Collecting B&O's "Centenary" China
Rob Hoffer

See comments at bottom of the page, and 10/08 black and rose side-by-side photos under additional points

Among railroad china collectors, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad's "Centenary"china is arguably the most popular and widely collected pattern. First produced in 1927 for the railroad's 100th anniversary, Centenary china has a number of characteristics that make it especially attractive to collectors:

  • Appearance: It has an especially elegant and intricate design, using multiple shades of blue on a white base to depict scenic locations and historic locomotives. See image at upper right; click for a larger version.
  • Uniqueness: It was custom-designed for railroad use, unlike many railroad china patterns which adapted existing stock designs. According to the B&O's own information booklet, the design process alone took over two years.
  • Variety: It was produced over a period of 50+ years by different manufacturers -- Buffalo, Scammell's Lamberton, Shenango, Interpace, Syracuse, and Sterling -- resulting in numerous variations. For example, there are at least four different variations in divided compartment plates and eleven variations in tea pots.
  • History: It uniquely represents the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, which occupies a special place in American history. The B&O was the first chartered line built in the U.S. and participated in such momentous events as the Civil War.

From its inception, Centenary china was extremely popular with travelers and was even sold to the public. See the price list in the B&O's Centenary booklet. The practice of selling to the public was discontinued during W.W.II because the B&O could not obtain new china stocks due to rationing. Every piece it had was needed in dining car service. But after the War, selling to the public resumed.

Centenary proved to be so popular that it's production actually outlasted passenger service itself. When the B&O ceased operating passenger trains, unused stocks of Centenary china were sold in the railroad's museum gift shop in Baltimore. Sales were so good that special production runs were ordered strictly for souvenir purposes. In the 1990's, B&O's corporate successor -- CSX -- outfitted their office cars with Centenary, and once again excess production was sold to the public (see Special Edition back stamp below).

Due to its long history and enormous variation, information on Centenary china can be complex and confusing. The place to start sorting this out is the back stamp. A back stamp consists of words, possibly a logo, and other codes placed by the manufacturer on the back of each piece of china. Properly interpreted, back stamps show the history of the piece. Following are common and not-so-common back stamps found in the Centenary line.

Ancestor. Not Centenary but certainly in the family tree, this was the china that the Centenary design was based on in 1927. It was made in England one hundred years earlier in 1827 to commemorate the inception of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Click on either image at right for a larger version.
Scammell's Lamberton Patent Applied For. Scammell China of Trenton, New Jersey produced Centenary china under the "Scammell's Lamberton" brand [SCM] from 1927 to the outbreak of W.W.II. The "PATENT APPLIED FOR" china was the original 1927 set and came in two variations (that are known) -- the common blue background and the extremely hard to find white background. The patent was applied for by Olive Dennis of the B&O on December 7, 1926 and was granted on May 31, 1927. Scammell's Lamberton used the "PATENT APPLIED FOR" back stamp until 1930 when they changed to "DESIGN PATENTED".
Scammell's Lamberton Patent Applied For shield. The shield shown at right appeared on 9-inch plates in the original set and lists eight milestones and dates. Under the shield is the "PATENT APPLIED FOR" phrase. Click on the image for a larger version.
Scammell's Lamberton Design Patented. The "DESIGN PATENTED" back stamp was first used in 1930-31 with the introduction of several new pieces not included in the original "PATENT APPLIED FOR" set. These included tea pots, chocolate pots, divided plates, coffee mugs and saucers, etcetera. The new pieces had a floral background which was done away with on most subsequent pieces in the mid-1930's. The floral background china is extremely hard to find!
Scammell's Lamberton Design Patented shield. The shield shown at right appeared on 9-inch plates in the Scammell's Lamberton "DESIGN PATENTED " series. The list of milestones and dates on the shield was expanded from eight to ten. It is also possible to find this shield on 10 1/2-inch plates, but some believe that these plates were actually made by another company, Sterling China. Scammell went out of business after W.W.II, and the company was taken over by Sterling. Click on the image for a larger version.
Buffalo. The B&O gave Buffalo China an order for Centenary china in the late 1930's. According to company correspondence, one reason for the order was that Buffalo China was owned by the Larkin Soap Company which gave the B&O a lot of traffic. However, the quality of the ware was not satisfactory to B&O management, and no subsequent orders were placed. Since there was only one run, pieces with this back stamp are quite rare.
Buffalo shield. The shield shown at right appeared on Buffalo 9 and 1/2-inch plates. The list of milestones and dates is the same as on the shield in the Scammell's Lamberton "DESIGN PATENTED " series. Click on the images for larger versions.
Sterling. Sterling China [STR] produced Centenary after the war and into 1950's. The first china produced by Sterling used up the new-old-stock (NOS) Scammell's Lamberton decals. This is the date coded Scammell's Lamberton with the black letters [see two top examples at right]. Scammell's Lamberton [SCM] did NOT date code, so the letter means Sterling made the piece. When the NOS decals ran out, the Sterling back stamp was used [3rd down, right]. You can find identical pieces with the two back stamps but different date codes, the Scammell's Lamberton being earlier.

