The Railroad Commissary
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Mercury Pattern / Gray Variant
The gray version of the Mercury pattern seems to be poorly understood. The first pieces are date coded for 1947 or 1948, with another another batch made in 1956, but these seem even more rare. Its seems not to be mere coincidence that the 20th Century Limited was fully re-equipped in 1948 - and the decorating scheme was "aluminum gray". While I only recall seeing in this pattern are plates, small, medium and dinner, and a coffee cup), collector Myron Hayden tells that he also has the saucer, Bouillon cup and a 7.25" Soup Coupe (which is the only example he has seen in this pattern, including the Brown version). My best guess is that Mercury Gray was the replacement for the 20th Century Pattern, which mostly seems older. Dick Luckin, in his discussion of 20th Century Limited china in his book Dining on Rails, notes that "Syracuse also made dinnerware for the Century, first ordered 4-25-47 & last ordered 11-25-64. It was supplied through Kniffin & Demarest, N.Y." Since 20th Century Pattern china with a Syracuse backstamp has never been seen, and the dates match the known dates seen on Mercury Gray fairly well (although I sure never saw a 1964 piece of Mercury Gray), I believe that it is Mercury Gray that he is unknowingly referring to. Myron's account of a 20th Century Limited brochure (see below) all but confirms this.
In full, Myron Hayden writes:
My brother and I have been serious (some call it crazy) collectors of the NYC Mercury pattern for 20+ years and we might have a little more light to shed on the subject of the Gray variation.
(In Mercury Gray, we have) three of the four plate sizes (9", 7.25" and 6.5") (ed. What's the fourth?) , coffee cup and saucer, Bouillon cup and the most interesting piece - a 7.25" Soup Coupe. The Soup Coupe in Gray is they only example of this body style we have seen in either color! It was also the last body style we identified.
Another interesting aspect is the years these pieces were made. There appear to be two groupings - the vast majority being made from 1947-1949. The second batch appears in 1955-1956. We have one body style - the 6.5" plate - that is found in both batches.
One more piece of the puzzle is found in the brochure for the 1948 Century. One page shows a painting of the new dining car and clearly visible on the table is a plate with gray vertical lines!