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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Stetson Marcrest Melmac Plastic Dinnerware

Stetson Melmac
This set, for sale has all the pieces from Etsy seller EddyEtcetera

In the 1940's every housewife wanted a new China dinnerware set, for her family or for entertaining, ceramic was pricey and often kept in the corner china closet for special dinners.  By the 1950's, melmac was the rage.  At first, companies selling plastic had to do some hefty marketing to compete with china, can you imagine the fact that their claim to fame was that it was "unbreakable" or would be replaced if broken or stained (coming from the person who worked at Meladur, she was in the replacement division, and had so many coffee cups weekly that were stained by coffee to replace.)  

Now, keep in mind melmac wasn't exactly cheaper than china dinnerware in a fancy department store, in fact, some lines were downright pricey at the time and would be on display at Macy's or Hecht's and a set for four or six would be just as costly as a high end ceramic set. Some housewives had to save for weeks just to afford a set of dinnerware.  

I have to give kudos to the marketing alliance that would make plastic dishes as expensive as ceramic, and make the housewives want them.  This however wasn't so easy on the china dinnerware manufacturers. It was direct competition to them and at first there was a whole ceramic dinnerware manufacturer alliance that plotted and planned on how to boycott the melmac and reinforce the fact their dishes were better. 

Marcrest Melmac
Note the tabbed sugar bowl in the Marcrest line is almost identical to the Stetson line. 

By the mid to late 1960's the smart manufacturers like Stetson decided to have melmac dinnerware molded for them (by a plastics molder) and add their name to it. It was an appendage of their regular lines, so in fact if you opened a department store catalog, you would see their ceramic dinnerware plus their plastic lines too.   Smart companies like Oneida, Stetson, Russel Wright's designs, will be found both in ceramic and melamine.  Others simply refused to jump on the plastic bandwagon, and this was their loss of profits in my opinion.  At first in the 1980's when I was collecting plastic, most dinnerware collectors scoffed at collecting the plastic lines, because they thought they were junk in comparison to ceramic.  However, over time, it was realized that even the designers who designed the plastic lines put great effort into making them.  From the details and designs on the dishes to the box, marketing and promotional material. 

Stetson stems from it's owners Louis B. Stetson who started the china company in 1919 and was located in Lincoln Illinois.  It was a family business and his nephew worked there too.   It is said that early production included other companies "blanks" along the way, and an article on Worthpoint indicates Stetson manufactured both melmac dinneware and pottery dinnerware.  Now, no discredit to the author but I am unsure if this was true.  If Stetson manufactured their own plastic line (they would have had to have a moulding facility just for plastics)  in their factory, but perhaps they were like many companies who contracted another moulding company to do so . Either way, the history on it is minimal and one day I will delve through my plastics encyclopedias's and debunk this one way of the other, but today I do not have the time. 

History indicates that Marcrest products would buy them out, and this makes a lot of sense because later examples of Stetson melmac and Marcrest Melmac look similar in design.  Marcrest had a great marketing mindset, and would sell a lot of melmac premiums from grocery stores to magazine mail order and relatively affordable at that.   You can see the similarities in the covered tabbed sugar bowls and the funky S design divided round serving bowls. 

Stetson Melmac

Even after Stetson was "out of business" Marcrest continued the solicitations and selling of the Stetson melmac products.  By 1963 the classic 1950's patterns were reworked into a new "Contour Line" which was super cool and hard this day to find.  Melmac collectors may scoff at the 1960's wheat and brown leafy designs but what's truly exquisite is the shape of the coffee cups.  They look like something out of the Jetson's. I personally call them cat eye cups. How fun it would be to have a set of just the cups and saucers in a 1950's kitchen! 

I have several sets of Marcrest and Stetson tucked away.  I always thought they were the perfect weight and design.  The 1950's pink Stetson sets will hold the most value if you are collecting them.  Everyone loves 1950's pink, and if you decided to collect only Marcrest or Stetson, you would be surprised just how many designs there are, many will remain unidentified unless you are lucky enough to search old magazines and find their official names. 

Collecting is fun, and keeps the items out of the landfill and at use in the home. 

Thanks for reading, if you like this article, share. Sponsored by: Retro Chalet Etsy

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Hong Kong's Spinning Tops Gumball Machine Plastics Fantastic Era of Love

Hong Kong Spinning Tops
Rare color variants in spinning tops toys from Hong Kong find them at RetroChalet

I think my favorite vintage plastics are the tiny toy sized miniature creations that stemmed out of Hong Kong.  Most of these novelty gifts were just being phased out when I was growing up in the 70's. Hong Kong was big into making toys for the USA in the 60s and 70s, but by the 80's production shifted to China and seemingly, never turned back.  According to this article by Alisa Chau, she claims that Hong Kong was the largest toy exporter of the 70's. That must be true, because I remember seeing so many of these type toys growing up. 

Much like you see some of the manual gumball machines today, these things were everywhere. My parents could not go into a store, restaurant or mall without me seeing the brightly colored vintage gumball machines.  There were usually rows of them, the higher priced (25 cents) in the back and the cheapie ones in the front for only 5 cents or 10 cents.  The ones in the back usually had those plastic football helmets with peelable stickers on them.  For being a quarter, they were very detailed, stickers well-made and fun for you to put together. 

vintage spinning tops retrochalet

The toys were colorful and the size of acorns. I thought they were molded well. RetroChalet

I however, liked to spend my money wisely, and I could obtain five 5 cents gumball machine toys for the price of that one helmet.  So, I had a bunch of little novelty items come out.  Sometimes it was a pencil eraser, a mini plastic car, or a small replica of King Kong, (or sometimes I just wanted the Spree candies) however once in awhile I got lucky with a great quality molded plastic toy much like these, a plastic spinning top. 

hong kong plastic toys

I thought I did quite well for a quarter back in the day... Find them at RetroChalet on sale now.

