Thursday, February 12, 2009
DISH NIGHT AT THE MOVIE THEATERS
Earlier this week while deciding on a table setting for a luncheon I hosted, I remembered a fascinating conversation I had with my partner Dan's parents regarding tableware during the 1930's depression era . They spoke about how anxious movie-goers stood in long lines at the Lyceum Theater in New York City on West 45TH Street not only to see the featured show, but to also receive a complimentary tableware which was part of a collection the theater had been giving away to movie goers each week. The promotion? Dish Night.
The recent onslaught of tableware manufacturers, like Royal Doulton, Lennox and Waterford, closing shop due to dramatic decreases in sales and profits which economists attributes to the current and ongoing crisis that our global economy is experiencing made me take notice of the similar parallels from the 1930's to today's situation. This left me wondering if history could be on the verge of possibly repeating itself by re-introducing Dish Night?
("Marigold" pattern by Homer Laughlin Company)
In the 1930s when the country suffered the great depression, many Americans were forced to drastically cut back on things that were considered more of a luxury item. Among the many items were tableware and attendance at the movie theaters.
(depression glass platter)
For many Americans, dining was considered an integral part of family recreation. Suffering industries whose business relied on tableware understood that. As an incentive to enticing young women and housewives (who were the target market) to the movies, theater owners along with the cooperation of American pottery manufacturers, Salem China company, Homer Laughlin China company and the American glass industries(depression glass)partnered in a joint venture and created "Dish Night".
(Tricorne Monticello pattern by Salem China Company)
Dish night offered movie goers a complimentary piece of dinnerware such as a dinner plate one week, a matching soup bowl the next and so on. The goal was to entice the movie goer to attend weekly to collect an entire set of the china. Although, Depression glass was also included in the movie theater give-aways, that was mostly distributed by food manufacturers namely Quaker Oats Company at grocery stores and even retailers such as the 5 and 10 cent stores.
(Tricorne Dutch pattern by Salem China Company)
The goal was two fold. One, to offer struggling Americans tableware for their homes in an economy where most were relegated to drinking out of old pickle jars and tin plates. Second, was to help save the jobs of pottery factory workers by allowing the industry to sell their wares to the theaters which kept their doors open during the depression.
(American Homes Melody pattern by Sebring Pottery Company)
Sebring Pottery also employed its staff during the downturn by supplying dishes to meet the demand of the movie houses. In addition to attracting women to the theater under the guise of beautifying their homes with china, some theaters had Bank Night where a monetary prize would be given to the lucky ticket holder. The catch was the winner had to make it on stage to claim the prize in 60 seconds! If a prize was not successfully claimed, it went into the pot toward the next Bank Night prize. Unfortunately, the Bank Night became chaotic and in some towns violent.
The dish makers seized on this and heavily promoted Dish Night to the theaters by stating women who go home with dishes are much happier than movie goers leaving empty handed after Bank Night. Alas, they underestimate the wrath of a woman scorned. In one theater, a shipping debacle resulted in the successive repeat giveaway of gravy boats. On the fifth gravy boat giveaway, the women revolted! They threw gravy boats at the theater owner in protest.
(Tricorne "Mandarin" pattern by Salem China Company)