One Table Oodles of Dishes:
Kaye LaMoyne, Ebonyte
Ebonyte, an Asian-inspired line of melamine dinnerware designed by Kaye LaMoyne in the 1940s, was very likely produced by Hellmich Manufacturing Company prior to the Branchell Company’s formal establishment in St. Louis, Missouri in 1952. The pieces have no manufacturing backstamps, only the signature hand-written in red “A K. LaMoyne original” or “K LaMoyne Ebonyte.” Ebonyte was primarily manufactured in black and red colors resembling Chinese lacquerware, however examples in various green hues (forest green to bright green to lime green) can be found in the Edward Hellmich Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University, including a rare cake stand in forest green. A 1948 advertisement in the collection of Christopher McPherson shows that Ebonyte was in production and being marketed.
Almost all pieces are decorated on the surface with the hand-painted Chinese characters zhen wei, which can be variously translated as “authentic” or literally “good taste,” “true taste,” or “true flavor.”
Noted industrial designer Kaye LaMoyne was born Kaye Lamoyne Whitnah in 1918 in Topeka, Kansas. He studied design and color at an art school in Chicago. He worked as a freelance designer for Dunbar Glass in West Virginia. Later he moved to St. Louis, Missouri to become the sole designer for the Branchell Company until the founder of Branchell, Edward Hellmich, sold the company to Lenox in 1958. It should be noted that the heyday for melamine dinnerware was in the 1940s and 1950s, when there were dozens of companies manufacturing melamine. In the 1950s he designed the highly successful Melmac lines Color-FLYTE and Royale for Branchell. This dinnerware was marketed in groups, and consumers were encouraged to mix and match the colors of the popular dinnerware. Before his death in 1992, LaMoyne had additionally worked as a freelance designer for North American Rockwell (aeroplane parts and interiors), Gaynor Sports Products (golf tools), designed golf courses, and designed spare parts for BMW Isetta. It should be noted that he was a golf enthusiast and he collected Isettas.
The International Museum of Dinnerware Design currently owns 142 examples of Ebonyte melamine dinnerware in vibrant red and black, many with bamboo handles and the hand-painted Chinese characters zhen wei. Archival materials preserved by the designer Kaye LaMoyne in his home in Missouri and sold at auction in 2019 were donated to IMoDD by Scott Hamblen in 2020. These include original sketches for various Melmac dinnerware lines and black and white marketing photographs of examples of Ebonyte dinnerware probably dating from the late 40s-early 50s.
References: Christopher Geofferey McPherson and PlasticLiving.com; Edward Hellmich Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Archives, Gift of Christina Hellmich, 2019; keereo.com/designers/kae-lamone/48/ and keereo.com/patterns/flyte-colorflyte/7/.
essay by Margaret Carney