Friday, May 29, 2009

Couroc of Monterey

Until I found this Couroc of Monterey set in a Salvation Army store last year I didn't really know anything about the company or the process. They looked vaguely familiar when I spotted them, but when these bar sets were first produced I was into Colonial, and modern didn't really show me much.

I've since learned that Couroc is getting increasingly popular for very good reason. It's beautiful! That's number one--but if you look closely at the patterns you'll see that they're incredibly intricate and formed by truly skilled artists. Even if the patterns look the same, closer inspection shows that each piece is slightly different. The wood and metal inlays are set by hand, so no two are ever exactly alike.

It's made from a hard plastic called "Phenolic", which Couroc says is impervious to almost anything, including alcohol. The company was founded in 1948 by Guthrie Sayle Courvoisier and Moira Wallace, a husband-and-wife team.

I found this helpful guide to Couroc in the eBay Guides, courtesy of Marigold05, who has also written other Couroc information:

The Couroc Company was a Monterey California company that produced many different types and shapes of trays, boxes, ashtrays and glassware from 1948 until their closure in the early 1990s. Their products have become and remain collectable because of their high quality and beauty.

Guthrie Courvoisier, owner of Courvoisier Galleries in San Francisco formed Couroc in 1948. His wife, Moira Wallace was a designer that was involved in designing manufacturing - sometimes even 'signing' her work. Couroc was formed in Monterey an area that held strong artistic communes at the time. Being located in a beautiful part of the Pacific coast had other advantages, Couroc relied on a plentiful supply of natural design elements, especially coral and shells.

Couroc's Early Years

Prior to the war, Courvoisier had worked with the Walt Disney Company and brought the first commercially available animation cels to market. These cels are still known as "Courvoisier Cels" and are quite valueable today.

Courvoisier gained valuable experience with plastics while participating in the war effort. Courvoisier soon began to put this experience to work - he and his wife began to tinker around with new techniques of producing household items with superior design. The first generation of Couroc products were made of a heavy translucent material that was extremly prone to shattering. The name Couroc was an amalgamation of 'Cour'voisier and 'rock' as in hard-as-a-rock. These early pieces have early Couroc labels so the name was derived while their products were still highly breakable. The products in that first generation tended to be large bowls and cake trays. After much experimentation, however, the Courvoisiers created a proprietary formula of phenolic resin that was durable enough to form into trays. This formula was extremely durable and resistant to alcohol and flame. While this formula has changed over the years, that proprietary recipe served as the basis for several decades work.

In the early years, Courvoisier ran Couroc a little like an art-commune, employing many skilled artisans. During these early years, the artists carefully arranged bits and pieces of common metal items one might find at a hardware store into elements of the design. Items like springs, screws, glitter, safety pins and paper clips were commonly part of Couroc's best designs. The artisans also used pieces of brass and other metals and carefully bent them into shape.

You can read the complete guide, including how to determine early or late Couroc, by clicking the link at the beginning of the quote.

There is a Couroc group on Flickr, where I found some of the most amazing pieces. I also found these beauties from Couroc Geometric's Flickr page here. (While you're there, check out her other Couroc pieces. Gorgeous!)

Marigold mentions in her article that over the years the footings and labels were different. Of the three seemingly matching pieces that I have, I find two different footings and labels. I don't know what that means in terms of age. I'm guessing, because of the mushroom motif, they're all from the 1970s or 80s.

If anyone wants to add to this discussion, I would love to hear from you. The more we learn, the more fun it is!


(Cross-posted at Vintage Village.)