Friday, June 24, 2011

Vanished: Russel Wright Prototype pre Meladur Melmac Mug Where Did It Go and Why Did it Vanish?

Where Have I Gone?
This one from Syracuse University, has cracked with age....note the free flow handle into the rim.

Somewhere between March 1944 and 1946, came into existence a very rare melmac mug prototype (shown here in blue, above, and below.) This mug was designed by Russel Wright, and was set to be an accompanying piece in his original "test line" (originally marked Cyanamid Plastics, later named Meladur.) To understand the whole sordid saga, you must first understand this "test line" was designed by Russel Wright only to do research in restaurants and get consumer opinion wherein a huge survey was compiled and reported back to American Cyanamid. He did not have to design the line--as other melamine dishes existed in fact Edward Don and Company was one of the companies he was talking to to get crucial feedback.
Here it is! Marked Cyanamid Plastics, it was flat based, with stacking ridges.
The goal of the survey was an effort to get molders (more than 15 in the first year)* to mold dishes or dinnerware of melmac and melamine therein obtaining the powders from American Cyanamid. It's secondary goal was to gain consumer interest knowing that upper crust designer Russel Wright (whose American Modern had made it's way into tons of homes and housewives loved his style) was doing the survey.   The point here is, Wright's test line would later be produced by General American Transportation Company circa 1949 under the name Meladur.  When it went into production, the mug in question, all but disappeared--in fact, was replaced with a not-so-similar mug go with by General American. But why?
Redesigned Meladur Mug, Not even close! The handle is not flush with rim, no stacking ridges. Not Wright Designed.

Flush-handle Cups.  Wright was known for these both in china and plastic.
What I'm talking about by a flush-handle is the way the handle "flows" right into the rim with basically "no" rim area present.  Although the FLAIR cup above has a bit of rim action, it gives the illusion of free form from other angles.    Top Left to Right: Blue-Meladur, Blue -Aussie Superware Duperite,  Bottom Row Left to Right : Orange: Flair by Russel Wright , Peachy Pink: Watertown Lifetime Ware, Yellow: Canadian.

Russel Wright's Residential Cups were Perfect Examples of Flush Handles, these @ RetroChalet.
**Bermuda Coral Free-Form Mug by Watertown, by QuietRainz.

*It should be noted here, as per Christopher's research, that Watertown Manufacturing Company was "the first" manufacturer of the flush handled cup for residential use that we know of.  Christopher's research on Lifetime Ware has been extensive, and I must say--quite impressive.  Many people credit Russel Wright for being "first" melmac to the table, but sadly, that was just a fable started over time and not fact.

Back to the prototype mug in question, one known prototype exists in Syracuse, and some others in the personal collection of Mr. Melmac, obtained first hand from an American Cyanamid executive. But why and when did this cup disappear or stop being produced?  The mystery remains unsolved and the debacle continues.

Another shot of the one-in-Syracuse mug. Was it too simliar to it's Military counterparts below?

So we can date the original test pieces from 1945 to 1948.   In the original line, not only was a regular cup and saucer designed, but a small mug.  The mug had a free form handle that flowed into the rim such as these cups below.  It had a stacking ridge for drying purposes, and was not a large mug, but more of a upgraded coffee cup side, and of course, fit just fine in the well of the saucer. I guess the best way to describe it, was smaller than a regular mug, but larger than a coffee cup.  Odd, I suppose.

Possible explanation/s:

The test mug was not as large as military mugs, and would have held maybe an ounce more if that than the coffee cup. So perhaps it was more European in sizing and perhaps American Cyanamid decided it wouldn't fare well in the USA.

*Thanks to Christopher who pointed out this would have been a "patent issue."  We can look onto other melmac mugs and see some similarities in size, stacking ridges, but none have the exact shape of the free flowing handle. Many are close, but no two exact.
Military mugs (AngiesIris) are larger, different handle, not flush with rim but have the stacking ridges.
If copyright (*Patent Infringement) was the case, there are plenty of known examples where designs can be a bit different and not in infringement.  (Besides, I can't find any patents.)  So I find it hard to believe this was the case, but if so, why wasn't Wright's put into production? Even if Cyanamid thought it was too close to another manufacturer's existing style, why wouldn't Wright change it or redesign it slightly and put it into production later during the time Meladur was actually produced?  We can see "traces" of the original design everywhere we look.

Kysite of Maine, by Bitta Vintage.  Same shape handles and overall size.

My Austrailian Superware Duperite Set looks just like the real deal!
I bought these out of Canada, from ThriftFindDesign, they have free flowing handles and stacking ridges. Perhaps a predecessor of the Prototype Mug?
Dallas Ware Cups by AnnieGreenSprings hold many simliarities, size, ridges but still the handle is not free form into the rim.

These lovely orange cups by FunkDaughter are marked GPL of Canada.
GPL of Canada again by Cottagewear aka The Lakehouse.
Similiar design by Vanguard from Maplex of Canada available at StarlingMemory.
Harmony House Today mugs, same size, handle similar but not exact, missing ridges, now in the McPherson collection.

Many years ago, I found a patent search by HJ Stotter, which showed cups made of Stacking ridges almost identical to the prototype cups. Since these cups came much later, I did not think this could have been an issue.  I've also seen examples by Arrowhead, Boontonware, Cloverlane, and Halsey that are similar to the ones above.


Do you know why this mug vanished? Solve the Mystery!  Tell me! 


Read about the Test Line on the Meladur Page. 

Read about the first "flush form mug" and see Watertown at Plastic Living.

Special thanks to Christopher whose expertise keeps me in line.

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