Collecting Vintage Melmac Dinnerware: History and Information

Updated on October 23, 2019
Ira Mency profile image

I'm a writer and vintage junkie transplant from Baltimore to WV. Interests include Etsy, crafting,melmac dinnerware, and archaeology.

This is a picture of my Melmac cup collection that is also posted on my instagram.
This is a picture of my Melmac cup collection that is also posted on my instagram. | Source

History of Melmac Dinnerware

Plastic dinnerware was found in many homes from the 1940s through the 1970s and is highly collectible now. During the 1930s, the raw material "melamine" hit an all-time low price. With heightening wartime threats and impending monetary constraints, American industrialists jumped on the bandwagon to make melamine into functional products for both commercial and households.

Melamine, a thermoset plastic material, was used in many factories and was incorporated into dinnerware production by the late 1940s. American Cyanamid was one of the leading manufacturers and distributors of melamine powder to plastics molders. They name-branded their version "Melmac."

One of the benefits of molders purchasing from American Cyanamid was the advertising campaign for Melmac. Just look in any old Life magazines from the early 1950s and you will see how heavily Melmac the wonder plastic was marketed by American Cyanamid. There were other manufacturers who would offer melamine powders for molding (Allied Chemical and PMC Manufacturing to name a few). If a molder were to purchase from a non-Cyanamid distributor, they could not refer to their melamine dishes as "Melmac." This may be why some old ads for plastic dinnerware specifically say "Made of Melmac" while others just say Plaskon or melamine.

American Cyanamid constantly improved their formulas and did extensive consumer product testing and research (even hiring Russel Wright to do a long survey and compile reports in the mid-1940s). Additionally, American Cyanamid (pre-1960) would send inspectors to certain factories to make sure that Melmac dishes were meeting certain specifications and the highest quality standards.

Meladur: a line produced by Russel Wright and GATX.
Meladur: a line produced by Russel Wright and GATX. | Source

Why Melamine? Early Plastics Dinnerware Manufacturing

The actual material "melamine" was dirt cheap in the mid-to-late 1930s, and there was a push to use this new material for all kinds of things. Due to wartime constraints, plastic was soon to be the manufacturing material of the future. Housewares made of early plastics, resins, and Bakelite did not hold up well or withstand regular washings or heat, but when melamine began to be used in dinnerware production for the military, it proved that this new "improved plastic" could indeed hold up well.

Early melamine manufacturers experimenting with melamine operated 24/7 just to keep up with the high demand for plastics. Most of their workload was industrial plastics.

Early Melamine Factories

  • Northern Industrial Chemical Company of South Boston: This company founded in 1904 would later take up residence on Elkins Street in South Boston. The company made all kinds of plastics including telephone handsets and electrical components. This company also turned out some of the early pioneers in plastics history including Hans Wanders and F. Reed Estabrook. By the 1940s, they were making airline melamine and working on post-war production of molded dinnerware. They were perhaps best known for working with Russel Wright, to produce Residential, which made its place into the Modern Museum of Art's collection. Later, they would produce his Home Decorators and Flair lines also. By 1962, this company was in serious financial ruin and would later vanish without much trace.
  • Watertown Manufacturing Company of Watertown, Connecticut: This company dates back to 1915 and made early industrial plastics. Jon Hedu, then-designer, worked with the Navy to make military wares. Watertown's best-selling Lifetime Ware line would make the Modern Museum of Art's permanent collection (which is cited as being dated to 1940 according to them). The earliest evidence of this line being made available to consumers is from 1946 according to Plastic Living. Ironically, this company would sell out the dinnerware division to Northern Chemical Company (above) circa 1960.
  • Hemco Plastics: This firm became a division of Bryant Electric Company Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1928. Electrical components, industrial parts for washing machines (Westinghouse), and early Hemcoware kid's dishes were some of the staples produced here. Ironically, having ties to Westinghouse made it convenient for molding everything from plastic stove knobs to later branded Melmac Dishes. Examples of this line are in the Modern Museum of Art's permanent collection.

