History of Handcraft Tile

The Oldest Tile Manufacturer in California

Founded in 1926, Handcraft Tile is the oldest tile manufacturer in California and one of only a handful of tile manufacturers in the United States that pre-date World War II. Handcraft Tile began as San Jose Tile, with a factory on South 18th Street near Coyote Creek in San Jose. Around 1931, the company moved North to a location in unincorporated Santa Clara County and the name was changed to Handcraft Tile. This location eventually became Main Street in the city of Milpitas. The company operated out of the Main Street factory for over 73 years. That is the "old factory" shown in this picture.

In his book, American Art Tile: 1876-1941, Norman Karlson describes and pictures tiles manufactured by over 150 American tile companies. Of those, only four still manufacture tile today. And only one is in California — Handcraft Tile. Handcraft Tile’s history is also documented in the book California Tile, The Golden Era 1910-1940, Acme to Handcraft, by The California Heritage Museum, Joseph A. Taylor, Editor, 2003, A Shiffer Book, Shiffer Publishing Ltd., pages 207-217.

Early History: 1926-1997

The original company had six investors, but was operated primarily by Dr. and Mrs. Les Austin. Mrs. Austin designed the tiles and Dr. Austin formulated the glazes and oversaw production.

Simplicity was the hallmark of a Handcraft Tile — simple design, simple slip glazes in earthy colors, and rustic treatments. Eventually, Handcraft Tile had several employees and enough business from the San Francisco Bay Area to keep a small tunnel kiln running around the clock. Production was limited. Handcraft Tile sold only its own products and only through the factory.

In 1960, Clay Scott purchased the company and continued the same operation for the next fifteen years. In 1975, he made a major improvement to the business by purchasing a periodic kiln, making the production process more flexible.

A second major accomplishment by Mr. Scott in the 1960’s was the employment of a full-time ceramicist to develop a new line of ceramic glazes. The glazes were more durable and brighter in color than the original slip glazes and appealed to a broader market. The Handcraft Tile product was sold mainly through the factory plus a few select dealers.

1997 to Present

In the summer of 1997, Shirley Dinkins and Frank Patitucci were looking for handmade tile for remodeling their Arts and Crafts home. At the suggestion of their designer they visited Handcraft Tile. During the visit, Mr. Scott mentioned that he was preparing to retire. He planned to close down the business and sell the land. Shirley and Frank jumped at the chance to own a historic company that made such a beautiful product.

In October of that year, they purchased Handcraft Tile. The old Main Street factory was very quaint and exuded years of tile making history.  Over the next 7 years, Frank and Shirley focused on restoring the product line and glazes and finding the company’s niche in the marketplace, while retaining the traditions and techniques of making tile by hand.

In 2004, the company moved to a more modern and efficient factory only three miles away from the old factory in Milpitas. The owners used this event to redesign the production process to more efficiently produce the product line. In 2007, Malibu Ceramic Works acquired Handcraft Tile and moved the manufacturing to Long Beach, California. Nine years later, in 2016, Shirley and Frank re-acquired Handcraft Tile and opened a showroom and small manufacturing facility in Livermore, California. Malibu Ceramic Works continues to manufacture some of the Handcraft Tile product line. 

The techniques for making handmade tile have changed little over the years. New glazes, sizes, shapes, and designs have been added, but the Arts and Crafts tradition of tile making lives on today at Handcraft Tile. We make tile the old-fashioned way, by hand.

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