What is it and How Much is it Worth?

Do you have anything in your collection that looks like this?

This ceramic clock sold for $39.99 in January 2019.

Or this?

This old set of Melmac dinnerware sold for just over $10 in January 2019.

Or this?

This cake plate sold for $56.34 in January 2019.

Or even these?

This set of highball glasses sold for $11.51 in 2009.

What do all of these items have in common?  They were all designed by Russell Wright, one of the most important American industrial designers of the 20th century.  Wright designed everything from dinnerware to furniture!  If you are any sort of collector, you MUST know about Russell Wright.  Read the article below and learn all you need to know about Wright’s work.  If you still want to know even more about Russell Wright, our Worthpoint Library has a copy of Collector’s Encyclopedia of Russel Wright that you can read on our website as part of your WorthPoint subscription.

Take your knowledge of antiques and collectibles to the next level!

History

Russel Wright (1904-1976) is one of the most important American industrial designers of the 20th century.  In 1931, Wright began selling aluminum and pewter objects from a small studio on East 53rd Street in New York City.  It was also during this period that he introduced his circus animal series.  Suffering financially in 1933 and 1934, Wright’s life changed for the better when Americans fell in love with aluminum.

In 1936, Wright, his wife Mary, and Irving Richards formed the Raymor Company.  Wright designed exclusively for Raymor for five years.  Wright sold his interest in Raymor to Richards and formed Russel Wright Associates.

In 1951, Wright spelled out his design philosophy in his book entitled Guide to Easier Living.  Wright argued that the table was the main focal point of every home.  He advocated forms and shapes that suggested an easy, informal lifestyle.

Wright’s designs appeared in a wide range of mediums from metal to wood.  Acme Lamps Company, American Cyanide (plastic dinnerware), Chase Brass and Copper, Conant Ball (furniture), General Electric, Heywood-Wakefield (a 60-piece furniture line), Hull Cutlery (flatware), Imperial Glass, Klise Woodworking Company, Mutual Sunset Lamp Company, National Silver (flatware), Old Hickory Furniture, Old Morgantown, and the Stratton Furniture Company are some of the firms that made products based upon Wright’s designs.

Russel Wright designed several major dinnerware lines:  American Modern for Steubenville (1939-1959), Iroquois Casual for Iroquois China (1946-1960s), Highlight for Paden City (1948), White which was a solid color institutional line for Sterling China (1949), White Clover for Harker (1951), and the oriental-inspired Esquire shape for Knowles (1955).  He also designed an art pottery line for Bauer.

Wright initial attempts to find a manufacturer for his American Modern line were unsuccessful.  It was not until Wright agreed to finance the manufacturer and Raymor agreed to an exclusive five-year distribution contact that Steubenville agreed.  From 1929-1959, it was the largest selling dinnerware line in the United States.  American Modern won the 1941 American Designers Institute Award for the best ceramic design.

Russel Wright closed Manitoga, his Garrison, New York, design studio in 1967.  He died on December 21, 1976.  His influence continues through the Russel Wright Studios, an industrial design licensing firm for Wright’s designs with offices in Burbank, California, and Garrison, New York.

What to Look For

In ceramics, Modernist collectors focus on the Wright designed dinnerware lines – American Modern, Iroquois Casual, Highlight, White, and White Cover.  Modernist collectors focus on single pieces rather than a full dinnerware service.   They compete with individuals who wish to replace a broken piece or enhance an inherited dinnerware set.

American Modern is the most widely sold American ceramic dinnerware in history. This set of 5 salad plates sold for $35 in 2013.

Many solid color dinnerware lines were issued in a variety of colors.  American Modern initially was made in Bean Brown, Seafoam Blue, Coral, Chartreuse Curry, Granite Gray, and White.  Bean Brown was discontinued in World War II.  Black Chutney and Cedar Green were added in 1950.  Cantaloupe and Glacier Blue joined the color line in 1955.  Shapes were continuously changed.

Sterling’s White line, a contradiction in name, also was made in other solid colors—Cedar Brown, Swede Gray, Ivy Green, Shell Pink, and Straw Yellow.  Pieces are usually marked with the customer’s logo.

This Bauer ashtray designed by Wright sold for $280 in 2011.

The Bauer art pottery line had 20 shapes and utilized 16 different glazes.  The line was produced for only six months.

Wright also designed several lines of Melmac, a melamine resin plastic, dinnerware.  Northern Plastic Company of Boston produced his Residential line, introduced in 1963.  It won the 1963 Museum of Modern Art Good Design Award.  Home Decorators, Inc., of Newark, New Jersey, eventually became the manufacturer for Residential.  His “Flat” Melmac line contained a number of different patterns.  The Ming Lace pattern had actual leaves from the Chinese jade orchid tree embedded in the plastic.

This Russel Wright chair sold for $120 in 2009.

Wright’s ceramic lines receive more collector attention that does his flatware, furniture, and other household accessories.  His furniture favored the “blonde” look.  His Heywood-Wakefield designs are the most well-known.  Many of his accessory pieces were made of spun aluminum.

Marks

See the individual companies listed in the “History” section for marks that appeared on Wright design products.


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