What is melamine dinnerware?

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What is melamine dinnerware?
Melamime dinnerware is enjoying a comeback. (cups and bowls image by John Sfondilias from Fotolia.com)

Melamine dinnerware was chic if you were having a dinner party in the 1950s. Melamine dinnerware is constructed of plastic and comes in bright, fun colours. The current trend for eating outdoors has led to melamine enjoying a comeback, and it is now widely available, although nowadays, it tends to be used for casual outdoor dining rather than formal dinner parties. Vintage melamine is sought after and is regularly sold on Internet auction sites, while modern manufacturers make melamine dinnerware in retro designs for that authentic 1950s look.

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Features

Melamine is composed of nitrogen, carbon and hydrogen. It is combined with formaldehyde, and exposed to extreme heat to create a mouldable material. This makes melamine unbreakable and dishwasher safe.

History

Melamine's resilience made it the dishware of choice on some U.S. Navy ships during World War II. The postwar boom and the desire for everything modern and new led to melamine getting a makeover. American melamine manufacturers such as American Cyanamid, Bracknell, and Northern Plastic worked with designers, including Russel Wright, Joan Luntz and Kaye LaMoyne, to create elegant dinnerware designs.

Popularity

Melamine bowls and plates, presented as a cheerful and versatile alternative to traditional china, were a fashionable mainstay in American households throughout the 1950s. The colourful, contemporary designs seemed to symbolise everything that was stylish and desirable in the modern postwar era of processed foods and kitchen appliances. One particular brand, Melaware, was considered very stylish. There was the added advantage that, if you dropped melamine objects on the floor, they probably wouldn't break.

Continuing Use

Melamine dinnerware went out of fashion by the end of the 1970s. It scratched and stained easily, and quickly lost its shiny, new look. Some pieces, particularly those with printed patterns, were known to bubble and crack. Melamine cups were prone to tea and coffee stains, particularly two-tone cups and bowls with a white lining. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the design of melamine dinnerware became more basic, to meet the needs of the picnic and camping market, rather than the dinner party set. More resilient plastics came onto the market, and there was a return to more traditional ceramic, china, and glass tableware. However, melamine continued to be used as picnic ware and in schools and hospitals because of its durability.

Availability

Internet auction sites are the best places to buy vintage melamine dinner sets. Considering that you are investing in iconic 1950s vintage items, melamine dinnerware is a good bargain, with a set sometimes costing less than £19. Study the design carefully if you want to invest in genuine Melaware. Thrift stores are also a good place to pick up vintage pieces. Modern melamine is widely available online and in department stores.

Care

Hand wash vintage melamine with liquid dish detergent. Don't put it in the microwave, because microwaves can damage melamine, heating the dish before the food.

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