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Russel Wright Home Decorators

Photo Courtesy of Donna Gruverman
During Wright's production of Residential he was contracted to provide a few exclusive lines  for Home Decorators, Inc of Newark, NY.  These dishes would also be molded at Northern Industrial Chemical Company of Boston.  Using the existing Residential molds, patterns would now be introduced.  I found this odd, because an earlier interview in Syracuse cites Wright as stating patterns "detracted" from the meal at hand.  I suppose after enough companies jumped on the "pattern" bandwagon, he had no choice and decorated his "Clover" china line soon enough. Now he would also be introducing patterns in his melamine lines too. 
The Commercial Building circa 2000 in my travels.

Home Decorators was a division of the C.H. Stuart owned "Commercial Enterprises" entity. Their main office was located on East Union Street in Newark. To understand this huge conglomerate, you would have to understand that it was set up as a large "distributor" that had many smaller divisions and even sub-companies whose products included everything from spices, silver, household cleaning agents, jewelry and dinnerware.  Perhaps one of the more noted items distribution was their Sarah Coventry jewelry, subject of many books. 
The Commercial Building Way back When.
C.W. Stuart formed a nursery in the mid 1800's. His son, C.H. Stuart would take over after his passing in the early 1920's. C.H. Stuart began "direct selling" of goods, and later would branch out from just nursery products to more. The infamous "Commercial Building" as shown above was the start of Newark's sales force and the "Direct Selling Method."  Basically, with this method, salesman would go door to door targeting housewives and offering "credit" and "payment plans".  Before the time of credit cards, one could afford weekly affordable payments and have nice things such as an Oneida Sterling China Flatware Set.  As the company grew, so did the different divisions, ie: Jewelry in one branch, Housewares in another. Sales Associates were both men and women, according to Mr. Bill Buck whose father ran the Decorators Division *started in 1933*.  I learned that many Sales Associates were school teachers who could use the extra cash and were respected in the community. Each would go through a "sales course" and receive an official Sales Associate Kit, and Graduation Card (kit/certificate) once completed. The company made sure you also received credit for what you sold, and had lucrative bonuses for top sellers. Several "sales meetings" per year invited top sellers to dine on the Company's tab.
This "good credit" card was given out in 1944, and allowed this happy housewife to recommend her friends as clients of Home Decorators, Inc.  More referrals = more sales.

Customers were also treated well.  As shown in the "paper card" above, this company first worked on paper credit, giving the housewife the official paper good standing card signed by the Home Decorators treasurer when payments were satisfied.  This "card" also meant you had clout, and could refer a friend to get called upon by a HD salesman! Offering big discounts and add on bonuses with the purchase of complete sets, customers would rarely just buy a single place setting. Piecing out a set often cost more than buying a complete starter set , since the starter set would "ironically" be on sale, or come with "free bonuses."  From a marketing perspective, this company was amazing, and grew very fast.
Daileyware Melamine, maybe not a Wright design, but still modern and lovely.

Mr. Buck went on to explain that within the division of Home Decorators there were two divisions in itself, the Silverplate and the Sterling. I suppose one was targeted to "upper crust" and one was targeted to "middle class" making items affordable to all types of household income. Another smart marketing move by the Company I might add. Besides the Russel Wright Melmac line (which was in the Sterling division), they also had a melamine line called Daileyware (in the Silverplate division.) The speckled finish strongly resembled some of Wright's existing colors of Residential and was assuredly molded at Northern as well. (Soon you can visit the Daileyware Section). Mr. Buck believes it was named after Leonard Dailey, one of the top salesman, and friends of Mr. Buck's Father. So we must assume it was the "lower end" version in comparison to Russel Wright.
Four million dollars in door to door sales!
 Thanks to C.H. Stuart, and the Company's "Direct Selling Approach" Wright's plastics catapulted into a whole new tier of sales figures. It is stated that Home Decorators sold four million dollars in door to door nationwide sales--a huge sales number for the 1950's. It is unclear exactly when Home Decorators Russel Wright's first dinnerware was produced, but from my research I would say this could have started (production or negotiations) as early as 1954-1955 and the lines hit their peaks 1955-1958. It should also be noted that Home Decorators , in my research, helped Wright move overstock Residential sets in Salmon Red and Sea Mist Grey, whose sales thru Northern were plummeting. Sadly, I often wonder just who sent Wright the checks? If it was Northern, the factory, they would be paying Wright royalties after expenses, and we know (as told here) that he was getting only a fraction of what he was due. (Read why here.  

