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Buffalo china: A sad American story

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I wish I knew much, much more about a now-defunct American company named Buffalo China. Yep — they were in Buffalo, New York. The company started about 1901, making a mishmash of porcelain products. In the 1920s and 1930s, they started marking commercial porcelain dinnerware for restaurants and institutions. For decades, they made incredibly excellent commercial dinnerware. At some point, Buffalo China came to be owned by Oneida. In 2003 or thereabouts, Oneida sold the company to investors who changed the name to Niagara Ceramics, though Oneida continued to own the Buffalo China trademark. Finally, in 2013, the company closed. It was cheap imported china from China that killed the company. The last owner, Chris Collins, who was a congressman, issued a bitter statement about Buffalo China’s end:

“Niagara Ceramics consistently struggled because of unfair competition from Chinese manufacturers who benefit from China manipulating its currency at the expense of American jobs. As a member of Congress, I believe strongly that the U.S. must take a harder stand against this unfair practice by the Chinese government.”

During the last fifty years, I have been in countless antique shops and junk shops, and I’ve examined a lot of porcelain and china. In fact, the abbey owns a large set of 100-year-old fine china made in Limoges that has never been removed from the shipping boxes after I moved back to North Carolina from San Francisco. Using fine china is just too fussy to be bothered with.

Whereas heavy commercial china is a whole different story. There were other good makers of heavy American porcelain, but Buffalo China stands out.

When I first moved into the abbey seven years ago, having gotten rid of my everyday dinnerware before the move from San Francisco because it wasn’t worth shipping, I bought cheap glass dinnerware to use temporarily, planning on finding something nicer to replace it. I looked at a lot of heavy china at places like Williams-Sonoma and Crate & Barrel. But it was expensive unless it was made in China, and I refused to buy Chinese china.

Finally I decided to go with Buffalo China. It’s easy enough to find on eBay, at wildly varying prices. I settled on the green stripe china, though Buffalo china made several other patterns for restaurant and commercial use. It’s not uncommon to come across new old stock Buffalo china on eBay, though the stuff is so durable that, if it’s used, it hardly matters. That’s the beauty of restaurant china — you can’t kill it. I don’t think I’ve ever broken a piece of restaurant china, and, if you ever did, it would be nothing to cry about (though it’s not exactly cheap anymore — more and more people know what it is).

These days, large plates are the norm. I admit that I like the current style of food presentation, in which small amounts of foods are presented on enormous plates. But, with the old restaurant china, it’s difficult to find a plate larger than nine inches. I’ll live with that, but I’ll keep watching eBay.

Meanwhile, I wish someone would write an illustrated history of Buffalo China. I’d buy it.


Update: Also see this newer post on the Buffalo China dogwood pattern.

18 Comments

  1. Jo wrote:

    Replacements, Ltd in Greensboro seems to have everything. I bought “seconds” to fill out set & could barely detect the flaw. It is an awesome place to visit – about 5-6 miles east of Greensboro on I-40/85.

    Saturday, February 6, 2016 at 3:14 pm | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    So then they have a walk-in storefront? I had always thought of them as a mail-order online business…

    Saturday, February 6, 2016 at 3:16 pm | Permalink
  3. Jo wrote:

    Yes, their retail store is open 7 days a week, 9 AM to 7 PM. Phone: 800-737-5223

    Sunday, February 7, 2016 at 6:36 pm | Permalink
  4. daltoni wrote:

    Awesome… Many thanks…

    Sunday, February 7, 2016 at 6:43 pm | Permalink
  5. DCS wrote:

    I’ve got to give a hell yes on this one. Jo is right. You MUST go to Replacements Unlimited. It’s right off of I-40, and there are billboards. It’s just on the other side of Greensboro from you. You can’t miss it. And it is fun, fun, fun. Road trip!

    Monday, February 8, 2016 at 5:15 pm | Permalink
  6. DCS wrote:

    Is this your pattern:

    http://www.replacements.com/webquote/BUFBUF4.htm

    You can also look up all Buffalo Pottery listings, both restaurant and non-restaurant:

    http://www.replacements.com/china/BUF.htm

    You also can look up Oneida patterns.

    Happy hunting!

    Tuesday, February 9, 2016 at 4:37 pm | Permalink
  7. daltoni wrote:

    Ha … I believe it is. It’s funny to think of “patterns” for ordinary commercial diner porcelain. Looks like I need to make a trip to that place… Thanks!

