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The Branchell Company

The Branchell Company was formally registered as a corporation in Missouri on May 26, 1952. Beginning at 1610 Hampton Avenue in St. Louis, the offices were then relocated to 6024 Lloyd Avenue, and later to 4417 Oleatha Avenue. The company was registered as a four-way partnership, with Emil Bellmich, Edward Belwich, Ernest Hellmich, and Karl Kross listed as partners. Mr. Belwich and Mr. Hellmich controlled 65.2% of the company. Branchell also kept offices in San Francisco, California at 2695 Twentieth Avenue, and later, at 1075 Golden Gate Avenue. With plants in St. Louis and Puerto Rico, the company was an industry leader in the manufacture of melamine dinnerware from 1952 until 1958, when it was acquired by Lenox Inc. of Trenton, New Jersey, a manufacturer of chinaware.

Lenox, Inc. changed the name of the Branchell subsidiary to Lenox Plastics, Inc. In 1968, the plant in St. Louis continued to employ an average of 250 persons, and operated six days a week, 24 hours a day, as demand for melamine dinnerware far outstripped the plant's ability to supply it.

In 1973, Lenox, Inc., possibly sensing the end of the Melmac era with the introduction of Corelle dinnerware, sold Lenox Plastics, Inc. to a group of Chicago businessmen, who changed the name of the company to Lexington United Corporation. Through all of these changes, the plant in St. Louis continued to produce melamine dinnerware, which was sold under the names of Lenoxware, Melmac, Andover, and Lexington for Lexington United Corporation.

The dinnerware

In the mid 1940s, melamine was a product that was still in its infancy and generally not familiar to the buying public. Kaye LaMoyne, a freelance industrial designer living in St. Louis, was hired by The Branchell Company. He was one of many designers hired by dinnerware manufacturers to mold this new material. The success of designer John Hedu's Lifetimeware for Watertown and the Boonton Molding Company's Deluxe line and Belle Kogan's Boonton Belle line in the 1940s inspired many manufacturers to hire their own designers and try to cash in on this new material, which was touted as unbreakable and the perfect replacement for the more fragile china. In the early years, LaMoyne introduced Ebonyte, a Chinese inspired designer line of dinnerware with hand-painted Mandarin characters representing "Good Taste". This elegant melamine included bamboo handles and covered dishes. The inspiration for this line came from his memories of eating in his favorite Chinese restaurant while a student in Chicago. These pieces can be difficult to identify, as his hand-painted signature and designs on the pieces are sometimes removed by normal handling. It is possible that Ebonyte, which was unmarked, was manufactured by another company, but marketed by Mr. Belwich and Mr. Hellmich. The success of the Ebonyte line may have encouraged the partners to start The Branchell Company. Advertisements for Ebonyte from 1949 have been found, a few years before The Branchell Company was formed in 1952; yet it is known that The Branchell Company was the only dinnerware company for which LaMoyne worked. It was a good and productive relationship, as he was the only designer ever hired by Edward "Eddie" Belwich and Ernest "Ernie" Hellmich.

His experiments with this relatively unknown material were not without problems. On more than one occasion, LaMoyne suffered burns to his eyes while experimenting with melamine and urea formaldehyde, another material commonly used in dinnerware. He also succeeded in combining melamine with gold dust and foils, including the Ebonyte line. A favorite of his was pink plastic with gold dust or foils. LaMoyne's perilous experiments paid off and, drawing on his background as a colorist, he was able to perfect the mottled look in his Color-Flyte and Royale lines. Very few designers were able to master anything other than solid colors; Ken Welch and Roger Sasia of the Kenro Corporation perfected a speckled design with their Holiday line, and Russel Wright, working with the Northern Industrial Chemical Company, introduced a "clouded" look with his Residential line. These lines, along with LaMoyne's Color-Flyte line, were introduced to the public in the early 1950s.

Branchell released the Color-Flyte line shortly after incorporating in 1952.
It was LaMoyne's, and Branchell's, first line of dinnerware to be mass marketed. Applying the mottling technique LaMoyne perfected, it was offered in Mist Grey, Glade Green, Glow Copper, and Spray Lime. A full ensemble of plates, bowls, tumblers, and serving pieces were offered. Unique to the Color-Flyte line were lug soup bowls, and salad utensils which incorporated raffia-like plastic wrapped by hand around the handles. Every piece was well balanced, as it was important to LaMoyne that each piece felt good in your hand. Mix-and-match place settings were available in all colors; no matter which colors were placed together, they complimented each other very well. A 16 piece "Starter Set" sold for $15.95, a 13 piece "Continuation Set" was available for $16.95, as well as an 11 piece "Completion Set" for $18.95.

