Pixie-flair: Holt-Howard’s Pixieware ‘fad’ survives 50 years

Welcome to a world of novelty ceramic collectibles from yesteryear. The time was the late 1950s through the early 1960s when so many collectibles were being manufactured in and imported from Japan. This era has become a nostalgic time for us in the United States, always reminding us of past holidays and times gone by. Although this era is gone forever, it has left us with a treasure-trove of wonderful novelty collectibles to seek, purchase, display and enjoy.

For Baby Boomers who grew up in the late 1950s, it was a wonderful period of creativity and transition. Rock ’n Roll was born, which turned our country upside down. Beautifully designed streamlined cars with large tailfins that looked like rocket ships were invading our highways. It was a time of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, sock hops, poodle skirts, bobby socks and greasy D.A. hairdos.

The 1950s was also a time of expansion. New homes were cropping up everywhere, affording people the luxury of space (both indoors and out). As a result, many families now had full-size kitchens, dining rooms and dens to display their cherished belongings and collectibles. Best of all, barbecue grills were popping up everywhere, which created a market for condiment jars of all kinds.

Americans now needed portable containers and jars to transport condiments and other goodies outdoors to picnic tables and grill areas.

During the late 1950s, with almost perfect timing, a most creative and clever company named Holt-Howard was developing a revolutionary new concept in deep-glazed ceramics called “Pixiewares.” These containers included covered condiment jars featuring whimsical pixie heads on top.

Due to the huge success of Pixiewares, other novelty companies such as Davar, Lefton, Lipper & Mann, and Napco, all began to copy Holt-Howard’s style. While each company made creative condiment jars, the Davar Company practically copied the Pixieware copyrighted design. Although many other companies’ jars were different, they were all competing for sales around the same time—the 1950s and early 1960s. Today, many of these condiment jars have also become highly collectible and some are commanding top dollar at antiques and collectibles shows.

These cute condiment jars and related household imps have truly stolen everyone’s heart and turned out to be one of the hottest collectibles in America today.

How many Pixies were created in the 1950s, and how many are needed to complete a set? The total number of vintage Pixieware pieces is 64. The 64 include the solid-colored and striped Pixieware liquor decanters, and the cocktail Cherries, Onion and Olives.

The original designs are just as easy to find as the numerous knock-offs and product lines created to mimic the originals. Except for a few specific lines, the originals are the most valuable.

Before several companies copied the Holt-Howard styles and designs the entire product line was launched with just three condiment jars.

‘Mustard’, ‘Ketchup,’ ‘Jam ’n Jelly’

In 1958, Holt-Howard introduced the first three Pixie condiment jars named Mustard, Ketchup and Jam ‘n Jelly. In these pieces is the beginning of the artistic creativity, wonderful styling and detailing of facial expressions that made Pixieware so appealing. The Mustard appears annoyed and unhappy in an effort to conceal his spicy condiment, while his Ketchup and Jam ’n Jelly companions seem content. The Pixies’ facial expressions were so adorable that they sparked an instant love affair with collectors, sellers and gift givers. As the Mustard, Ketchup and Jam ’n Jelly jars made their debut, their great popularity paved the way to Pixie stardom throughout America.

Each of these condiments is 5 1/2 inches high, and most had 11 colorful vertical stripes around its base, although stripe counts varied. Although the Ketchup pixie was advertised as red, the color is actually a tomato red—more orange in appearance—and should not be confused with the true red that appeared on the later Cherries and Chili Sauce jars.

The Mustard, Ketchup and Jam ’n Jelly were sold separately and were individually boxed. They are copyrighted “1958 Holt-Howard.” Since these three pieces were the very first pixies Holt-Howard created, more of these were produced than any other, resulting from numerous annual manufacturing cycles of 100 dozen (1,200) per run from 1958 through 1962. As a result of this mass production, they are the most commonly found pieces today. Forty years have passed since these three pixies made their debut in 1958. Today, the age and availability of these pieces place them at a market value of $70-$80 each.

Although Holt-Howard individually boxed and sold the Mustard, Ketchup and Jam ’n Jelly, they were also featured in B. Altman & Company’s 1958 Christmas catalog and were sold as a three-piece set for $4.95. The enormous popularity of the three pixies soon gave birth to an entirely new line of Pixieware and created a new concept in condiment jar designs in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Spoofy Spoons

Holt-Howard gave special attention to and employed unique design techniques with its spoofy (hidden) spoons. The Mustard and Ketchup spoons were cleverly designed to spread their condiments. The Jam ’n Jelly’s curved spoon is different—it was designed to scoop and hold its contents. Other pixies had holes in their spoons to drain liquids, and the Olives pixie featured a spear attachment.