By the late 1940s, there were many molders making melamine dishes including Boonton Molding of Boonton, New Jersey (Boontonware), and PMC Manufacturing Company of Dallas, Texas (Texasware).

Watertown's Woodbine Pattern
Watertown's Woodbine Pattern | Source

Finding Vintage Melmac: Condition and Issues

Vintage Melmac is still plentiful to find at thrift stores, estate sales, online auction sites, and sites like Etsy. Cleaning Melmac, however, is another task. I would not let a set of dirty Melmac deter you from buying; it can be cleaned for use or display purposes with a little effort.

Melmac can't be microwaved or it will shatter, and shouldn't be used on the stove or it will discolor and burn. This is why some will find sets with burnt edges, or the bottoms of the plates burnt.

It was originally advertised that it was "safe for dishwasher" and came with a one, three, five, or ten-year guarantee on stains or issues. (I surmise that they started with fives and tens but slowly downsized; as in some of my research I talked to a lady who worked for Lapcor in Manitowoc, and said she was full time replacing stained coffee cups.)

Unfortunately, over time the dishwashing harsh agents did remove some of the "sheen" or "shine" on old melamine dishes. If you are using vintage Melmac for a display, you can shine it back to life.

It's great for picnics in the summer and looks great in your vintage kitchen for dinner. Avoid heavy steak knife usage though to avoid deep scratches.

It's fun to collect it and due to its long production easy to make a whole set. Some Melmac is worth more in value than others as some of it was made by top designers at the time.


This Texasware melamine was used in schools and hospitals, yet was desirable among collectors because it looks like Jadite glassware color.
This Texasware melamine was used in schools and hospitals, yet was desirable among collectors because it looks like Jadite glassware color. | Source

Value and Color: What You Should Know

Full sets in pretty 1950s colors such as pinks or blues are generally priced higher and still sought after. Finding sets of pink grows harder anymore. As a rule of thumb, the Melmac from the 1940s to the 1950s seems to be more sought after; not only for the age of the item but for the pastel and bright colors, some with speckles, that they produced.

The Melmac of the 1960s to 1980s was set to mirror the design trends. You will see more brown, tans, olive green, and mustard yellows. This is not as sought after, but the orange of the same era seems to be hard to find.

White melamine is subjective, as most was badly stained or shows knife marks making it hard to find. Color-Flyte in white is highly collected, and depending on the style, it could be sought after by collectors. For instance, rare is finding pieces made by Lucent, or Russel Wright Residential in white speckles, which eludes even me.

Floral lines and prints are plentiful, and many various flowers and floral lines exist. Collecting a set could be fun, and inexpensive to do. There are examples to every rule, however, the set below was designed by Joan Luntz for Brookpark, and is part of the Fantasy line, and is rare. Even though it's brown, and otherwise would be considered undesirable, it's rarity makes it worth its weight in Melmac.

This Brookpark Fantasy Melmac Set Is Valuable

Rare Brookpark Fantasy, This set , original listing was being sold by grtest8   It is desirable due to it's designer, and it's rarity.  It came also in a blue variation.
Rare Brookpark Fantasy, This set , original listing was being sold by grtest8 It is desirable due to it's designer, and it's rarity. It came also in a blue variation. | Source
Russel Wright Residential Melmac Dinnerware was given the MOMA Good Design award in 1953 and 1954!
Russel Wright Residential Melmac Dinnerware was given the MOMA Good Design award in 1953 and 1954! | Source

Rare makers like Lucent, Fostoria (both glass companies that dabbled in melmac), Russel Wright and Raymond Loewy (both mid century modern designers) are highly sought after. Women designers also were known for their creations, as Joan Luntz designed for International Molding Company who made the modern Brookpark melamine. Boontonware made in New Jersey seems to be a household favorite, and the flowing Boonton Belle line was designed by Belle Kogan, a woman designer, from Russia born in 1902.

