Editor’s note: The following story, featuring Leon Drebes, of rural Palmyra and his Fiesta Dinnerware collection was published in The Dish, Vol. 22, No. 4, Summer 2020 and is reprinted by permission. The Dish is a publication of the Homer Laughlin China Collector’s Association.
by Marianne Becton
Not many of us can say that we came out at the same time as Fiesta dinnerware. But Leon Drebes was born in January of 1936, the same month that the dinnerware debuted, and the two have been intertwined across both the decades and generations.
Leon Drebes, and his wife of 63 years, Martha (who passed away last year), are charter members of HLCCA —The Homer Laughlin China Collectors Association. He was slated to do a Come Over to My House presentation at the Conference last summer (2019), but at the last minute was unable to attend. His daughter, Jan Fels, is also an HLCCA member and graciously did his presentation instead.
Leon lives on a farm in northeast Missouri, near Palmyra. His grandparents and parents both used Fiesta, so he grew up loving the colorful dishes. The couple’s children and grandchildren have carried on the tradition, making them part of five generations of Drebes Fiesta lovers! Leon and his family were all drawn to the dishes because of their vibrant colors and durability. The cream soup bowls were always used as cereal bowls in their family.
The Drebes started collecting Fiesta in 1956, when they were given four place settings as wedding gifts. As time went on, they were given more pieces as gifts. They added to their collection at local auctions and later began using online options to finish out their collection.
One winter about 35 years ago, the Drebes we were snowed in and found a creative use for their unplanned free time. They had recently invested in a desktop computer and decided to inventory their collection. They got out each and every piece they owned and covered their pool table many times before that inventory could be completed. It turned up some surprises—Leon found that they had all 11 colors of salt and pepper sets, and an abundance of saucers. They also discovered that they had over 100 mixing bowls and 200 plates!
Upon completing the inventory, they got more serious about completing their collection and displaying it more prominently. So Leon, who is a skilled woodworker, built cabinets and shelves to display their growing collection.
The Drebes’ collection is dominated by vintage Fiesta. They currently have about 1,500 pieces of that, random pieces of Kitchen Kraft, and a bit of Harlequin. They also have two five-piece place settings of P86 in every color, up to Slate and Sage. Leon says they don’t have a lot of go-alongs, but then “a lot” is a relative term, isn’t it?
Vintage Fiesta is in use at the Drebes’ home every day. As other pieces are needed, all it takes is a trip to the basement to get additional place settings and serving pieces for holiday gatherings. Their dishes are washed by hand, as they don’t have an automatic dishwasher.
The Drebes have also collected paperweights, pincushion dolls, primitives, Texasware bowls, and cut-glass pieces. Of all his collections though, Leon loves Fiesta the best. His favorite piece is the red cake plate he found in the wild for $20. As you can see by some of his clever and creative photos, Leon truly loves to have fun with his collection!
Leon has invited us all out to his farm to eat on vintage Fiesta. He says he’s not the cook his beloved Martha was, but promised that we wouldn’t leave hungry.