Lefton Fruit and Vegetable Heads and Companions

When people hear the name Lefton, they usually think of fine china dinnerware and exclusive china patterns. But this versatile company has also been manufacturing figurines and novelty collectibles for decades.

George Zoltan Lefton founded the Lefton Company in Chicago in 1941. After World War II, like other ceramic and giftware companies of his time, Lefton established manufacturing relationships in Japan because of its inexpensive labor. Over the years, Lefton created numerous everyday and holiday-related collectibles.

With Holt-Howard’s success in the 1950s and 1960s, Lefton, like other companies, created similar condiment jars. The firm created a line of fruit-, veggie- and human-headed jars. Lefton’s condiment jars, however, have vertical-striped bases, topped off with rounded, fully dimensional heads. The jars have higher collars than Holt-Howard’s and are more cylindrical rather than rounded.

Compared to Holt-Howard, Lefton probably had the second-largest selection of condiment jars to offer. Most of Lefton’s condiment jars are unmarked by the company, but are identified by a series of black numbers. All of the jars originally had a red and silver foil label sticker read, “Lefton Reg. U.S. Pat. Off. Exclusives, Japan.” Over time, however, most of the stickers fell off.

The bottoms of Lefton’s standard jars average 3 1/2 inches high, but vary slightly in height according to the type of head closure they have. All jars have 13 vertical stripes that do not necessarily match or correspond in any manner with the color of their heads. This lack of color coordination between the tops and bottoms of these pieces can make it somewhat difficult for novice collectors to be sure they are purchasing the correct match. However, tops of some of the jars do give an indication of where they belong.

Some of the more popular Lefton-produced pieces include condiment jars.

An interesting pair is the ‘Hamburger-Head’ and ‘Hot-Dog Head’ mustard containers. These barbecue pals keep appearing at personal collections and at collectible shows with both heads as being the correct one for the base. Interestingly, the two pieces gaze adoringly at each other and appear to be a pair. The hamburger bun head is wearing a pickle for a hat. Even though there is no yellow in this hot dog’s head to match its stripes, no condiment goes better with a hot dog than mustard. The hamburger head was featured in one of Lefton’s catalogs on the mustard base, but the hot dog was nowhere to be found. Unfortunately, there aren’t sufficient historical records or catalogs to shed light on this mystery. We can only assume that this piece was issued twice with these different heads. Both pieces stand 5 1/2 inches high and are numbered “1482.”

Holt-Howard Salt and Pepper Shakers

When Holt-Howard advertised salt and pepper shakers in its catalogs, the advertisements began with the quote “Spice the Season” because the company made holiday as well as everyday salt and pepper shakers. Holt-Howard’s other most popular shakers were its animals, which have cartoon-like facial expressions accompanied by beautiful detailing.

It’s hard to believe, but back in their heyday, these shakers were so reasonably priced that they were considered low-end Japanese collectibles. Today, five decades later, collectors are fighting over these shakers on the Internet, which has caused many prices to rise. There is a huge demand for Holt-Howard novelty shakers.

Merry Mice

Both mice are made in a “Creamstripe” design, are 3 3/4 inches high and have noisemakers in their bases that squeak when shaken. Because the noisemakers are in their bases, their refill holes and stoppers are located in the backs of their heads. They are back stamped “Holt-Howard 1958” and are now a famous part of the Merry Mouse series of at least nine known pieces.

Holt-Howard Cats

Holt-Howard had a hit when it created a series of collectible kittens for the kitchen. During their debut in the late 1950s, they became the perfect gift for millions of cat lovers all over the country. Today, these tabbies and toms are some of the hottest cat collectibles in the country. Although Holt-Howard called them “Cozy Kitchen Kitties,” many of the pieces were versatile enough to be used in other rooms of the house. After their success, other companies copied them.

The kittens were made around the same time as Pixieware, starting in 1958 and continuing into the early 1960s. They were inspired by Walt Disney’s production of Lady and the Tramp, which was released in 1955. In this movie, the wonderful Siamese cats sang the insolent song, “We are Siamese-ees, if you do please, we are Siamese-ees, if you don’t please” and the cats’ voices were sung by Peggy Lee. In today’s collectible market, some of Holt-Howard’s cats are still common while others are as rare to find as “hen’s teeth.”

Unfortunately, some of the cats were unmarked and only had a foil sticker, which often fell off. Most of the kittens in this series have either polka-dotted or plaid scarves around their necks, but this is not always the case, since the sugar and soap shakers, Merry Measure and butter dish do not wear scarves. The male kittens wear scarves of blue or green with polka dots, while the females wear pink scarves with polka dots. Some other cats wear dark pink and black plaid scarves. Many of the cat pieces have the famous green and black plaid incorporated into their design. Some male cats wear the plaid pattern design on their hats, while the plaid is also used on pillows and around other border designs throughout the set.