Melmac collecting makes a fun and interesting hobby. Mixing and matching colors and designs  can prove to be a colorfully happy accident. Sets are still inexpensive to find if you know where to find them.
Melmac collecting makes a fun and interesting hobby. Mixing and matching colors and designs can prove to be a colorfully happy accident. Sets are still inexpensive to find if you know where to find them. | Source

What Should You Collect and How to Find Melmac

Collect what you like. Full sets are sometimes hard to find, but you can start inexpensively piecing sets together that you think are cool or fun! There are so many makers, lines, patterns and colors that you could easily start whatever moves you. One can easily start a pink set, but even after twenty pieces realize that if comprised of many manufacturers each may be off a slight hue off in color. Decide what lines you like best, and go from there.

Boontonware, Brookpark's Modern Design, Texasware, Branchell's Colorflyte and Watertown are still plentiful and turn up often, even their earliest designs. I assume this was due to the sheer amount and popularity produced. You will also find a lot of later '70s Melmac and early 80's Allied, Lenox/Lenoxware, Dallasware, TexasWare, and Oneida are still floating around.

Look at local thrift stores, church bazaar's, on auction sites like eBay and vintage sites like Etsy. Be aware with so many makers and manufacturers that assembling collections may be hard to do, and no two pinks seem to be alike! The hunt is fun!

Melmac is lurking in people's basements, attics, and storage lockers just waiting to be found.
Melmac is lurking in people's basements, attics, and storage lockers just waiting to be found. | Source

Melmac Reproductions

REPRODUCTIONS

The Melmac I collect, Russel Wright's Residential Line of Melmac, had recently been reproduced by designer Michele Yeeles, owner of "Bob's Your Uncle" in conjunction with Russel Wright Studios, and was being distributed out of Boston, Massachusetts.

Ironically, their headquarters was very close to the original location of Northern's factory in South Boston where the original dishes were made over 60 years ago. New molds were made to reproduce the original shapes, and colors very similar. This goes to prove this melamine is design worthy and will withstand the test of time.

Colors are very close to the old, and this gives new collectors of today an opportunity to assemble a set. Do your diligence to research if you have new or reproduced melamine.

COMMERCIAL

Many commercial lines of melamine dinnerware are still being produced to this day, and are molded in the same shapes as vintage. The Prolon factory is still in business, and still makes shapes for restaurants and industry today.

How Melamine Dishes are Made Today

Melmac Dinnerware
Melmac Dinnerware

This book, published in 1997, is the one that got me into collecting. It shows a lot of makers and a bit of history. If you desire paper books, a used one can be found on Amazon.

 

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2011 Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer

    Please leave me some comments or tell me about your melmac collection!

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      • profile image

        Starr 

        4 months ago

        What a wonderful article. I work at a thrift shop and a very dirty set came in and was nearly discarded as a result. I took it home and cleaned it. It just shines and is a full 12 place set with sugar and creamer. Uncommon rose design too. Anyhow, your article has taught me what to look for should I come across this again.

      • profile image

        Rhonda Hunt 

        5 months ago

        I own 12 salad plates Mint Green marked 50 of industry molded to meet cs 173. I love the feel, the color and the design. What can you tell me about the marking? Really appreciate any help. I will look for more pieces.

      • profile image

        Diane 

        5 months ago

        I have an 8 piece setting of melmac dishes from Harmony House that contains no pattern name. It is an assorted pastel set that belonged to my grandmother. It only has the harmony house logo, the reg us pat off, melmac and 636 stamped on the bottoms. Can you tell me anything about this set?

      • Ira Mency profile imageAUTHOR

        Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer 

        5 months ago from Hedgesville, WV

        Ah, the numbers on the bottom are part of the molding ID. The fun part is looking for your cups in the right style and hue on Ebay, Etsy, thrift stores, yard sales, the search is the best part! Good luck.

