Saturday, January 22, 2011

Just little bits of history repeating...

Now that I have started collecting these trays in earnest I have wondered about their history.  But where to begin? On my first tray post The History of the 13 Colonies Hunting Tigress left a comment that she had purchased some trays in their original packaging "Decorator Styled Souvenir Tray or Wall Plaque, Meldrum's Inc. Made in America." Recently I purchased CT/RI still in it's packaging from Goodwill. The package only said "Decorator Styled Tray" no maker or country of origin. 

I did a little reconnaissance on Etsy for more photographs of packaging. I found the folowing images on Etsy courtesy of jaystreasures. Obviously they are vintage from the price and the packaging style. Again "Decorator Styled, Meldrum's Mfg Co." etc. (Love how the back indicates there are tumblers too. Great, more to be on the lookout for!)

Courtesy of JaysTreasures on Etsy
Courtesy of JaysTreasures on Etsy

Here is another tray/coaster set via thewildstrawberries on Etsy. It is clearly a more recent set from the age and style of the packaging. This is also from Meldrum's and note that it is white instead of gold.
Google gives me no information about Meldrum's other than a phone number and address. Obviously they have not gotten on board the information superhighway just yet.

Courtesy of thewildstrawberries on Etsy

What I keep coming back to is the term "Decorator Styled" That indicates to me that the Meldrum's Trays are a knockoff of something else. After a little more digging around, Etsy and ebay led me to these.

These are now part of my personal collection. They were an inexpensive Christmas present to myself and the only trays thus far that I've purchased online. It's apparent to me that these are totally different from all the other trays I own. Look closely and see the difference.

First, these have a foil label on the back that reads: "Nashco Products New York, Hand Painted, Chip and Alcohol Resistant"

 You can see how this is painted using a stencil:

As opposed to this which is machine printed:

Hand painted flower...

Machine printed flower...

Cool, eh? So who are Nashco Products and what is their deal? According to Helaine Fendelman via an article on vintage serving trays at Country Living:

 "During the Colonial Revival trend of the early to mid 20th century, Nashco, of New York City, mass-produced decorative, stenciled serving trays.  Nashco trays were hand painted in Wedgwood blue, Chinese red, sage green, tan, and black. The Nashco Products Co. of New York City produced serving trays from the 1920s through the 1950s. They were used for serving drinks or appetizers to guests or as wall decorations. Trays of the 18th and 19th centuries were painted black with hand-painted or stenciled motifs; French-made pieces are known as Toleware. Nashco made circular, square, and rectangular trays, as well as bowls and vanity trays."

So it appears that in addition to their traditional Toleware models, Nashco also created these souvenir serving trays. The interest in Tole trays was so high that, according to this article by Julie Robinson Robards in the Pittsburgh Press Republican, "Nashco marketed "paint it yourself" kits during the 1950s. These came with pre-applied airbrush stencil borders and directions for painting using the one-stroke method."  Being hand painted, my Nashco RI an CT trays are definitely more of a "decorator brand" item and it seems that Meldrum's rode the wave of popularity and eventually started making knockoffs for the masses.

I would even go so far as to say their are different grades of the knockoffs as well. the "Decorator Styled" CT/RI definitely looks and feels cheaper than Utah, which was probably a Meldrum's.

And then there are the ones that have a hammered or pock marked finish. This is best illustrated by the comparison of the backs of my CT and AL coasters. I'm assuming these hammered ones are either from Meldrum's, but from a specific time period? Or are they are from another company altogether and this was how they got around copyright/patent infringement?

Of course the trajectory form Nashco to "Decorator Styled" is all just speculation. I am not a historian, an appraiser, or an antique expert. Though if anyone wants to pay me to be any of those things I will take you up on it! I just really enjoy these trays.  I think they are a spectacular representation of mid-century kitsch. I would like to know as much about them as I can, and while the internet is a fabulous resource, it can only get you so far.  I think all of us collectors and bloggers find their niche items they become passionate and informative about and these are clearly mine.


  1. nice, in depth, we expect nothing else

  2. Really interesting post! I know virtually nothing about trays, and this was really informative. Thanks!

  3. This comment has absolutely nothing to do with your trays...but I was just checking out eBay, and a seller who has some of my Harvest time has a Green Pine platter listed and is willing to take an offer. Just thought you might be interested.

  4. Thanks Dana! I'm putting it on my watch list.

  5. I have an extra Missouri tray if you would like it. It is not in perfect condition but it displays nicely. It is machine printed, I think. Let me know and I will put it in the mail to you (I, of course, will need your address).

  6. Hunting Tigress-Yes, please! Contact me via vtgspinster at gmail dot com and we'll suss out the details. I am happy to compensate you.

  7. Just wanted to let you know that I sent you an email yesterday about the Missouri tray. Let me know if you received it.

  8. I see the reproductions all the time in the thrifts (and I own the white California tray, must represent my home state) but I never know if they are worth anything or even if they are collectable. So thank you for this post! I might snag one the next time I see a good price!

  9. Thanks for the info. I have a collection of these I bought many years ago of about 30 of them as I thought they were pretty. I knew nothing about them until I looked them up on ebay today which led me to the article by Ms. Fendelman and then to you. Not much info can I find either.