Collecting Mania: Lu-Ray Pastels
Set your table with jewels. That's what a 1940s brochure for the Taylor, Smith & Taylor Co. (TS&T) invited homemakers to do using the firm's softly hued dinnerware line - Lu-Ray Pastels. Introduced in 1938, Lu-Ray was marketed by the East Liverpool, Ohio, firm as an alternative to the bold "fiesta" colors then popular in "modern" dinnerware. More than a half century later, the Art Deco-inspired plates, platters, pitchers, tumblers, and teacups still catch collectors' eyes.
Lu-Ray Pastels have simple designs and cheerful colors, but there's more to it than that. The look is retro, yet it has stood the test of time. A table set entirely with Lu-Ray is classy, but the pieces were introduced as a moderately priced pattern meant for the everyday working person.
Named for the colorful caverns in Luray, Va., Lu-Ray Pastels were originally produced in four colors: Windsor Blue, Sharon Pink, Surf Green, and a buttery yellow called Persian Cream. A fifth color, Chatham Gray, was added to the line in 1949 but didn't prove as popular with homemakers as the original four. Chatham Gray was discontinued in 1955; the rarity of pieces in this color have bolstered their desirability among today's collectors.
Reflecting the early-20th-century's elaborate dining rituals, T.S.&T. produced 29 pieces in the original Lu-Ray line, including not only the basic plates, bowls, and cups but a wide variety of specialized serving pieces as well. The line's immediate success encouraged the manufacturer to add new pieces every year through 1942, including a tiny bud vase and urn in 1939, a covered muffin plate in 1940, and a set of four nesting mixing bowls in 1941. Following World War II, however, Americans yearned for simplicity in food preparation and presentation, so most of Lu-Ray's elegant but nonessential serving pieces were discontinued by 1947. As with Chatham Gray items, the rarity of serving pieces produced for a limited time have made them particularly desirable with collectors.
Lu-Ray Pastels remained one of America's most popular dinnerware patterns through the early 1960s (production ceased in 1961). After that time, piles of the colorful pieces were discarded, often viewed simply as unfashionable "old dishes." This unfortunate turn, coupled with 60 years of repeated use and the inevitable breakage, has dramatically decreased the supply of Lu-Ray. Because of the pattern's revived popularity with collectors over the past few years, the hunt for quality Lu-Ray Pastels - especially certain rare designs - has become more challenging.
One factor affecting the market is online auction sites. Online auctions have been both good and bad for Lu-Ray collectors. Through sites like eBay, you can sometimes locate hard-to-find pieces that might have taken you years to find otherwise. On the other hand, prices tend to run quite high. Rare pieces can reach several hundred dollars each. Generally speaking, prices on eBay are about 50 to 100 percent higher than what you'd pay for similar pieces in an antiques shop.
But for those collectors who savor the joy of a patient pursuit, there is still plenty of Lu-Ray to be found. Searching for these pastel beauties, whether online or at antiques stores and flea markets, can become an open-ended Easter-egg hunt. Common pieces can still be found for $10 to $15, and rare pieces even appear from time to time in unexpected places, but those can often cost $100 to $200. It's still possible to amass a wonderful collection - and the pieces look particularly great when they're displayed in large numbers - but it has definitely become more of a challenge.