What is clear from Syracuse is that Wright and Stuart had a great working relationship--with Wright offering in the late 50's to design more for them.  Commercial Enterprises however, was having trouble. In 1958 the dinnerware division was laying off people, a year later they would try to reorganize. By 1961, it would close it's doors. This 'division' then being merged into the parent company. The parent company would officially cease operations in 1980. According to Mr. Buck, credit cards were to blame.

About the Patterns: There were three patterns: Flowertime, Gaytime, and Ranchland. All were only patterned on the saucers, bread plates, salad plates, dinner plates, and serving trays. Other pieces were solid colors so as not to "overwhelm" the meal.  The pattern differs slightly from piece to piece, and I was amazed at the hundreds upon hundreds of sketches that exist in Syracuse.  Rarity: All of these are still common, with the exceptions of tall tumblers, covered sugars, covered casseroles, lids to onion soup bowls, and salad plates becoming more rare and hard to find.
There were three patterns.

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Flowertime, most often is incorrectly dubbed "Magnolia" or "Dogwood."  Flowertime was the best seller, and quite frankly, it's the first thing I ever collected. The cool muted pink is still very desirable. I was shocked, as Wright was cited in an earlier interview expressing dissatisfaction with patterns on dinnerware as it would "detract from the meal." Soon he would cave to the growing 1950's trend of patterns, producing "Clover" on his ceramics and "flowers" on his melmac!  Due to the "pink" color, it's still desirable among collectors.
Designs vary from plate to plate! 
Dinner. (above) Salad (below)

Gaytime, was a great seller and is "bow knots" on what Wright called "eggshell" (ie: white) dinnerware.  It is unique in the fact you can mix and match the blue or yellow solids with it, which was a very smart move by Wright.


The clock, an after market piece.

(*Ironically, these same two colors also mix and match with the Ranchland patterns.) I have found rare pieces where the pattern is on blue and on yellow plates, and although rare, the pattern is hard to see and certainly less attractive.  I also have a very rare covered onion soup bowl with pattern on the lid, no doubt testing to see what it looked like. Solid white pieces also exist, and are extremely rare and hard to find--ie: coffee cups no doubt discontinued due to early on staining. 
Call it potato, or po-tot-o its still white.



I want to add this pattern is my favorite, and I think it stems from my viewing all of the trial designs of this in Syracuse. There were hundreds of sketches by eager Associates trying to gain Wright's approval for a finalized design. His vision was unique and many were rejected with his hand scribbled notes written "Close" or "Better", undoubtedly until the design was perfect.

Gaytime is my favorite.


During time of this creation, Wright was a widower and had relocated to his dream home, Manitoga, with his male partner. Some of his later and best creations ensued here. I would like to think the "bow knots" represented not only good design, but the unity of himself and his partner, perhaps finally free to express their intertwined devotion, hence the name.
Ranchland, the last pattern, was a leafy pattern on blue or yellow background, often called "leaves". Solids are interchangeable with Gaytime, above.
Photo Credit: Donna Gruverman. In a good market, expect to pay $20+ for tall tumblers.


The yellow is harder to find, and appears less bright than the photo attached. I had to enhance it so you could see the decoration.


Oddities
Got these from Carmen and Pierre way back when.
Gaytime oddities have been found, in solid white cups and off color plates with the design. I believe these are rare. It is likely the cups would have been offered in white for a short time but it is not known if Wright approved the cups to be sold in white. Doesn't seem like he would have, since the bowls came in yellow and blue too.  Additionally Gaytime plates, saucers, and dinner plates with patterns have been found on other colors besides white. I have examples on  yellow and blue are these are ultra rare and could be unauthorized or factory samples.   Truthfully, the designs don't pop off the blue or yellow plates as they do the white, so I tend to think someone at the factory was making themselves a set.
From my collection.



Special Thanks to these folks below:
To Chris & the folks at the Acadia Historical Society, for which I'm proudly a lifetime member!
To Mr. Bill Buck for all the information!
To Mr. Zorn for putting me in the paper!
Chris, John, and the Fox Sisters, and other folks at the Acadia Historical Society!

RELATED READING ON HOME DECORATORS:
Make sure to read this article on the SFO exhibit to see the lovely Melmac!