Manufacturer: Syracuse China
User: Coon Chicken Inn
Border pattern: Empire
Date: 1930 (small face); 1933 (large face)
Notes: The following paragraphs about Coon Chicken Inn were written based on information found at the former CoonChickenInn.com – now defunct – and at the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University. The latter includes a history of the chain written by the founder's grandson.
The Coon Chicken Inn was founded by Maxon Lester Graham (born June 17, 1897) and his wife, Adelaide, in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1925. Graham built on its quick success with large additions at the Utah location (followed by a fire and a complete reconstruction at the original site). He expanded in 1929 to open another restaurant in Seattle, Wash., followed in 1930 by a branch in Portland, Ore.
The inn is best known now (2010) for its hideous caricature of a grinning African-American man. According to the sites, this image was devised as an attraction for children (who would want to come and bring their parents) and it became the portal through which customers entered the restaurants. The branding extended to all of the restaurants' china, silver and ephemera.
The Grahams leased out the three restaurants at the end of the Fifties. What is now the Chuck-a-Rama in Salt Lake City has locations in Idaho and Utah. Ying's Drive-In in Seattle is now a Chinese- and American-food diner. The Portland location became the Prime Rib, now in business as Clyde's Prime Rib.
Were it not for its logo, Coon Chicken Inn might have disappeared as a racist-named restaurant from what was a racist era in America. But the logo has endured and flourished as Black Americana. Because of that, its memorabilia is in high demand, and it has spawned a wide variety of fake and fantasy merchandise. No authorized reproductions have ever been made of Coon Chicken Inn products.
This particular pattern with Empire border is seen quite often as a fake and can be difficult to tell from photos posted on Internet sites such as ebay. It is more apparent when found in antique stores and at flea markets. There are many more fake pieces of Coon Chicken Inn china than real ones. (More information about fakes is located at the bottom of this page.)
White-bodied plate with black Empire border. Center shows the Coon Chicken Inn logo with winking, grinning African American man wearing porter's cap. The design is depicted in dark red and blue. Coon Chicken Inn is spelled out on his teeth.
How to tell a fake Coon Chicken Inn
The following are descriptions of some of the fakes:
Many carry a P-3 Syracuse date code (though some authentic Syracuse pieces had that date code as well) and the backstamp is in black rather than green;
They are lighter weight and thinner than commercial china;
They were applied using an overglaze technique and the decal can easily be seen and felt;
The blue is always brighter on the fakes than real ones; and
If the ware has crazing, it is not from age, it is applied by its Chinese manufacturer and is a fake. Most popular among the Chinese crazed fakes are a handless creamer, mustard pot and butter pat. None of these has any design but the grinning face logo.
The following photos are of a fake Coon Chicken Inn plate. The fake decals can be applied on tan-bodied or white ware, and when seen in person the blue is much more vibrant than on a real plate. The best way to tell a fake is if you can see or feel the decal, which is a sign that it is overglazed. Any reputable seller in an Internet auction would also tell you if the decal can be felt.
Photos contributed by Kathleen
Photos of fakes contributed by 710ell