Most , if you looked closely enough, had the tiny words "HONG KONG" printed on them.   For the rest of you who were not even a thought when I was growing up, I hope you can see the cuteness that I see in these toys.  They were molded quite well for "el cheapo" toys and some have even lasted all this time. 

I would imagine some will still be floating around much after the kids of my era are long gone. Plastic is fantastic, and less and less of it will be in existence one day.  It's nice to think of the story of the item rather than just collecting it.  What are your favorite toy memories? 

This post sponsored by Vikings in Maine, and Living a Vintage Life Podcast. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Steri-Lite Plastic STERILITE COMPANY Connections to Tupperware

Sterilite Picnic Set
Sterilite Box with full picnic set For sale at RetroChalet

The Sterilite Corporation

Kudos to Sterilite who is one of the few plastic factories who has withstood the test of time.  The Sterilite Corporation is still in business and started in 1939.  You may or may not realize originally the company started in partnership with Earl Tupper.  (One of the creators of Tupperware.) Imagine that!  All good things come from plastic.   According to the website at the time of today's post, I took this little snippet, . " Sterilite is the largest plastic houseware manufacturing company in North America with seven plants totaling over 12 million square feet'  

I'm glad as a small bbq business owner myself, that a family business has lasted so long. You may not even realize when you are walking through the Wallyworld just how many products they make.  From pull out plastic cabinets to totes and bins,(of which I'm looking at some now that hold my Etsy stock),  their presence in our daily lives is prominent.  For vintage collectors, you may find pieces marked Sterli-Lite or Sterilite.  For the sake of this post, I'm only talking about the picnic sets. They weren't made of melmac, but most likely a Polystyrene plastic.

steri-lite vintage plastics
Inside of an Original Sterilite Picnic Set  at RetroChalet

The picnic sets were quite popular in the 40's and 50's and are a hit with people who had campers. For the working families of the 1950's, having a travel trailer would be the ultimate family vacation.  Picnics were also a huge thing, whether it be in a park for the day or not, these sets were very popular.  Grandparents also enjoyed them, due to the fact they were light weight and pretty and easy to deal with making a quick snack for the grandkids. 

In collecting, some of Sterilite Picnic Sets you will find:  (often unmarked)  Steri-Lite 

1.  RARE TO FIND:  Actual Wicker Wooden Baskets full of Sterilite Picnic Sets - with dishes strapped in and places for plastic sterilite utensils.  Finding a set with all pieces and still mint is rare, but it happens.  I assume utensils would have been easier to break or lose. 

2. RARE TO FIND:  Boxed sets like mine, often called Picnic Sets , rare but out there.  Especially in primary or pastel colors will be most collectible. 

sterilite vintage plastics
This item sold at LSVintageDesign but shows the snakpak, more common and what I often find in the thrift stores. Note the original silverware will be hardest to find.  The box is a rare gem.

STILL COMMON:  SNAK PAKS -(ABOVE) These pieces are more common and popular, and easy to find.  Often these were four rounded picnic plates with indents in the center to hold the cup.  A big hit with moms with kids.   Finding the original box is not as common and considered rare. I have not seen one in years. 

UNCOMMON:  The picnic sets still sealed in plastic bag sets.  Most often I think these were found in the dime stores of the 1970's and maybe into the 1980's, they came in a bag with graphics.  If you are lucky enough to find one unopened, that's impressive.  Often they were opened, and used, and floating around in flea markets. 

Other manufacturers of simliar vintage picnic sets: 

INGRID - Big for their party balls. 

TUCKER - Often looks much like Sterilite

JERYWIL - Often rectangular 

REGALINE - Simliar to the SnakPaks

Mod PIcnic Set

This STERILITE set from HipFindsCo, is most likely a 70's-80's set, shaped much like INGRID party balls. This a prime examle of Sterilite staying on top their game!

Back to my set, the funky bright colors make this set a rare find and a real gem. You can see how the original set was packaged by the manufacturer, carefully thought out. In this original box, there is a premade slot for display and actually thin kraft like paper in between the pieces.  This would have displayed nicely in a retail store. 

Sterilite vintage plastics
Rare original stickers say this can withstand scalding water! Pic: RetroChalet

The rarest of rare, is the original stickers still on these little cups.  It says they can withstand scalding water but does say to avoid ovens and any surfaces with open flames.  As you know, tea was quite popular as was coffee back in those days and one of the problems in melmac collecting is often the unsightly coffee stains.  Additionally, when I looked closely at the yellow plate in my set, I could see swirling which is a super cool part of the molding process. 

This set is a rare find in the original box. I picked it up years ago at an antique mall in Pennsylvania. The dealer had cleaned out an old hardware store, and I assume these would have been sold in the picnic or camper section. It stood in a dusty attic of the store for years, and thanks to the strength of the plastic, it withstood the test of time.  I hate to part with it, but I'm making a huge move cleaning out some of my precious plastics. 

It's currently offered for $125.00 and free shipping but to my readers you can use code RETRO10 at checkout to take 10% off.  Find it here:

Do you own any Sterilite? Let me know!

If you like this post, Read about INGRID's party balls here. 

This Post Sponsored by: 

Retro Chalet Studio: Natural Home Decor