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Lenox China records donated to Rutgers' Special Collections

Lenox artisans remove irregularities from clay shapes, about 1920. Pieces thus finished were hardened in the fire. Photo from archives of Lenox China.

The records of a maker of fine china should reside in one of the finest archival collections. The owners of Lenox China recently identified their archival institution of choice to be Special Collections and University Archives at the Rutgers University Libraries.

Following the sale of Lenox China to Department 56 in November 2005, parent company Brown-Forman donated the Lenox company records to Rutgers' Special Collections and University Archives. Special Collections received over 500 cubic feet of materials, including design records, sales and marketing materials, annual reports, and other records, along with a grant of $62,000 from the Brown-Forman Foundation to properly process and catalog the company archives.

Special Collections was part of a New Jersey consortium that received the collected history and memorabilia of Lenox China. Historic and prototype company plates, vases, bowls, and artwares were donated to the New Jersey State Museum and the Newark Museum.

Started as the Ceramic Art Company in 1889 and based in Trenton, the company initially focused exclusively on manufacturing porcelain. The small studio produced delicate vases and other items of molded china, decorated with figures and flowers, which were sold in undecorated form for others to complete.

In 1906 the company was renamed Lenox, Incorporated in recognition of the work of Walter Scott Lenox, the principal designer and founder. With the name change Lenox shifted focus to the manufacture of fine tableware and artware for high-end customers. Lenox tableware grew in acclaim and samples were proudly displayed and used on tables in the wealthiest and most influential homes, including the State Dining Room of the White House.

As World War II consumed much of the nation's efforts and imagination in the 1940's, Lenox embarked on a noble and lesser-known chapter of its history. Lenox made a unique contribution to the war effort by producing an exceptionally durable material called Lenoxite, used in high-frequency radar devices by the United States Signal Corps.

After the war, Lenox made use of new technologies and production capabilities to create fine china that was affordable to discerning middle class customers. As the country witnessed rising incomes and wealth through the 1950s and 1960s, it also saw more and more Americans who joined their President by dining on fine Lenox china.

Special Collections and University Archives look forward making the Lenox archives available to researchers studying the histories of marketing, manufacturing, and consumerism in America. The story of Lenox is the story of a national leader in porcelain production for over 100 years, which grew to successfully sell their respected products to millionaires and middle class alike.

For more information on the Lenox China company archives, please contact Ron Becker, head of Special Collections and University Archives, by email at or by phone at 732/932-7505, ex. 362.

Posted February 8, 2006