The bald eagle may be the official emblem of the U.S., but even he can’t outshine the chicken. Revered as the world’s most popular bird, the domesticated chicken has played a significant role for over 8,000 years. So it makes sense that the ol’ bird finds itself memorialized in the form of dishware around the world. In the U.S., the chicken reigns as an American icon, symbolic of the hearth and home even after much of our farmlands have been transformed into concrete jungles. A kitchen with even one piece of vintage “chickenware” evokes nostalgic feelings of a simpler time.
Which is why Paula began collecting such pieces in the first place. From deviled-egg plates to casserole dishes, poached-egg cups to cookie jars, chickens have appeared on every kind of dishware at one point or another. Paula’s most prized fowl is a glass hen-on-nest salt dip cellar in which her grandmother stored bacon grease (shakers replaced salt cellars in the 1490s). Around 174 variations of this pattern, ranging in size and color, have been produced by at least 84 glass companies over the past 150 years. The most collectible of these pieces—referred to as Early American Pattern Glass—were manufactured between 1880 and 1910. Glass hen-on-nest dishware from the 1930s and 40s is known as Depression glass and comes in a wide variety of colors. These pieces are generally affordable. For instance, a 2 ¾-inch salt dip cellar sells for around $5, whereas a larger, 7-inch Degenhart glass piece (manufactured by Crystal Art Glass Company of Cambridge, Ohio) can fetch $35.
Extremely rare chicken Americana like Paula’s brass pie weights, are worth a pretty penny. Placed on top of dough to keep it from shrinking or blistering during baking, pie weights are commonly made of ceramic materials, and few are as decorative or collectible as Paula’s brass chickens. But if you’re looking to create an entire chicken vignette for your table, one of the most collectible dishware around is the California Provincial Green Rooster pattern manufactured by Metlox Poppytrail in 1950. The extensive collection contains over 40 individual pieces decorated with a single, high-stepping rooster. But acquiring it requires a financial investment; a single cup is valued around $15 and a turkey platter can sell for over $400.
However large or small your flock of vintage fowl may be, the real value of a collection often boils down to the memory it evokes. Paula fondly remembers her grandmother reaching into her salt cellar to retrieve a slab of bacon grease needed to cook up some mouth-watering cornbread. To Paula, that little glass chicken has no retail value. In fact, it’s priceless.