    Tuesday, February 9, 2016 at 4:51 pm | Permalink
  8. Jo wrote:

    Appears there is limited stock available in your “pattern.” Did see they have 3 luncheon plates (seconds)at a reasonable price. Almost as large as the dinner plate.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2016 at 1:57 am | Permalink
  9. Sandra wrote:

    I happen to be friends with the person that recently purchased Buffalo China/Niagra Ceramics. He has the plates that you referred to and many more. They are between 11 and 12 inches. In many cases the plates and thousands of other pieces are being sold for $1.00 per item.

    Monday, March 28, 2016 at 3:46 pm | Permalink
  10. Sam Verello wrote:

    I am interested in Purchasing Buffalo 1001M coffe Mugs. They are about 20 oz and they are white. Anyone who can help me with this would be a friend for life….

    Sam,
    laughsforcash@aol.com

    Tuesday, August 30, 2016 at 1:01 am | Permalink
  11. Wallace Hamilton wrote:

    Check out The Book of Buffalo Pottery by Vi and Sy Altman. It is the best source about Buffalo Pottery. There is another one but not as good. Philip Larkin, Grandson of the founder also wrote a self published book about the history of the company. It is a great story starts with Larkin Soap Company who hired Frank Lloyd Wright to design company headquarters.

    Monday, September 19, 2016 at 10:34 pm | Permalink
  12. Bernard Dumas wrote:

    A china outlet is open in buffalo n.y. its located on route 5 just across from the ford plant. They have many of the buffalo china patterns available.

    Thursday, November 17, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink
  13. Kevin wrote:

    The last of the remaining American made product from the factory can be bought through that outlet’s online store http://www.716china.com or by giving them a call on the phone. It’s too bad all the Buffalo China is made in China instead of Buffalo. It is not the same quality at all. It won’t take most people too long to figure out the quality just isn’t there anymore with the foreign made product. Buy American!

    Monday, November 28, 2016 at 12:41 pm | Permalink
  14. George wrote:

    To find out where the piece was manufactured look at the bottom.. B=Buffalo, M=Mexico, C=China… the number is the year…

    Friday, January 6, 2017 at 6:41 am | Permalink
  15. Andreas morgen wrote:

    George, I have a piece of Buffalo China that starts with a “P”…..where would that have been made..do you know?

    Sunday, January 15, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink
  16. Paul Antonucci wrote:

    Some interesting facts on Buffalo China. About 1965 or 66, Carborundum Co. looked into purchasing Buffalo China from Harold Estee family, so they sent John Heebner in to evaluate and run the company About 1968, John decided to buy the company when Carborundum decided to leave. He found a group of investors, bought the company and was President. He started the turnaround to profitability and modernization. About 1978 he built a large addition with two new kilns, forming and glazing. In 1983, Oneida purchased Buffalo when overseas competition began and starting impacting the company. 1986 the decision to start a manufacturing operation in Juarez Mexico was begun to fight imports that would price 25% below Buffalo pricing, no matter how low. That plant made cast, formed cups and ram pressed product. At the time it started processing, it had the highest import duty on the border for commercial restaurant China at 35%. The demise began when Congress voted to drop the import duty to 0% over several years. By the early 1990s, business was struggling against imports. Buffalo, Syracuse, Shenango, Hall, Sterling etc. China Companies all began to fail. That lead to the sale in 2003 and start of Niagara Ceramics. John Heebner and the board of directors of Oneida Ltd. did work hard to make it competitive against imports, but it just wasn’t enough.

    Monday, February 13, 2017 at 8:32 pm | Permalink
  17. Tina Beri wrote:

    Hi Sandra,
    Can you please connect me to the person who bought Buffalo China / Niagra Ceramics? I am looking to purchase some pieces for a specific design that Replacements Inc. does not carry. Thank you for your help.

    Tuesday, July 4, 2017 at 5:05 pm | Permalink
  18. Michael wrote:

    I was diving off Plymouth England last week and found part of a plate marked:-
    Buffalo China 1919 Katherine Kniffin & Dermerest New York. I am working on the assumption that Katherine may be the name of a ship. Anyone come across this pottery? If so any information would be appreciated
    Thanks Mick

    Monday, July 17, 2017 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

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