The Sterling Centenary is often of poor quality -- not up to par with the original SCM. The transfers are not well done, blurred, light blue and/or torn or any combination of these. The back stamps are often of poor quality as well. However, because of the transition from SCM to STR and the use of the NOS decals, some interesting variations on the pieces and decorations can be found. For example see the 6" x 12" celery trough at lower right. Click on the image for a larger comparison with SCM platters. This piece has the Cumberland Narrows scene that was used on the SCM medium platter. Also see the back view. In the late 1950's Sterling lost the Centenary business to Shenango China because of problems with quality. However, Sterling remains in business, and their website even indicates a "Lamberton" line.
Early Shenango. Shenango China produced their first run of Centenary after the War, around 1949(?) or so. This is the fairly hard-to -find, white-background Shenango. The company then took over production of Centenary in the late 1950's because the quality that Sterling was turning out was not up to par. The Shenango china produced in the late 1950' s and early 1960's was the blue background. Shenango China was acquired by Interpace in 1968. But the Shenango name continued to be used, and china continued to be produced at the New Castle, PA plant.
Interpace (Shenango). The Interpace "indian back stamp" china was produced under the Shenango name in the late 1960's until the end of B&O passenger service in 1971. The good news is that Interpace date coded their china. Most commentary on Interpace Centenary says that it was made for souvenirs. But a 1968 run often turns up -- see the T-27 date code at right -- proving that the Interpace china could have been used on the passenger trains (which stopped in 1971 with the inception of Amtrak). Click on image at right for larger version.
Interpace (Shenango) 1977 and 1978. Interpace also produced the 150th anniversary celebration china in 1977-1978 under the Shenango name. Shown at right are back stamps from these runs. The Shenango China name and assets were acquired by Syracuse China in 1988, whereupon the plant in New Castle, PA was closed. Click any image at right for larger versions.
Company Collection. In 1993 CSX did a run to outfit their office cars. This was produced by Syracuse under the Shenango name and features "Company Collection" on the back stamp. The overrun was sold to the public to help financed the china for the CSX office cars. Click on image at far right for larger version. The SPECIAL EDITION china was part of this same run. It had a back stamp of 1827-1927, but general consensus is that it was done in 1993.
Museum Collection. Another 1993 run was the MUSEUM COLLECTION, which had a dinner plate, salad plate, cup, saucer, platter, chocolate demi, and teapot.
Limited Edition. In 1997, a "170th Anniversary Edition" was produced by Syracuse under the Shenango name and features LIMITED EDITION" on the back stamp. Click on image at right for larger version. Syracuse continues in business today as a subsidiary of Libbey Glass Company.
Oddballs. Every big family has its oddballs, and Centenary has more than its share. Below left is an odd back stamp. Below right is a teapot with the "back stamp shield" printed right on the side. It dates to 1977 and was made under the Shenango name, but it was not a regular production piece. At right is a fairly common "mistake" piece -- 1968 date coded Shenango without the "capitol dome" B&O logo. Click on any image for a larger version.

Some additional points about Centenary china...

