasses. The ancestors are Papa, Mama, Victoria, Rupert, Grandpa, Uncle Bertie, Aunt Aggie, and Horace (deceased). We’ve also found Uncle Bertie and Aunt Aggie on clear glass Frantasia plates, so it’s possible that other ancestors were likewise so honored. Collector alert: Except for the Frantasia pieces, no Gay Fad Gay Nineties design is on clear glass. Nor do any Gay Fad Gay Nineties designs include the words “Gay Nineties.”
The Beach Scenes sub-series was introduced in 1953. Now the Gay Nineties characters donned period beach attire and were available on various frosted barware pieces. Many are on Here’s To zombie glasses, and some are on You-Me-Ours cocktail sets.
In 1954 Gay Fad began producing a full line of state souvenir glasses, one for each of the 48 states and the District of Columbia. (Remember, Alaska and Hawaii didn’t become states until 1959, and Gay Fad ultimately produced souvenir glasses for them as well.) Originally each state’s frosted glass contained a state map and state-related graphics that were available in three different colors: pink, lime green, and yellow. Orange and blue variations soon followed. Some glasses carry the Gay Fad insignia, but many do not. Virtually all are on Hazel-Atlas blanks. Some states have their designs on juice glasses and pitchers as well as glasses, and a few have their designs on milk glass coffee mugs with the State Seal on the front. Collector alert: As far as we know, all the Gay Fad state souvenir coffee mugs carry the Gay Fad insignia.
The state souvenir glasses went through several design variations over the years, mostly having to do with their backgrounds. You can find them with black graphics on variously colored “picket fence” backgrounds, white, gold, or copper graphics on variously colored wavy backgrounds, and white graphics on clear glasses with variously colored shaded interiors. Collector alert: Other companies produced state souvenir glasses, too. Until you become thoroughly familiar with Gay Fad’s designs, don’t buy any unmarked state souvenir glass assuming it to be Gay Fad.
Gay Fad also produced numerous novelty designs, the most popular being the “Say When” series. These 4-oz frosted juice glasses feature a variety of variously colored stick figures or cartoon characters with appropriate words at each ounce marking, such as the hapless Golfer design whose ounce markings are 1-Drive, 2-Hive, 3-Bee, 4-Flee.
Gay Fad’s Texas Jiggers series, so called because they hold 16 ounces, feature variously colored cartoon characters on clear glasses with white interiors or clear glasses with white banner backgrounds. Many are “night cap” designs, such as the Bowler’s Nite Cap whose ounce markings are 3-used the wrong ball, 4-too much thumb, 6-sore thumb, 10-lopsided ball, 15-foul line moved. Believe it or not, Gay Fad even produced Texas Jiggers for the Republicans and the Democrats!
Moving from the ridiculous to the sublime, a Gay Fad ad in the November 1954 issue of Crockery & Glass Journal introduced Gaite, “gay glassware with a French air of fashion.” Some of this line’s eight known designs (there may be more as yet undiscovered) are exquisite black and gold designs on clear glassware with a solid colored interior, usually pink, such as the Intermezzo design. Others, such as Meadow are full-color designs on clear glassware with variously colored shaded interiors. Some Gaite designs carry the distinctive gaite signature with a caret over the i and an accent over the e. This is the only known instance of a Gay Fad piece carrying anything other than a Gay Fad signature or insignia. Collector alert: Some Gaite designs are signed Gay Fad and others carry no markings at all.
1955-1959: Gold, Geometrics, Boudoir Jars, and Bent Glass
Gay Fad introduced its very first gold-enhanced design in the December 1953 issue of Crockery and Glass Journal. Abstract is a lovely black-and-gold design of two highly stylized birds in flight on clear glasses with a completely white interior. Interestingly, the name of the elegant design variation depicting the exact same birds in full gold on clear glasses with a completely black interior is Flight.
By 1955 the majority of Gay Fad designs were either gold-enhanced or in full gold, such as 1957’s patriotic Golden Eagle and 1958’s Bolero, an elaborate golden swirls design. But there were several new non-gold designs, too, including 1955’s Royal Court, a red and black playing card design, and 1957’s colorful Provincial Rooster, made to coordinate with Metlox China’s Rooster dinnerware design.
Gay Fad also branched out into decorated boudoir, apothecary, and candy jars as well as bent glass trays. Golden Waltz, a golden threads design on turquoise or pink jars, was introduced in 1955, as was Riviera, a complex gold mosaic bands design on jars with pink, turquoise, or white backgrounds or graduated color interior. Bent glass designs started appearing in 1956, such as the stunning Woodland design composed of 24 karet gold leaves and foliage on clear glass tumblers and bent glass trays of various shapes and sizes. Most Gay Fad bent glass pieces have pebble-textured undersides, but a few, such as 1958’s Purr-Sha, a delightful Persian cats design in mauve, turquoise, and 24k gold with a fancy graphic border, are on clear non-textured bent glass.
