Discover Vintage America - MARCH 2020

Pottery shard reflects on the history of Rollins Pass
in Colorado

Q: My name is Travis Wright; my wife, Kate, and I are currently researching our second book on Rollins Pass (a mountain pass in Colorado). We came across your October 2014 article, "Keeping pottery backstamps straight can be challenging" and wondered if you'd be willing to help.

A few years back, we were volunteering with U.S. Forest Service Archaeology on Rollins Pass and snapped a photograph of a piece of Sterling China. We are hoping you'd be able to pinpoint the date or date range when it might have been manufactured as well as anything else unique about this piece. This artifact was unique in that most of the dishware on the pass isn't very large (it's all mostly broken into small shards), but this one had an incredible amount of detail.
Thank you so much!

A: The mark on the back of your pottery shard tells us that the piece was made by the Sebring China Co. The Sterling China Co. was established by B.E. Allen in 1917 with a factory in Wellsville, OH and later had offices in East Liverpool, OH. In the early years, production consisted of small items such as cups, bowls, coffee mugs, ashtrays, etc. As the years went by, new wares, shapes and designs were added to the line.

From the very beginning the primary customer base of the Sterling China Co. were hotels and the company continues to operate today as a major supplier of hotel dinnerware. During WWII they supplied a tremendous amount of china to the military and also manufactured china for a few railroad companies.

You can read more of the history on the company at
Desert Tan is the pattern name and was made in the early 1950s for restaurants and diners. I read up on the history of the pass and this might have been used by the railroad. If it is from a rail line, the front will have initials or the name of the rail line.

My research also stated that there are some diners in the area, and you might have come upon a "dump" site. I love a good dump site. You often find them where old houses, diners and businesses used to stand. They are set back from the building and anything that would not burn was tossed into the site. You often find bottles, pottery and other goodies in the dumps.

The resale price on Sebring dinner china is moderate, around $5 for a plate. The price rises if the dinnerware is associated with a railroad line.
To learn more about the Rollins Pass - To purchase the Wright's first book on the pass on Amazon.

Michelle Staley is a Lenexa, KS-based dealer and researcher with 35 years of experience in the antique trade. Send questions with photos to Michelle to Please keep queries to one question; questions without photos of the item may not be answered. Michelle is also available for consulting and extensive research work beyond this column. If you would like an appraisal on an antique or collectible please go to for a one-on-one appraisal.