Like real outdoor fungi, there are a seemingly endless variety of indoor mushrooms to research, study, and collect. In the 1960s, mushrooms became a popular décor choice. They could be found on everything like bumper stickers, guitars, t-shirts, and, of course, kitchen ware.
The nine companies highlighted here either manufactured and sold, or imported and sold, mushroom kitchen ware and décor from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Importing ceramic knick knacks and kitchenware from places like Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Italy was big business for much of the 20th Century, and is a collecting realm unto itself today. Once Sears' Merry Mushrooms proved incredibly popular, other kitchen and cookware manufacturers and importers created their own mushroom-clad products.
Not exhaustive by any means, this list includes some of the most requested identifications. And while these are not original Sears Merry Mushrooms, they are certainly desirable to collectors. Remember, collect what appeals to you and what brings you joy!
Arnel’s Pottery, based in Beaverton, Oregon, produced ceramic molds for hobbyists beginning in 1953. They also sold unfinished or bisque-finished ceramics to craft stores, art classes, or to other companies who would glaze and sell finished products. Though it is unclear whether or not the company is still in operation, or even what its correct name is (alternately called Arnels, Arnel’s, or Arnel and combined with one of the words Pottery, Ceramics, or Molds), Arnel’s molds are still available through several ceramics suppliers.
Even though existing pieces vary greatly in color and quality of finish, dependent on the skill and preference of the artist, Arnel’s pieces are easily identified by the “Arnel’s” usually inscribed on the bottom, and by the lid knob consisting of three standing mushrooms. There is a version of make-your-own-pottery with a prostrate mushroom on the lid (like Merry Mushrooms), which may be Arnel's or another mold maker. Artists usually add the date and/or their initials.
"Empress by Haruta" (Hartua Co.?)
Called "Empress by Haruta" because of the surviving black and gold shield-shaped import stickers found on many of the pieces, this mushroom line remains a bit of a mystery, albeit a fascinating one.
A reference to a ceramic importer with Haruta in its name is found in the May 1968 Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, where the full name is listed as "Empress China & Design. Haruta & Co., Inc."
Another reference to Haruta & Co. is in the Catalog of Copyright Entries from 1931. Wildly, the description of the trademark matches the Empress China maker's mark that has been attributed to Charles Sadek Import on Figurines-Sculpture.com. The "H" in the center of the red mark may be a clue that it's really the mark for Haruta & Co. Maybe?
Switching gears and searching by the design of the import sticker led to two red and gold import stickers on other non-mushroom ceramic and porcelain items, "Empress by YMM" and "Empress by Haruta Taiwan." According to pictures of a box of porcelain coffee mugs featured in an old eBay listing, "Empress by YMM" is apparently YMM Napoli Import. No searches have shed light on YMM Napoli Import other that perhaps it's an Italian producer.
Because of the nearly identical design, it can be assumed that all three shield-shaped import stickers are from the same company, but denote different design lines or import channels. The "Empress by Haruta Taiwan" sticker is likely on items imported after 1979, following the United States Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) which created unofficial relations with Taiwan, including trade. Is that company Haruta & Co., Inc.?
Fingerhut Companies, Inc.
This style of mushroom decal on this type of cookware has been identified by collectors as sold by Fingerhut. Fingerhut Companies, Inc. was founded in 1948 and, in 1952, became a mail-order business offering towels, cookware, and electric drills. In 1979, it became a subsidiary of American Can, Co. Their pots and pans appear to be marked "©FINGERHUT" and the year underneath the handle(s) in black. Unfortunately, identification and date(s) for the mushroom pattern has not been verified due to an absence of sources like catalogs or other advertising at this time.
Fred Roberts Co.
Incorporated in 1920 under Fred H. Roberts Co. in Boston, Fred Roberts Co. was one of many American companies that imported dishes and knick knacks from Japan after World War II. The company is best known for its imported music boxes, so much so that, in 1982, it registered a trademark for ceramic music boxes under the name Fred Roberts Co. San Francisco and Design. Items usually have a printed item/pattern number and may still have the rectangular silver and black import sticker reading "FRED ROBERTS CO., MADE IN JAPAN."
