How to Collect Mid Century Modern Vintage Melamine Dinnerware of the 1940s-1970s
Beautiful Mid Century Plastic Dinnerware
History of Plastic Dinnerware
I saw my first plastic dinnerware in 1953 or 54, when one of my favorite aunts amazed all of our family by throwing her dishes on the floor after dinner. "Look, unbreakable" she screamed. What a surprise. Dishes that would not break. My second personal experience with plastic dinnerware was as a young bride in 1966, my mother offered to give us her original set of Fiestaware, and I turned her down because we were going to buy a set of Melmac. In retrospect, that was not a good decision, but I've always liked the colors and shapes of the fabulous plastic dinnerware of the 1940s-1970s.
The plastic craze began with Melamine, a formaldehyde chemical found in the form of white crystals in Nitrogen. When Melamine is in a powder form, it can easily be molded into colorful durable shapes. During the WW Two years in the 1930s and 1940s metals were scarce and plastic was used in all types of products including military airplane parts and helmets. Melamine is still used today to mold plastics, adhesives and counter tops.
The American Cyanamid Company trademarked the Melamine plastic powder that they sold and called it Melmac. Unless the manufacture purchased Melmac powder to mold their dinnerware, they could not label their dinnerware Melmac. However, the generic term Melmac to describe all the plastic dinnerware produced in the Mid Century is still widely used. The biggest selling point for the molded plastic dinnerware was that the dishes were indeed unbreakable. During the mid-1940s the leading producers of plastic dinnerware were Lifetimeware, Boontonware and Texas Ware, but by the 1950s, hundreds of companies were producing the popular dinnerware.
It is still debated whether the Residential line by Russell Wright, or the Branchell Color-Flyte line sold and produced the most popular set. My favorite hands down is the Russell Wright which after 50 plus years retains its hard durable shine and is heavier that Color-Flyte. A starter set of dinnerware service for four, retailed on average for $15.00 to $20.00 in the 1950s and 1960s, and completion sets with serving dishes averaged $20.
Holiday by Kenro Made in Fredonia Wisconsin
Companies, Colors, Pieces
Most companies had their logo molded into the bottom of the piece. A few of the better companies were: Arrowhead (Distinctive arrowhead logo and a number of square designs, Cleveland, Ohio) Boonton, Color-Flyte by Branchell, Holiday by Kenro (Fredonia, Wisconsin) Imperial, Laguna (Los Angels CA) Lifetime, Royalon, Spaulding, and Texas Ware (Dallas TX). By the end of the 1960s, pieces were thinner and not usually marked.
The range of colors produced include:Black, coral, confetti (a base color with flecks of various colors) gold, chartruse green, light green, dark green, grey, maroon, oatmeal, pink, tan, turquoise, white, and various shade of yellow. *** As a rule, earlier pieces were plain colored, or slightly mottled with a grey fleck, later pieces by the end of the 1960s and the early 1970s have "printed" designs.
Pieces include: Dinner plates, bread and butter plates, salad plates, divided grill plates (early pieces are much small than dinnerware produced today) Butter keeper, small bowls, cereal bowls, kitchenware mixing bowls, school cafeteria compartment serving trays, salt and pepper sets, sugar and creamer sets, serving platters, vegetable serving bowls (often divided) gravy boats.
Fantastic Deep Colors
Color-Flyte by Branchell of St Louis
Advantages and Disadvantages of Melamine
Advantages: Fantastic Mid-Century colors and designs, unbreakable, pieces can be collected as a set or mixed for a custom look. still relatively inexpensive.****If pieces are purchased on line, often the shipping is more than the selling price.
Disadvantages: While unbreakable, they are not scratch resistant if sharp utensils are used such as a steak knife, after some use, some lines were not as stain resistant, such as coffee cups in the lighter colors. Not microwave safe, and dishwashers destroy the hard shine.
Arrowhead Plates Russell Wright Creamer
Did your family have a set of Melmac dishes?
Did your family have a set of Melmac dishes?
Where to Buy Melamine Dishes
Twenty years ago, these dishes could be found at almost every garage sale, rummage sale or thrift shop, and the lighter weight printed pattern pieces of the later 1960s and 70s still pop up, but the chances of finding the earlier pieces in good to great condition are slim as collectors of Mid-Century Modern snap these pieces up.
Now good pieces are most often found at antique stores and flea markets, stores that have "Retro" in their name, on line dinnerware sites, Etsy and Ebay.
A trend always stops when something else replaces it. I found out during my research for this hub, that the Lenox Company that produced china sets, purchased the Branchell Compay that produced the Color Flyte line from 1953-1973 until Lenox/Branchell introduced the latest dish crazy. Corelle!