The Royale line included a redesigned sugar bowl and creamer, The same high quality flatware was once again offered separately in the new colors, and large salad bowls with open handles, accompanied by individual bowls with one open handle, were marketed shortly thereafter in both the Royale and Color-Flyte colors.

Royale, introduced around 1954, was originally offered in Gardenia White, Charcoal Grey, Flame Pink; Turquoise Blue was added later. The shapes of the tumblers, plates, cups, saucers, vegetable bowls, platters, and salt and pepper shakers remained the same throughout the Color-Flyte and Royale lines. but the sugar bowl and creamer were redesigned. A basic 16 piece "Starter set" was sold for $15.95, as well as a 5 piece "serving set" consisting of a divided vegetable bowl, creamer, sugar with lid, and a large platter, for $11.95. A 35 piece "Service for Six" set was offered for $39.95, and a 45 piece "Service for Eight" set sold for $45.95. All of this was quite expensive at the time, but came with a Guarantee Certificate offering to replace any piece that became "broken, chipped, or cracked through normal use in the home." The one year guarantee was a huge selling point over china for the modern homemaker. Stainless steel flatware, manufactured in Germany, and incorporating melamine in the handles in matching colors, was once again offered separately.

LaMoyne also designed several patterns for the Branchell Company, among them Flyte, Moonflower, and Spring Lite. They are distinctly 50s in style, and are highly evocative of the Atomic Age. These patterns used Gardenia White from the Royale line as a background color. Patterned saucers paired with any of the four Royale colors complement each other well. Glassware was manufactured with the Flyte pattern applied. Other patterns, more mainstream but still highly stylized, include Tip Top, Rosedale, Sweet Talk, Lady Fair, Golden Harvest, and Golden Grapes. These were presented on a solid white background, and included redesigned cups, bowls, and serving bowls.

Designer Kaye LaMoyne

Kaye LaMoyne was born in Topeka, Kansas, on July 23, 1918. He attended an art school in Chicago in the mid 1930s, studying design and color, concentrating his studies as a colorist. He started his industrial design career as a glassware designer for the Dunbar Glass Company of West Virginia, and after three years relocated to St. Louis in the 1940s. He worked as a freelance designer, keeping an office in the same building that housed his father's business, Display Products Company. When not under contract designing dinnerware for the Branchell Company, LaMoyne helped his father design and manufacture store fixtures and displays for department stores across the country. Throughout his professional design career, he used the family name LaMoyne.

After the Branchell Company was acquired by Lenox in 1958, LaMoyne did not design any other melamine dinnerware. His last design for Branchell was Golden Harvest. A dispute over royalties ended his relationship with Lenox in 1959, after the sale of the company. Although he achieved his greatest commercial success with the dinnerware, he also designed store fixtures, aircraft interiors and parts, and the house he lived in, which still stands in St. Louis. The house features wall panels which can be moved to change the configuration of the living space. The furniture, lamps, and other furnishings were his creations as well. His only other architectural work was another house designed for a relative in Nitro, West Virginia, and the beautiful cherry paneling in the lobby of the Shriner's Hospital in St. Louis. An avid golfer, he designed golf courses, a wrist developer to help strengthen the wrist, and a divot replacement tool that held a ball marker. These sports items were marketed and sold under the name Gayner Sports Products.

LaMoyne was not a publicity seeker; he preferred his privacy. He approached other designers about their work, and eventually shared his own designs with them. Such conversations yielded a lot of ideas. He was far more interested in other people than talking about himself. At one time he considered working for Raymond Loewy, but enjoyed the freedom freelancing offered. He remained self-employed until the late 1960s, when he worked for North American Rockwell. He remained a consultant well into the 1970s.

LaMoyne's hobby also encompassed the design world. He was fascinated with BMW Isettas, a German-built minicar. Intrigued by their unorthodox Italian body design and impressed by their superior German mechanics, he had collected these cars since they were first imported to the United States in the late 1950s. He bought his first Isetta, a new one, in 1957; at one time, he owned thirteen of them. LaMoyne designed and manufactured reproduction Isetta parts that were sold through Felling Enterprises of Topanga, California from 1977 until 1986. After 1986, he sold them himself. He hauled these small cars to and from his summer home in Minnesota, where his family enjoyed fishing on one of the many lakes in the area. Kaye LaMoyne died in Minnesota in 1992.

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