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Ideal Toy Dishes by Russel Wright

Brief History
One of the more successful projects by Russel Wright is this plastic miniature toy line of American Modern dishes which debuted sometime in the mid fifties. The earliest references I can find range between 1954-1955 so I am unsure when actual production started as I could not locate the original contract in Syracuse. Designed by Russel Wright and made by the Ideal Toy Company, these adorable plastic dishes were sold through Sears!

This is a 1942 ad showing the original factory's capacity.
The Ideal Novelty and Toy Company produced everything from dolls to toy cars.  They produced lots of children's dinnerware play sets, but the addition of designer Russel Wright made for a good "Just Like Mommy's" campaign. (As they were almost exact replicas of the American Modern Dinnerware Line).
This set cost only $4.95 in it's heydey!
Different size sets were also produced, for example a small tea for two set for only 79 cents! There was a larger set for four, complete with wine-style glasses and utensils. Several styles of glasses and utensils came with the set though they have not proved to be a Wright design. 

In 1957, complete sets in cellophane packaging display boxes topped the charts at only $3.00.  One Ideal toy catalog advertised them at $2.98. I've seen them priced as much as $4.95.  Many little lassies wanted to have a set "Just like Mommy's."

Great marketing = huge sales.

Toy catalogs were filled with Ideal kid's line and since the American Modern was so popular, mothers thought it adorable to buy their children a matching line.  It is amazing to think that items that sold on average of only a few bucks catapulted Wright's sales thru the roof on this line.
Sales of the Ideal toy set surpassed his Meladur and Flair lines of regular melmac, much to Wright's own surprise, (and in part due to the problems and failures at Northern.)  Even when sales for Residential was plummeting, the royalty checks from this "Classic Plastics" line from Ideal kept rolling in. Production was taken over in the early 60's by another NY molder, and royalties continued until the line was no longer successful--dates suggest until approximately 1964 giving almost a ten year run!
Some pieces unmarked, the Ideal toy line mimicked the American Modern Ceramic Shapes!
Basic Colors and Variations
I assume they were made to mimic Coral Pink, Oyster Grey, Glacier Blue, and possibly the yellow to be Chartreuse. 
The most common color set was the basic one.
All of the basic line colors had speckles in them to make them look more like ceramic. ceramic. It is not uncommon for some to be missing signatures or backstamps, or have hard or ridged molding lines. 

Most backstamps have the signature, though some pieces are unmarked.

An odd array of colors having the browns and oranges come later.
Colors: Late 1958-1960's. Napkins, silverware and goblets are said not to be a Wright design.
Later towards the 1960's, versions in browns, tans, and oranges came later.  These sets are normally solids. I would assume they are to mimic Cantaloupe and Bean Brown or maybe even "Black Chutney" but I am unsure what the tan would have been.
Roosters in my collection, oh my!
Flowers and bright blues, some have been found signed what strangeness is this!
After that, it gets a bit stranger.  Signed pieces have been found with designs on them. For example, ones with Roosters and orange accompaniments. Even stranger the ones in a bright blue with pretty flowers.  I consider them rare at best.

Collecting Them Now

Although the sets were mass produced, one may have to buy pieces and assemble their own set. As time goes on, as with any children's toy, finding complete sets in mint shape (surviving child's play) is difficult. Many different variations were offered. The basic set is the most popular and easiest to assemble as you can find most pieces readily available.  Cups, Saucers, Dishes, Teapots, Covered Sugars, and Creamers are common.  The Covered Casserole proves a bit harder to find as does the rectangular tray or underplate. 
Covered casserole (bottom), made to look like it's ceramic predecessor (top).
It never ceases to amaze me how much time and care was taken into the design of an item back then, and what most people don't realize is the designers usually had the final say on EVERYTHING! From the details of the box to the quality of cardboard used, to the graphics.
Standard display, not much on graphics.
Everything fits in it's own slot!

Several style boxes, some more decorated than others exist. Some had cellophane fronts and over time the cellophane or the box has all but deteriorated from sitting in a hot attic all these years.  However, the notion that one took great care in designing a box so that all pieces would fit in perfectly should not be overlooked. 

American Modern Play Dishes in Graphic Box!

Prices of pieces over the past five years have fluctuated due to demands and economical issues, but it is not uncommon for a whole set to fetch upwards of $100, or in the original box , even if the box is imperfect, twice that. That is a huge increase in value from it's original selling price of about three bucks!

In my opinion, these toy pieces will retain their values. This is due to the fact this style is collected by toy dish collectors, melmac collectors, doll and bear collectors, and American Modern collectors, it's eventually going to dry up. Get yours while you can!

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