      • profile image

        Ross 

        5 months ago

        Hi Cindy. I have some Boontonware model 205-10 cups that I can't seem to find replacements for. Tried Ebay, Etsy with no luck. Any ideas of where else to look? Thanks.

      • profile image

        Vicki 

        6 months ago

        Looking for Royalong Inc #519 Melmac dinnerware and drinking glasses for sale

      • profile image

        Brita Cantrell 

        6 months ago

        Sandra, I would like to visit with you about Melmac if you don't mind.

        Thanks,

        Brita Cantrell 918-698-1017 (Tulsa, OK)

      • profile image

        sandra 

        11 months ago

        I have a huge set of aztec melmac dinnerware - all white with a gold daisy like flower and swirls - cannot find this pattern anywhere. anyone have any ideas

      • profile image

        Sandra Ritter 

        13 months ago

        My dad was a foreman in the St. Louis plant. I visited many times for the Christmas potluck and was intrigued by the process. The giant presses were scary but the workers seemed to take it all in stride.

        Our kitchen cabinets (which my dad built) were often full of mismatched pieces because dad would periodically bring home a box of "seconds".

        Today, I have a small collection - focused on the ColorFlyte collection.

        BUT my prized set is the pale blue demitasse cups and saucers my dad gave me. Have never seen them anywhere else - ever.

        I would love to know if anyone else has ever seen them.

      • profile image

        Lorrie Flowers 

        16 months ago

        I am a huge Boontonware fan! I would love to find a catalog, or salesmans list of products, any ideas where i might find one?

      • profile image

        beh 

        17 months ago

        I have a complete set of malmac that my mother got from I think boxes of detergent or that were given out by grocery stores in the 40's or 50's the plates are white with a floral pattern and cups and saucers are brown I have some large serving plates and divided serving dishes also have some matching glasses I think there is a service of twelve or eighteen any idea of the value can malmac be put in the dishwasher

      • profile image

        JILL 

        18 months ago

        how much is a Brookpark Arrowhead cream and sugar worth.

      • profile image

        Ray 

        21 months ago

        I have some Oneida ware, which I think is Melmac. I dropped and broke a couple of them. I would love to replace them. There is some numbers on the bottom. I tried Googling 'Oneida ware' along with the numbers, but no luck.

      • profile image

        Nonni Vinso 

        21 months ago

        Wish I could include a photo. I inherited my grandmother's prolon ware that she collected by buying laundry soap.

      • profile image

        Belinda 

        2 years ago

        I have a pink sugar Bowl with lid does it have an

      • profile image

        Heidi Trieu 

        2 years ago

        I love mid century modern and in the last few years I have fallen in love with melmac. I mostly have picked up odds and ends for very little money. Recently though I got this set. I bought it to sell but I really like it so we'll see☺. I wish I could send some pics! I've never seen this pattern before. I got it in the original box. It's duraware and the pattern is Indian song cocoa. I got 28 pcs of it.

      • profile image

        Lori Winge 

        2 years ago

        I inherited from my Aunt two large boxes, with 12 small, unopend boxes from the 50's of melmac. Sun-Valley Melmac by stetson. One place setting in each box, golden wheat. I have a lady that wants to buy them, not sure what they are worth. Anybody that could help me? Thanks!

      • profile image

        Jeanette Bennett 

        2 years ago

        Does anyone know anything about Gothamware? I was cleaning out my mom's shed and ran across a small yellow mug that says "Gothamware Made in USA" on the bottom. From the size I think it might have been from a children's play set. It's plastic and I'm guessing it's Melmac, since it's sturdy, although I could be wrong.

      • profile image

        Steve Canterbury 

        2 years ago

        I just bumped into your amazing, well-researched, and charming site. You really know your stuff.