Keeping abreast with the latest trends in graphic design, Gay Fad brought out two new geometric designs in 1956. Nutmeg is a restful design composed of brown and pinkish beige bands on clear glass or clear glass with graduated white interiors. Mexicana was introduced in the August 1956 edition of Gift and Art Buyer. The ad copy reads: “New...exciting...with the drama of old Mexico in color and shape! Mexicana is developed from clear crystal that is generously encased in white before Gay Fad artists apply a bold, banded design so striking against the solid white shapes. Gay Fad’s new pattern retains the charming irregularities so often found in authentic Mexican handcrafts.” By the way, Gay Fad’s ad in the June 1956 edition of China Glass and Tablewares calls this exact same design Navajo!
These were followed in 1957 by Danish, a complicated brown and yellow geometric design on clear glass tumblers or bent milk glass trays, and its companion Danish Lace, the same design done in white and embossed (raised) oyster white, also on clear glass tumblers or bent clear glass trays.
However, Gay Fad didn’t abandon more traditional designs. 1958’s Bob White design in brown, turquoise, and 24 karet gold on clear or frosted glass was made to coordinate with Redwing’s Bob White dinnerware pattern, while Barbershop Quartet is a blast from the past featuring caricatures of old-fashioned barbers on clear glass barware. The 4-decanter set came in a lockable wire tantalus, while the bar glasses include the beginning lyrics to “I want a girl just like the girl who married dear old dad.”
Undoubtedly Gay Fad’s most loveable designs are the Horace and Horace, Jr. chip-‘n’-dip sets, both introduced in 1959. Horace has a brass wire body, a black and white face glass, two undecorated clear glass “saddlebags,” a cheese knife with tassel for a tail, and an attached brass cart, complete with wheels, bearing a large undecorated glass potato chip bowl. Horace, Jr. is the same set sans cart, except that Horace, Jr. has his own expressive black and white face glass.
1960-1962: End of an Era
Two designs of note from 1960 are Antique Guns and Constitution. Antique Guns, in honor of the Civil War centennial, depicts a variety of old-time percussion pistols, flintlock pistols, Springfield rifles, dueling pistols, revolvers, and carbines, each with its name underneath. Staying with the historical theme, Constitution depicts the 3-masted USS Constitution ship (“Old Ironsides”) in 24 karet gold on a midnight blue medallion surrounded by a 24 karet gold frame with an American eagle and stars. Gay Fad introduced very few new designs in 1961, and none at all in 1962 prior to the company’s demise in the summer of that year.
Collecting Gay Fad
The good news for today’s collectors is that there are still plenty of Gay Fad pieces out there. Most are in pristine condition, quite remarkable considering that this glassware is now 50-70 years old!
But the best advice to new Gay Fad collectors is actually a warning: steer clear of Fire-King! Gay Fad decorated very few Anchor Hocking blanks (mostly pitchers), and NEVER decorated any of the Fire-King Anchor White casseroles, bowls, mugs, custard cups, bakeware, et al. Those ubiquitous Fire-King pieces decorated with fruits and flowers are NOT Gay Fad designs, even though “everybody knows” they are. Sorry, “everybody” is wrong!
Remember, Gay Fad wasn’t the only mid-century glass decorating company and the Washington Company of Washington, PA, was perhaps Gay Fad’s biggest competitor. Those Fire-King fruit designs are actually various elements of Washington Company’s Vintage design, while the Fire-King pink flower design is Washington Company’s Apple Blossom design. Both of these designs were appearing in Washington Company ads as early as 1956 and were still featured in Washington Company’s 1968 catalog, six years after Gay Fad went out of business.
On a happier note, the other good news for Gay Fad collectors is that new previously unknown designs continue to surface. We’ve discovered three so far this year, the latest in June when we found a set of eight signed Balinese tumblers still in their original Gay Fad box with the design name stamped on one side! This gorgeous gold-enhanced portrait of a Balinese lady in full native headdress is a major new Gay Fad design discovery. How fortunate that this set’s previous owner(s) never even took it out of the box. Without the box, its design name would have been lost in the mists of time.
1“Beauty and the Baskets,” American Magazine, June, 1947.
2Ohio in Picture and Story, February, 1951.
3“A Woman, Thirty Dollars and Time,” Crockery and Glass Journal, September, 1947.