Manufacturer: Syracuse China
Date of creamer: 1946
Notes: This is an unusually long and complicated entry! Please read through and draw your own conclusions from the information presented.
Richard Luckin, author of "Dining on Rails," has said that "the names of the [railroad-related] china patterns were first named by Father Steve many years ago. We elected to maintain his names since this is what collectors knew them as." And based on the other well-known book on railroad dining car china, Doug McIntyre also decided to go with Luckin's – and Father Steve's – names when writing "The Official Guide to Railroad Dining Car China." (Father Steve refers to Stephen S. Sandknop, a Catholic priest and collector of railroad dining car china, who wrote "Nothing Could Be Finer" in the 1970s.)
And so it was that this pattern of simple flowers and swirling leaves – in brown on a tan body – was named Empire by the authors. It was said that the pattern, again, in brown only and only when customized with the addition of a backstamp (G.N.R.Y.), was used on the Great Northern Railway. And each book shows an example of the brown-on-tan pattern with railroad backstamp, each with a submission by a different collector.
However, RWCN member Bill Calnan, who worked for many years in the Syracuse China archives till the close of American manufacturing there, notes that there were no order records for this "Empire" pattern for the Great Northern Railway, and he suggests that the few railroad-backstamped pieces that have shown up were factory mistakes. Instead, this pattern is Syracuse China's well-documented Thornton pattern.
When contacted about this, Mr. Luckin was kind enough to scan the order form on which he based his Empire information, but it shows an order for pattern #87401, which was the pattern the G.N.RY. called Oriental. We feel, therefore, that including Empire as a railroad pattern was based on multiple misunderstandings that likely began with the application of the G.N.RY. backstamp to a small number of Thornton pattern pieces by Syracuse China itself and that continued with naming that pattern by the railroad authors as Empire, which probably referred to the Great Norther's Empire Builder train.
Syracuse actually made three patterns that were called Empire, but the RWCN does not have examples of completed pieces. But for your information, the Empire patterns were numbered: print #16000 underglaze; decal #63801 underglaze; and decal 63801 overglaze. Example of these patterns from pattern books are shown below.
Thornton by Syracuse
ID and #63801 pattern contributed by Bill Calnan
#75901 and 16000 patterns contributed by L Paul