Monday, July 2, 2012

Those Happy Days

QUESTION: My mother had a cabinet full of Melmac dishes in a variety of pastel colors. We used them for every meal. Now I have them and while most have seem better days, they bring back fond memories of my childhood. What can you tell me about them? Are they collectible?

ANSWER: Your Melmac dishes are certainly collectible, as hundreds of collectors of the plastic ware can attest. The most collectible pieces are from the 1950s when items such as this signaled the dawn of future of ease for American housewives.

Everyone knows of “Happy Days,” the 1950s-era T.V. sit com, featuring a typical middle class family. The mother on that show, much like scores of other American housewives of the period, must have thought she had died and gone to housewares heaven with the advent of Melmac dinnerware. That was just one of the items that made her days truly happy because its durability made it ideal to use in homes with children.

Initially discovered by William F. Talbot in the 1940s, Melmac, the name given for the hard plastic melamine resin by its chief maker American Cyanimid Corporation, was first used in the military.
Dishes made of early plastics and Bakelite did not hold up well or withstand regular washings or heat, but American Cyanimid showed that its new "improved plastic" could indeed hold up well. While the company produced the resin, itself, it sold it to other manufacturers which molded it into dinnerware lines for both home and restaurant use.

The Plastics Manufacturing Company of Dallas, Texas, produced Texas Ware, Dallas Ware, Oblique, SRO and Elan. The Boonton Molding Company of Boonton, New Jersey, offered Boontonware, Patrician and Somerset. International Molded Products in Cleveland, Ohio, produced Brookpark/Arrowhead Modern Design and Desert Flower lines designed by Joan Luntz. And the Prophylactic Brush Company of Florence, Massachusetts, made Prolon. Its Florence and Beverly lines were the most popular for home use.

During the late 1950s and 1960s Melmac dinnerware found its way into just about every American home. However, the tendency of melamine cups and plates to stain and scratch led sales to decline in the late 1960s, and eventually it became largely limited to the camping and nursery markets.

Melmac is used for just about any type of dinnerware, including plates, cups and saucers, serving pieces, and glasses. Manufacturers could add any type of color pigment to the resin during the molding process. As a result, they created it in a variety of colors and patterns. Muted colors, such as pea green and seafoam appeared in the late 1950’s, and during the late 1960s, makers experimented with interesting color combinations to complement the psychedelic look of the time.

Today, you’ll find vintage Melmac in thrift stores, at estate sales, online auction sites, and garage sales. It's fun to collect it and due to it's long production, it’s easy to make a whole set. Some Melmac pieces are worth more in value than others. Full sets in pinks or blues are generally priced higher. Though you may have a problem finding full sets, you can start collecting it inexpensively by piecing sets together. 

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