        I've been collecting Melmac since the mid-1970s, and have several boxes full of the usual: a wide-ranging group of miscellaneous pieces besides my focuses, which are pieces by R. Wright in his various patterns and companies (including some of his Japanese stuff); Florence Prolon; Arrowhead and its successor, Brookpark "a modern design"; and my favorite, Branchell, from Color-Flyte through Royale (and, ultimately, plain, old Branchell).

        I don't know of any other set besides Branchell that did it all -- two sizes of tumblers (that fit together perfectly for easy storage), serving pieces from small to huge, individual ashtrays, group ashtrays, handled bowls, salad serving sets, and flatware (really unique among the Melmac offerings, I think, although you may know of other companies that produced matching flatware for their Melmac dishes sets). The eight mottled colors are really a palette for the fifties.

        Finally, I can't help but noticed that you, too, are from West Virginia, a fellow traveler, although you're in the booming and refined eastern panhandle, and I'm way down in the southern part of the state, five or more hours away.

        I'd love to make contact, but I don't want to be pushy. I've recently been forced into retirement, and I'm going through boxes in storage, which is why I turned to the internet and there you are! (The Branchell dishes and flatware are part of my daily life; I've been using them for decades. My daughter was raised with them, though she wanted the squareware when she went off to college -- what a rebel!)

        Anyway, thanks for doing all you do and doing it so well.

        Steve

      • profile image

        Suzanne McNaughton 

        2 years ago

        Fabulous to read all this information about Melmac. I have my mother's Btanchell Co. Melmac and my grandmother's Royalon Inc. Melmac. Great history!

      • profile image

        Jeannine Linder 

        2 years ago

        I just found and received a FULL SET of Autumn Lily and they still had the original packaging (someone was a pack rat), but you can bet I will be saving those original boxes too. It is lightly used, but the condition is unbelievable. I feel like a kid at Christmas

      • profile image

        shewa47@hotmail .com 

        3 years ago

        i have some that are lournay.please let me know? Thanks

      • profile image

        Gary Joy 

        4 years ago

        My grandfather started Plastics Mfg. Co. in Dallas in the late 40s - my father ran the company until his death in 83. For many years it was the largest manufacturer of melamine dinnerware in the world, as well as the only plastic dinnerware sold at Neiman-Marcus! I worked in the outlet store while in college in the early 70s so I may be able to answer some TexasWare/DallasWare questions.

      • profile image

        violet petricig 

        5 years ago

        I have a a watermelon color bowl, it was in December of 1954.number is

        511c 40 or 4Q is it worth any thing.

      • profile image

        LisaKeating 

        5 years ago

        I enjoyed this article. I was unaware of the history of the product. As a collector, I will start to keep an eye out for this. Thanks.

      • profile image

        wNo 

        5 years ago

        Related to Kathy's question, if it's not too late! I just went looking for Pyrex and somehow came home with melamine, including 7 bowls -- all aqua and all shelved together. Two are matching Texasware. The rest I thought were a set unto themselves, 2 small, 2 a little larger and 1 a little larger than that. But I realize the largest is probably not the same as the others. It is marked with only a tiny "B." The other four, like Kathy's are marked simply with a small or superscript 10 and 7415, 7415 and a small 15, and two smallest are 7405.

        Thoroughly useless but I'm putting it out there in case anyone else stumbles on this page and comments as I did!

      • profile image

        Reed 

        5 years ago

        Do you know where the Windsor line was manufactured?

      • profile image

        Faplana 

        5 years ago

        Take a look... I guess you will enjoy!

        http://www.vintagemelaminebyfaplana.blogspot.pt/20...

      • profile image

        Itwassuchagooddeal 

        5 years ago

        Please help - I am at a loss - I have a cocktail tray - the mark on the back is from the 7-up company - melamine - dining ware

        I found this in a box of estate sale items I purchased and it does not seem to exist -

        Dazed confused and looking for 7 up -

      • Ira Mency profile imageAUTHOR

        Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer 

        5 years ago from Hedgesville, WV

        That is funny. Lots of ferny-like patterns came out in the sixties. Keep looking on ebay and etsy and you may find out the pattern name. You can also do a search for Lenoxware ads and see if you can find it in an old advertisement!