General Housewares Corporation (GHC)
GHC is the General Housewares Corporation. By the early 1980s, they were the only US producer of enameled cookware. It is possible that GHC produced some Merry Mushrooms cookware pieces for Sears. However, beginning with the 1976 Sears catalog, Japan is listed as the country of origin for the cookware plus all the Sears cookware boxes are labeled as made in Japan.
When compared to authentic Merry Mushrooms, the colors of the GHC pieces are too bright, almost garish, and the posture of the mushrooms themselves is a little unnatural and psychedelic, not the pleasant playfulness of Merry Mushrooms.
Himark Enterprises, Inc.
Himark Enterprises, Inc. was incorporated in 1968 and operated until 2000. Based in Hauppauge, New York, they were a self-described "small importer of housewares and gift ware articles" like platters, kitchen tool holders, coffee mugs, wall plaques, canister sets, cake plates, serving bowls, and soup tureens. These items were bought from factories in Japan Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea, Portugal, and Italy. They grew to have showrooms in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Dallas, and a distribution center in Ontario, Canada, but dissolved in 2000 citing U.S. retailers' ability to buy directly from producers in China.
Interestingly, in 1988, Himark's director of imports Brian Leupold, along with witnesses from Williams-Sonoma and Pier 1 Imports, testified before the Subcommittee of Oversight and Investigations for the hearing on lead and cadmium in housewares in 1988. If you want to come down the rabbit hole, here is the official report and transcript. The C-SPAN video of the hearing is also available.
Himark representatives also sat on the Committee of Independent Cookware Importers in 1986. The report is here along with other U.S. International Trade Commission reports. Included in the same report is a complaint filed by Warner Brothers, Inc. against entities selling unauthorized likenesses of characters in their hit 1984 movie, Gremlins.
Lefton Mushroom Forest
Lefton China (the material, not the country) pieces were produced from 1946 to the 1970s. During the 1980s, production moved to Taiwan and Malaysia. Some of the last items made in Japan were the Mushroom Forest pieces, most of which are marked 1970 and offered in the 1973 Lefton catalog.
This robust line included canisters, salt and pepper shakers, a butter dish, different pitchers, a gravy boat, a soup tureen with ladle and plate, mugs, an egg plate, an appetizer plate, and a serving platter. All items are embossed ceramic with wood grain detailing, including knots, and glazed yellow-brown. Most of the pieces are decorated with light brown, dark brown cap, and orange cap black-spotted mushrooms, light and dark brown acorns, and leafy fern-like greenery.
Psychedelic Mushrooms (Sears & Roebuck)
Funky and unrealistic mushrooms grew in popularity in the early 1960s as the counterculture in the United States gained momentum. These mushrooms had exaggerated sizes, colors, and greenery. They could be bright blue, green, yellow, red, hot pink, or resemble the trendy patchwork look of gingham, polka dots, and paisley.
In the 1970 Sears Wish Book, a collection of psychedelic mushrooms including canisters, a potholder, towels, mugs, and salad bowls appear on the same page as the Merry Mushrooms cookie jar and a number of other mushroom items.
Relpo (Reliable Glassware & Pottery Co./Samson Import Co.)
A division of Samson Import Co. in Chicago, Reliable Glassware & Pottery Co. (Relpo), was yet another importer of doodads in the early to mid-20th Century, and best known for their head vases. Pieces are marked with "©SAMSON IMPORT CO" with the year and pattern/item number underneath, plus a gold and black import sticker reading "Relpo, Chicago ILL, Made in Japan." Based on the years stamped on the bottom, it appears Relpo stopped importing in the late 1960s.
4/23/2023 10:02:39 pm
This is a very interesting read! It answered a lot of questions I was JUST asking myself today. Thank you for this information.
5/7/2023 08:28:04 pm
Thank you for the information, specifically the Arnels collection. I have two mugs I found in my grandmother’s house that I think might be Arnels but they have initials only on the underside. I would love to know if they were part of a set but I found nothing else in my grandmothers home.
Leave a Reply.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.