|Author's sandwich looks so much tastier on a vintage melmac plate.|
Wait! Before you toss out those old plastic dishes, did you know they may be extremely collectible? Truth be told there's a whole world of melamine and melmac dish collectors out there. Perhaps it's the fact those funny old plastic dishes bring back a happier time in life --- the fab 1950's, or lunch at granny's house. For me, I remember having those olive green and gold dishes in Mom's kitchen and though the color grossed me out, it brought back a time when she would make me after school snacks of apples and cheese.
Millions of melamine and melmac dishes were made and sold from the 1940's to the 1970's (even from the 1980's until now) but the ones made in the USA and Canada are sought after these days. Now just to clear things up properly, most all these old plastic dishes were made from melamine, but American Cyanamid called theirs "melmac" due to their own copyright/trademark. Sadly most people call all old plastic dishes melmac, but really they aren't so worthy of the name unless the compound was made by American Cyanamid. Were the compounds identically the same? We would have to save that for the scientists to answer but I can tell you that most melamine powder companies were constantly trying to improve their formulations. "Unbreakable Guaranteed 2 Years" went to "5 years" went to "Unbreakable Lifetime Replacement". Later in the 60's melamine powders were so expensive that I believe companies started cutting corners in their additives, because a lot of dishes from the 60's to the 80's were thinner, not as well made and would shatter or chipped when dropped.
Truth be told, melmac dishes were said to be unbreakable but would burn easily if sat too close to the stove, and would scratch when cutting with heavy knives. Even though over time the material was said to become more durable, heavy knives will scratch and wear down the surfaces. So, if you have gouged up burnt up melmac, better to use for garden decorations! Plates look fun and lovely as bird feeders (mount a cup and saucer on a stick) or use the plates to line your garden.
Now, if you have a set where some pieces are in good condition, perhaps with only light stains or light scratches they may be worth salvaging for several reasons. Read the Care and Cleaning section here!
First off, they are perfectly safe to use in your kitchen as long as you aren't microwaving them. Why go spend a fortune in Target or Walmart buying the new made-in-china versions when you have authentic vintage melamine?
Secondly, your dishes may be sought after for those who are trying to complete a set. For instance, those wanting to assemble a set just like grandma had, may gladly give you a few bucks at a flea market, on craigslist or ebay or Etsy as your pieces or partial set may help them complete theirs.
The downfall to selling online (outside of your local area) is that the dishes are somewhat heavy to ship, and your best bet will be a flat rate shipping box or UPS.
Some manufacturers command more money than others, this would be the ones that were made by famous designers. For instance, not every company had a designer on staff so the company would just use decals or inlays and mass produce funny designs.
However, some companies paid high end industrial designers, now famous for their work such as Russel Wright (for Northern), Joan Luntz (for Brookpark), Jon Hedu (for Watertown), or Raymond Loewy (designing for Lucent) for example. These designs, are now more valuable to those who may collect mid century modern, or melmac.
Now you may not know whether looking at your old melmac dishes just what they are, so you should start by doing a search on the web and finding out just what you have. It may be fun to realize that set you acquired some time back may still hold it's value.
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Care and Cleaning of Melmac Dinnerware
Collecting Melmac Dinnerware
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