Tea set

Case AIBC: 0_6619

Part of a pale blue tea set manufactured by W. R. Midwinter Ltd from 1957. Made of melamine formaldehyde, the plates are square and the handle to the cups, distinctive. The manufacturer hoped such tableware would take the place of ceramic wares. However, popular during the 50s and 60s for its bright colours and 'unbreakable' quality, this kind of tableware later lost favour because it stained easily. Now it is used mainly for picnics.

Chosen for 10 Most Wanted as an important object in the history of plastics, variously attributed to John Vale and Roy Midwinter but with no substantiating evidence.

Contributing agents

Anonymous Agent & David Harman Powell

What we wanted to know & what we found out

  • Designer: A.H.Woodfull and John Vale
  • Date: 1957

In addition to finding the 'wanted' information, we learnt where it was made, the source of its design, that it won the Council of Industrial Design Design of the Year award in 1957, and that single colour sets gave way to two colour combinations.

Evidence trail

  • Museum website
  • Journal website
  • Personal testimony

The hunt

Museum website

An anonymous agent found it on the V&A's website in a range of different colourways, attributed to designers A. H. Woodfull and John Vale and documented as a winner of the Council of Industrial Design Design of the Year award in 1957.


V&A web page

Journal website

This led us to an article by Ness Wood on the Design History Society website.

Turner and Newall were the 'umberella' company under which the Melmex tableware was moulded. The company began in 1920 and had interests in the asbestos industry, as well as in engineering, plastics, rubber, railways and shipbuilding. By 1954 British Industrial Plastics Ltd., (BIP) joined the T&N Group and BIP had a factory in Streetly, Birmingham, hence Streetly Manufacturing Co. Ltd. This was where high quality hydraulic moulding presses were produced for the plastics industry, and millions of moulds were created each year for this new material. It was Streetly who made the Plastics Tableware Melmex designed by Albert H. Woodfull and John D. Vale of BIP…

Personal testimony

Agent Harman Powell posted:

I was the third man alongside Woody & John Vale when this was designed. Handle needed to take the very high moulding pressure & be stress free...

Roy Midwinter had seen the big success that Melamine tableware had in the USA 50% of the market & via Streetly (BIP) asked Woody & John Vale to base their designs on his best selling ceramic range Quartic shape for plates & saucers ....The cup shapes & saucers are almost identical when compared with the ceramic ware, the big problem was the handle, & this required at the time complex tooling of the moulds to achieve a acceptable looking handle. Initial production was for a single colour cup, later changed to more costly two colours. This was a result of the success of my Ranton design, the first two colour melamine cup. Midwinter, Ranton, & Brookes & Adams, all used BIP standard melamine colours which was vogue in the mid 50's, strong, which showed the superior finish when compared to UF. The white inner did eventually in most cases show up the fine scratches, sugar & spoons coffee tea stains. Its good that after 55 years so many are still around.