Collector’s favorite kitten items include:

Grease Crock

Holt-Howard had stated in its wholesale catalog that it had so many requests for bacon fat containers that it created the “Keeper of the Grease.” This crock is a very difficult piece to find today. It was made in a limited production, so it is not a common piece. The crock is 4 inches diameter. and is especially useful for storing bacon and other fats.

Sugar and Creamer

Here’s another rare Holt-Howard Cozy Kittens three-piece set that has finally surfaced a few times. This set is comprised of a 5 inches high covered sugar bowl and a 4 inches high. creamer. The creamer has a lift-and-listen “meow” squeaker.

Salt and Pepper Set

This set was in one of Holt-Howard’s later catalogs after the original Cozy Kittens “meow” shakers were released. This set was an afterthought, but was not made in large volume because it would compete with the sales of the original Cozy Kittens. This set is 4 1/2 inches high. and actually has the same colored circle designs and matches the Cozy Kittens condiment jars, which were also created at a later date. The shakers have pouring holes in their backs below their necks. The salt has two pouring holes and the pepper has three.

Asian-Eyed Salt and Peppers

This salt and pepper set has become almost an icon of Holt-Howard because it is always in plentiful supply at flea markets and collectible shows. The pieces are 4 1/2 inches high. and have noise mechanisms underneath that make a “meow” sound when turned upside down. Due to their age, the “meow” mechanisms rarely work. This set is backstamped “1958.”

Two types of Cozy Kittens shakers were made, one set with Asian eyes, the other with a wider body and bigger eyes. This smaller Cozy Kittens was made by the Pearl Company in Japan (which is no longer in business today). The set was so successful on its test run in Canada that many thousands sold in only six months. The demand for these shakers became so overwhelming that Pearl could not supply enough pieces, so Holt-Howard arranged for another factory in Japan to make more. This second factory had to make some design adjustments (see following). Both the Asian-eyed and large-eyed sets of kittens were produced in large numbers, and are in plentiful supply for collectors today.

Large-Eyed Salt and Peppers

Many collectors believe these cats were knockoffs, but they are Holt-Howard originals, as explained above. This is the second set of Holt-Howard’s Cozy Kittens shakers that were made in Japan, but in a factory other than Pearl. This other factory made noisemaker products, too, and had its own source to supply the meow mechanism. Its finished cat product had to be slightly larger than Pearl’s to conform to its own noise mechanism; hence, Holt-Howard produced two sizes of meowing salt and pepper shakers.

Although both sets are almost the same height (4 1/2 inches), this set is much wider. This set of Cozy Kittens also has noise mechanisms underneath that “meow” when turned upside down, and are back stamped “1958” (some are also dated up until 1962).
Today’s Generation of The Fun Fifties Characters

Holt-Howard never made a Pixieware cookie jar during the 1950s, even though cookie jars were very much in demand and made in mass back then. So it’s been surprising to many of today’s collectors that, as large as the Pixieware family was, a pixie cookie jar was never made to go along with the rest of the clan. For the last five decades, Pixieware collectors have wished for a cookie jar that never was. But little did we know that our hopes for a pixie cookie jar would eventually be fulfilled.

In 2002 John Howard (former co-owner of Holt-Howard and present owner of Grant-Howard Associates) noticed all the excitement surrounding his vintage Pixieware. Howard felt that with the wave of nostalgia sweeping the country the timing was perfect for a retro pixie cookie jar to be added to his famous Pixieware line. To create his new pixie, Howard teamed with Curt Blanchard, a former Holt-Howard employee and present-day designer. Together, they designed a new pixie jar with all the charm of the original pixies. Howard decided to call this jar a “second generation” pixie to avoid devaluing the vintage Pixieware marketplace.

The first retro pixie cookie jar was released in the summer of 2002, but was only available through one mail-order catalog company. In no time at all, this beautiful orange-striped cookie jar was drawing attention, and Howard had to arrange for more production in China to keep up with the demand. The jar became known as “Chuckie’s cookie jar.” When Chuckie first came on the scene, some folks called him a reproduction, but he was far from that! Chuckie was the first original one-of-a-kind retro pixie cookie jar to impact the present-day collectibles market.

Walter Dworkin, a native of Queens, N.Y., graduated from Far Rockaway High School and attended Queens College in Flushing, N.Y. During his long career with the New York Telephone Company, he served as an assistant engineer and purchasing agent.