The best part of "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle," says my daughter the pottery collector, is the heroine's '50s-era Bauer dishware. In fact, she's been known to rent that movie, fast-forward to key kitchen scenes and hit the mute button, just to drool over the dishes.
America's interest in collectible pottery from the 1930s, '40s and '50s has escalated to a frenzy pitch. These days Homer Laughlin's Fiesta ware, McCoy vases and Hall China's teapots fetch top dollar at antiques stores. And for the hard-core pottery collector, a pilgrimage to East Liverpool, Ohio, and environs promises nothing short of bliss.
At the turn of the century, East Liverpool -- "The Crockery City" -- was devoted predominantly to the manufacture of pottery. Tucked into the banks of the Ohio River at the point where Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia converge, the town still bears traces of the time when more than 30 potteries operated within its city limits. The Museum of Ceramics is right downtown, Hall China continues to do business at the edge of town, and just across the river is Homer Laughlin's factory and outlet store in Newell, W.Va. The Museum of Ceramics
Operated by the Ohio Historical Society in East Liverpool's stately former post office building, the museum spotlights a dazzling array of pottery, including delicate bone china Lotus Ware from the 1890s, Hall's witty Aladdin's lamp teapots and the earliest and latest in chunky Fiesta ware.
A brief slide show evokes an almost visceral sense of a time, place and people long past. In the basement, spooky dioramas recreate the pottery workplace of a century ago. In vintage photos blown up to life size, long-dead men and women glance up from their work with gooey clay, their smart, stubborn faces vivid.
The Museum of Ceramics (400 E. Fifth St., East Liverpool, Ohio 43920, 216-386-6001) is open Wednesdays through Saturdays, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays noon to 5 p.m., March through November, by appointment only from December through February. Admission is $3 for adults, $1 for children 6 to 12. There is full wheelchair access. Homer Laughlin
The Homer Laughlin Retail Outlet offers twice-daily tours that reveal that today's dishes are made much the same as they were in the late 19th century -- and in many cases by the descendants of those earlier potters. The company's museum room boasts historic pieces that bring a covetous tear to the collector's eye. But take heart: The outlet store peddles seconds of freshly minted Fiesta for half the price of "firsts."
The Homer Laughlin Retail Outlet (Route 2, Newell, W.Va. 26050, 304-387-1300) has free factory tours Mondays through Fridays at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. The outlet store is open Mondays through Saturdays, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays noon to 5 p.m. Once past five shallow steps, there is wheelchair access for the outlet store and the factory tour. Hall-China
Self-guided tours of the Hall China Co. are encouraged, and the Hall Closet outlet store does a brisk business. In addition to the stylized teapots, bowls and pitchers that are always in stock, there are often odd offerings of out-of-stock ware. (My most recent prizes were small red crocks for $7 each, spotted soon after in a trendy New York shop for $45.)
The Hall China Co. (1 Anna St., East Liverpool, Ohio 43920, 216-385-2900) allows free, self-guided tours Mondays through Fridays, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 2 p.m. The Hall Closet is open Mondays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is full wheelchair access to both the store and factory. Flea Market
The enormous Rogers Flea Market and Auction draws vendors and customers from miles around every Friday year-round. Spread over 70 acres and starting at 7:30 a.m., the market offers a jumble ranging from produce to vintage pottery, tools to live chickens. There are two afternoon auctions and fairway-type food; with four miles of lighted midway, the flea market often goes on until midnight.
Last spring, my cousin loaded up the back of her four-wheeler with pots of baby arborvitae while I snatched up three McCoy vases (none more than $2) and a $10 bagful of doll dishes, including a tiny teacup more than a century old.
Rogers Flea Market and Auction (216-227-3233) is about 12 miles north of East Liverpool via Routes 11, 7 and 154. Admission is free, and there's full (if bumpy) wheelchair access. Susan Stanley, author of "Maternity Ward" (William Morrow), is writing a book about her father's family, who emigrated in the 1880s from Burslem, England, to work in the potteries of East Liverpool, Ohio. CAPTION: Fiesta ware from the Homer Laughlin China Co., originally designed in 1936.