Selling Silver: Advertisements for Oneida Community Plate 1930-46

By Kaila Temple, Class of 2021

Looking at an advertisement for Community Plate flatware, you might recognize the pattern.  Maybe it was the set of nice silverware your grandma brought out during the holidays, or perhaps you’ve seen it in antiques store. Either way, the silver plate flatware produced by the Oneida Company Ltd. dominated the market for middle-class silver throughout the twentieth century.

Advertisement for art deco flatware illustrated in an art deco style. The image includes women in 1920s fashion, a man in a top hat and morning suit, a Rolls-Royce, and a chauffeur.

Selling flatware as part of an ensemble. Image via ProQuest

Upon the breakup of the Oneida Community in 1881, the former communal utopian society became a joint-stock company. Pierrepoint B. Noyes, a son of the community’s founder John Humphrey Noyes, brought his thriving silverware business into the fold of the Oneida Company. The production of traps had long been the community, and later company’s, most profitable business. Noyes foresaw that this would not remain the case for much longer and initiated the shift to silverware as the main line of production.[1]

Noyes was determined to create a line of silver plate flatware that exceeded the quality and attractiveness of other lines currently on the market.[2] With the same pattern often offered in different grades (single plate vs. triple plate), many women were hesitant to purchase plate over sterling if they would share a pattern with women of lower economic means.[3] When it was evident that the product had limited ability to speak for itself, Noyes turned his attention to the power of advertising.

In advertisements like the one pictured above, the company accented their flatware designs with images of visually harmonious clothing and other objects. This strategy was known as ensemble selling, and was a prominent trend in advertising of the late twenties through the thirties.[4] Ensembles provided the consumer with an opportunity to show off their good taste, universally mobilized in the appointment of their homes and their garments.[5]

A smiling 1930s couple stand in front of some candles. At the bottom, a silver table knife is pictured. The copy of the ad promises that the silver advertises will bring an elegant touch to everyday life.

Oneida Community Plate promised to bring elegance to even the most ordinary meals. Image via ProQuest

Other frequent themes in the advertising of the 1930s was the promise that with Community Plate came elegance that would make even the most ordinary occasions feel special. Advertising focused on brides was also a frequent campaign, as brides were some of the most likely customers for silverware sets.

Oneida took ensemble selling and the promise of elegance and class to a new level with their “Community Inspires” campaign. From 1940-1941, advertisements for Community Plate ran in several major publications, featuring illustrations of couture garments by well-known designers supposedly inspired by the patterns of Community flatware. Oneida tapped the houses of Lucien Lelong, Schiaparelli, Molyneux, and Balenciaga. All four designers would have been well known to the fashion-educated reader, and their names carried an air of up-market sophistication that Oneida no doubt hoped would rub off on their silverware. The garments, illustrated in the style of Vogue, were actually realized in fabric, and were available for purchase. You could have your couture gown match your dress, if you had the money, with each gown costing between $900 and $2100. Oneida, traditionally too down-market to grace the pages of Vogue, gained a brief foothold in the world of high fashion through these ads.

A silverware advertisement in black and white greyscale, accented by red and pink. On one side, there is silverware with a delicate floral pattern. On the other, there is a seated model dressed in a fashionable evening ensemble

This ad from a 1940 Vogue features a design by Edward Molyneux, a fixture of Paris couture. Scan by Author, magazine in the Winterthur Library Collection

After another brief ensemble selling campaign in 1941 featuring wedding dresses design by American designers who drew their inspiration from flatware patterns, the Oneida company switched its production lines to war work and relied on backstock to see out the second world war. Between 1943-46 they would run their most famous campaign, known as “Back Home for Keeps,” which featured images of servicemen returning to their sweethearts (who were dreaming of a home and set of Community Plate flatware to call their own). This campaign seamlessly gave way to “This is for Keeps,” featuring wedding imagery and the promise that Community Plate’s elegance would endure for years to come, rather than be a fashion of the moment.

 

 

[1] Maren Lockwood Carden, Oneida: Utopian Community to Modern Corporation (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1969) 130.

[2] Ellen Wayland-Smith, Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table (New York: Picador, 2016) 194.

[3] Roland Marchand, Advertising the American Dream Making Way for Modernity, 1920-1940 (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 1985) 195.

[4] Ibid., 133

[5] Ibid. 137



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