  • "Centenary" is a name used by collectors. The B&O actually referred to this china as the "Colonial" or "Blue Colonial" pattern or sometimes simply as the "blue china". In company correspondence, Centenary was discussed as a successor to what collectors now call the "Capitol" pattern. Centenary was cheaper to produce -- about half the cost -- than the Capitol pattern, presumably because the latter incorporated gold banding in its design. However, Capitol was used from the turn of the century up until 1957 (some pieces are date-coded for the mid-1950's), so use of the two patterns was concurrent for decades. Some trains were outfitted with the Centenary and others with Capitol.
  • Samples of rose-on-white and black-on-white Centenary china were produced by several manufacturers and seriously considered by the B&O to supplement the blue version as a standard china pattern. There was quite a debate among B&O officials about this, but ultimately the idea was rejected. Recently a green-on-white sample surfaced, but not much is known about it. Shown at upper right is a rose sample produced by Shenango and its back stamp. Shown at lower right are blue, black and rose samples and the backstampt from the black version. Click any image for a larger version.
  • Correspondence from the mid-1930's among B&O officials regarding surplus china shows that extra-large Centenary platters were produced but not needed by the Dining Car department. So the B&O tried to figure out what to do with them. A memo from 1934 listed 360 "Colonial" ["Centenary"] large platters which cost the B&O $2.30 each. The memo goes on to say, "Undoubtedly, these platters will never be used unless our service should change materially; but it seems to me we should realize something from them...If they could be used up for door prizes and sold to somebody for $2.00 each, this would give us a loss that would have to be written off....". Today these platters go for big $$$.

The B&O was very proud of its Centenary pattern. A publicity booklet issued by the railroad in the 1930's said, "While the task [of producing this china] was found greater than anyone imagined in advance, it is felt that the final result a fitting commemoration of the hundredth anniversary of America's first passenger and freight railroad." Today, over seventy years later, not only does Centenary continue to commemorate the B&O's hundredth anniversary but also the entire history of one of America's great railroads.

Credits: Thanks to Jim Hutzler for information and access to B&O company correspondence. All images are by permission. Thanks to the photographers who provided images for this page.


"My Dad, Harry Barkby was a ceramic designer and engraver as well as art director at Shenango China in New Castle, Pa. As a child of about 8 years of age I remember him bringing work home to engrave in his studio because of it being a rush job and needed to go into production quickly. One such job was the engravings for the B&O china when that contract was awarded to Shenango. I would sit and watch him in awe as he engraved those intricate designs. I was acquainted with one of the other engravers who worked with my Dad, a gentleman by the name of Dick Knoblaugh. I feel certain that Dick also worked on the B&O engravings. There was one other (at least) engraver, however I do not recall his name.

We lived about 2 blocks from James Smith, president of Shenango, and visited in their home frequently. On Sunday mornings it was my job to walk to the Isaly's store to pick up a paper for the Smiths for which Mrs. Smith would give me a dime! (not bad for about 1942 or 1943).

Over the years my wife and I have collected enough B&O china (mostly Shenango! ) to set the family table. One piece from my Dad's years at Shenango is a 7" plate -- Thomas Viaduct, 1835 which is marked on the back -- # 4 LAB REG GLAZE along with the Shenango Indian back stamp (which I believe was designed by my Dad).

Thought this bit of information might be of some interest to collectors. I would love to hear from anyone who may have been acquainted with my family, Dick Knoblaugh, or anyone else from Shenango Pottery."

Bill Barkby

"You may also want to mention that the B&O called the blue china their 'Colonial' pattern since they were first used on the Colonial dining cars that were produced by the B&O in the 1927 to 1930 timeframe. Each car was named after a famous woman from the colonial/revolutionary war period of US history. The windows, interior décor, table settings and furniture of the cars were all designed with the colonial era in mind. These cars were modernized in the late 1930s and again in the 1950s, and eventually received simple 4-digit car numbers to replace the older female names originally assigned."

Allen Young
Secretary, B&O Railroad Historical Society

Thanks for the comments!

Sources: Hoffer, R.J., "Centenary Divided Plates", The Railroadiana Express, Spring, 1995; McIntyre, Douglas W., The Official Guide to Dining Car China, 1990, Golden Spike Enterprises: Williamsville, New York. Also see the B&O's publicity booklet "Concerning the Blue China."