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The Birth of Tableware (1928-1939)

1928 was a major turning point for the company.

The year began badly when a disastrous fire broke out at the factory in January, damaging much of the original Mission Hall as well as machinery and other buildings, the rebuilding of which put great financial strain on the still comparatively young company.

Later in the year, William and his wife Nellie celebrated their silver wedding anniversary and received a number of gifts made from silver.  Silver, although having a beautiful finish, does require regular cleaning and Nellie suggested to her husband that she would need some help from him in cleaning it.  On receiving a less-than-enthusiastic response and knowing that the staybrite bathroom fittings did not need regular cleaning to keep them in perfect condition, Nellie posed the question that would change J & J Wiggin for ever "Why don't you make some silverware items out of staybrite?".

Front cover of Adventure in Staybrite booklet
First teapot and toast rack

As a result, the company made what is believed to be (apart from cutlery) the world's first item of stainless steel tableware, this being a dainty little four section toast rack.  Items such as cake stands and other simple tableware products soon followed but the big breakthrough came two years later in 1930 when the world's first stainless steel teapot was made. 

Further development of other tableware items then took place but the company did not find it easy to market its new tableware due to a reluctance from both retailers and the general public to accept this new material into their homes.  Much hard work went into running advertising campaigns in the press and having stands at trade and public exhibitions, these efforts culminating at the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition at Olympia in April 1934.  

In the "Staybrite City" feature there sponsored by Thomas Firth and John Brown Limited (the manufacturers of "staybrite" stainless steel), J & J Wiggin displayed, along with the toast rack and the teapot, many other items including trays, cake stands, cruets, vegetable dishes, sauce boats and candlesticks, together with the continued successful range of bathroom fittings.  The impact of this striking display on the general public was considerable and the interest generated led to a rapid speeding-up of the development and marketing of new designs.

Breakfast set

Until the late 1930s, the Wiggin family had designed all the tableware themselves but, as none of them had received any formal training for this, they were pleased, in 1938, to accept the offer by Dr W H Hatfield FRS, on behalf of Thomas Firth and John Brown, to commission one of the country's leading professional industrial designers of the period, Mr Harold Stabler RDI, to design a completely new range of tea and coffee sets of the highest quality.  The "Avon", "Richmond" and "Sandon" were the result of this but unfortunately the launch of these designs coincided with the outbreak of the Second World War, when the factory was converted to wartime production for the Boom Defence department of the Admiralty and other government ministries.  When tableware production resumed after the war, these designs were not resurrected as, although they were extremely elegant, they were considered to be too expensive to manufacture.

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