      • Ira Mency profile imageAUTHOR

        Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer 

        5 years ago from Hedgesville, WV

        Never heard of this!

      • Ira Mency profile imageAUTHOR

        Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer 

        5 years ago from Hedgesville, WV

        Those are mold markings, meaning the number of the dish as it was placed in the metal mold. Texas Ware, Boonton and most major factories used them. It may be hard to find a match but keep looking.

      • Ira Mency profile imageAUTHOR

        Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer 

        5 years ago from Hedgesville, WV

        Where are you? I need to talk to you! Look me up at http://www.MemacCentral.com and email me!

      • Ira Mency profile imageAUTHOR

        Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer 

        5 years ago from Hedgesville, WV

        Pam, best thing to do is look up ebay and etsy, and find a happy medium, and you may even find the name of your set! If you can't find the exact set your mom may have a less produced item therefore more value. However, that's subjective if the set is used, chances are it may have scratching or dulling, and this will retract from the collectiblity value. Supply and demand is driving the prices now.

      • profile image

        Kathy 

        5 years ago

        I have a single dessert/sauce bowl that measures about 5 inches across and 1 1/8 inch deep. There is no company name listed, just the number 7405. How can I find out who made this?

        I've been searching on eBay and Etsy. Lots of pink bowls but not like this one. I did find a single brown bowl but the person is unable to take questions about their product.

      • profile image

        Pam 

        6 years ago

        My Mom got a set of Melmac for Christmas in 1960 still has the set.Does anyone know how to find the value. Pam

      • profile image

        Chetjr 

        6 years ago

        I knew has wanders an reed estabrook

        My dad worked at northern industrial I now own a thermoset co an would love to find the old mold to run tks

      • Ira Mency profile imageAUTHOR

        Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer 

        6 years ago from Hedgesville, WV

        information can be found online compare at ebay, etsy, auctions, and collectible guides and of course, condition is very important.

      • Ira Mency profile imageAUTHOR

        Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer 

        6 years ago from Hedgesville, WV

        Must have been all that formeldehyde they were huffing!

      • Ira Mency profile imageAUTHOR

        Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer 

        6 years ago from Hedgesville, WV

        Yes!

      • Ira Mency profile imageAUTHOR

        Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer 

        6 years ago from Hedgesville, WV

        Allied Chemical did put out their own melamine for awhile, even though they did also make the melamine powers.

      • profile image

        Sharon 

        6 years ago

        I have childware, I have no idea how much they are worth or how old. Any information is welcomed. thank you

      • profile image

        swest77wv 

        7 years ago

        Just accidentally started to collect. Found a full set of LENOXWARE melamine in near perfect condition. Lovely avocado green from the 60/70s era. Wondering if anyone knows about a pattern that looks strangely to me like marijuana leaves. Someone in that era at Lenox may have had a sense of humor. :-)

      • profile image

        diana 

        7 years ago

        i have a small white bowl,bottom:allied chemical,53, usa, has a green astronaut inside with rock formation and appears to have broken spaceship also, please help

      • profile image

        Friend of Watertown 

        8 years ago

        LOVE THIS

      • profile image

        Joan 

        8 years ago

        I love old melmac dishes, reminds me of the texasware my mom used to have. Thanks for writing this post!

      • profile image

        Tara 

        8 years ago

        Great article! http://melmaccentral.com is this your site?

      • profile image

        John from NYC 

        8 years ago

        I love this information thanks for all you do for plastics.

      • profile image

        W.S. 

        8 years ago

        I want to say I am a big fan of the http://RetroChalet.blogspot.com site and thank u for all the free information.

      • profile image

        John 

        8 years ago

        Nice job, you melmac diva you.

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