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History of the Flint Faience Tile Company

The handmade tiles of the Flint Faience Tile Company grew out of the fledgling 1920s auto industry. By Demetra Aposporos | Photos by Joseph Hilliard

    The solarium at the Strong House is full of colorful Faience tiles, and capped by panelized plaster that was fully restored by the homeowners.

    The solarium at the Strong House is full of colorful Faience tiles, and capped by panelized plaster that was fully restored by the homeowners.

    During the early years of General Motors, ceramic tile became a quirky offshoot of the auto manufacturing process. Albert Champion, who manufactured and sold spark plugs for General Motors (Champion Ignition Company and later AC Spark Plug Company), realized that kilns used to create the porcelain caps on spark plugs could be damaged by repeated cycles of heating and cooling as they were turned off at the end of the day.  So he devised a way to keep the kilns consistently hot, using them to fire colorful tiles during off-hours from spark plug production. Thus the Flint Faience & Tile Company was born in 1921.

    Tile production started off with a range of standard field tiles in colorful hues, but the company soon added increasingly elaborate designs to the mix—geometrics, stylized florals, animals, even faces. The tiles’ popularity quickly grew far and wide—including an installation in the Presidential Palace of Peru. Flint Faience tiles were prominently featured in the homes GM’s early executives built in Flint, such as the E.T. Strong House.

    Flint Faience tiles came in many varieties, glazed and unglazed. This 1929 brochure advertises a bounty of unglazed Vitrocraft tiles.

    Flint Faience tiles came in many varieties, glazed and unglazed. This 1929 brochure advertises a bounty of unglazed Vitrocraft tiles. (Photo: Arcalus Archive)

    Despite their popularity, Flint Faience tile production ceased in 1933, when GM reverted the kilns to spark-plug production full-time, owing to increased demand for automobiles. The tiles remain valuable and extremely collectible. Learn more about them in the book Flint Faience Tiles A to Z by Margaret Carney and Ken Galvaz (Schiffer, 2004).

    Strong House Photo Gallery

    Published in: Old-House Journal August/September 2012

    { 5 comments… read them below or add one }

    Roger Mayland; North Prairie Tileworks Inc. June 12, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    We have had the pleasure at North Prairie to replicate a number of tiles for Flint Faience’s installations including fountains, decos and field tile. The book by Carney and Galvaz, Flint Faience Tiles A to Z is a great resource and has a beautiful representation of Flint Faience tile.

    The former GM headquarters building (now GM Research Services Group) is filled with Flint Faience tile installations.

    About five years ago North Prairie replicated Flint Faience tile for the office tower lobby of 180 North Michigan Ave in Chicago.

    Julie Griffith June 20, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    I want to buy the issue with the article of “reviving a castle like house in Michigan” Its an article about restoring a 1930′s GM exec home. I need to know which old home journal this is in. Could you let me know. Thank you Julie

    Clare June 21, 2012 at 9:20 am

    It’s in the August/September issue, on stands next week.

    Nick Laliotis April 9, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    I have some original Flint Faience tiles that I would like to sell. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks

    Mark Lonergan December 10, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    Nick, I’d be interested in buying a few of these tiles if you still have them. I recently discovered them and think they’re charming decorative pieces.

    mdlonergan@comast.net

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