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How to Buy Economically for Vintage American Modern Cutlery

How to Buy Economically for Vintage American Modern Cutlery

Shopping in thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales can be overwhelming. With the sheer amount of stuff, how do you know where to start? How d

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Shopping in thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales can be overwhelming. With the sheer amount of stuff, how do you know where to start? How do you see jewelry getting in the way of all the clutter?

As a professional reseller who has been combing through thrift stores for most of 30 years, I can help. If you’re ready to cut your shopping time in half, record bigger bargains or walk away with flashy finds that you can turn around for cash, read on.

From hard-to-find household items to resale cashiers, everything that appears in my “Thrift Shop Like a Pro” range qualifies as a BOLO (“be on the lookout”) item. When you get it, buy it!

Exhibit: American Modern Cutlery by Russel Wright

Russel Wright, born in 1904, was an industrial designer and the creative force behind successful lines of furniture, cutlery, cutlery and other household products.

His work was part of Good Design, an artistic movement focused on making well-designed goods more accessible to everyday consumers.

In 1939, Steubenville Pottery of Ohio began manufacturing a Wright-designed cutlery collection. Named “American Modern”, the cheap earthenware was revolutionary for its time. Consumers loved the line’s sculptural forms, clever design and unique blend of accent materials such as bamboo and rattan.

Originally, the line was presented in six mix-and-match colors that included:

  • Chartreuse
  • Sea foam green (also referred to as “Sea foam blue”)
  • Bean brown
  • Coral
  • Gray
  • White

More color options were added later. This included:

  • Swart blatjang
  • Cedar green
  • Glacier blue
  • Melon

After a 20-year run, production ended in 1959, and Steubenville Pottery closed the same year.

With about 250 million pieces manufactured, American Modern is widely regarded as the most popular cutlery ever sold.

Pieces can be found in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art and, with a little luck, your local thrift store.

Vintage American Modern Cutlery by Russel Wright
Underawesternsky / Shutterstock.com

Why buy it?

Wright’s American modern cutlery is just as popular today as it was decades ago. With its organic shapes and sophisticated color palette, the collection still feels modern – even the latest.

Although it can take years to put together a complete set by buying thrift alone, I pick up different pieces whenever I can. Mixing with my everyday white porcelain, they add a volley of color and style.

If you’re more interested in reselling thrift stores for profit, take note: American Modern Dishes is a hot medieval collectible.

This butter dish with lid in chartreuse was recently sold for $ 175 on eBay, and this rattan-handled flavored dish in sea foam green was sold for $ 188. On Etsy, this sea foam green water carafe is listed for $ 250.

Pro tip: American modern cutlery must be washed by hand. High heat and heavy duty dishwasher cleaners can damage the finish and make vintage pieces more vulnerable to splintering.

What to look for

Wright’s cutlery stands out on second-hand store shelves. The biomorphic shapes and unexpected colors never fail to grab my attention.

Pieces can be further identified by a printed manufacturer’s mark on the bottom. Search for “Russel Wright” in italics, followed by “MFG. BY STEUBENVILLE.”

Buy pieces to resell? Maximize your profits by paying special attention to:

  • Color: Chartreuse appears to be the most popular color in the resale market, followed by sea foam green and white.
  • Form: As with most vintage cutlery, serving pieces are the hardest to find and the most valuable. Look for water jugs, treats, teapots and sugar bowls.
  • State: American modern pieces tear easily, so vintage examples in pristine condition are becoming increasingly scarce. Sugar bowls and teapots with intact, disc-free lids are extremely difficult to find and sell at a premium.

Reissue warning: American Modern Cutlery was reissued by Bauer Pottery of Southern California. The updated collection retains the original Russel Wright logo at the bottom. You can distinguish these pieces from vintage American Modern pieces by searching the words “By Bauer Pottery California, USA” for the logo.

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