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!

Mona

(Cross-posted at Vintage Village.)

10 comments:

  1. WOW! It is exciting to see the Couroc geometric photo I posted on Couroc Flckr. Hope folks will also post their favorites as well. Marigold's article about Couroc is outstanding and so appreciated by Couroc collectors. One correction though, Couroc celebrated their 50th anniversay in 1998 just before closing their doors. The early years of Couroc are most sought after. These trays may not have the molded Couroc but may have the white with green writing label. Happy Couroc hunting!
    Couroc48

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  2. Hi Couroc48, thanks so much for commenting. Love your photos! And thanks for the correction. This article is cross-posted at Vintage Village, where there are more comments, if you're interested. Just click on the link at the very end of the post.

    If you don't mind, I'll include your comment on the Vintage Village post, too. Hope to see you there!

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  3. Don't put any Couroc products in the dishwasher. Found out the hard way with one of mine.

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  4. I just got done passing out Halloween candy using my couroc bowl. I grew up with this bowl. Every Halloween it is what we used. It was my parents wedding present back in 1959. I never paid attention to the label on the back of the bowl until tonight. I decided to google...amazing. I have quite a treasure. I would love to find 2 more "windfall" bowls to give to my siblings due to the fact that our parents are both passed away. What a fun gift to suprise them with. If anybody could direct me to them, it would be greatly appreciated!

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  5. Just purchased an Couroc that is signed by SFB Morse with the sticker on the back saying it was done by him and what materials were used in the design. All I find on line is about his creative planning at Pebble Beach but nothing about his art work. Do you know how I can find out more about this?

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  6. Hi Sue, I probably found the same link you did: http://www.pebblebeach.com/about/company-history I couldn't find anything about SFB Morse, the artist, except references to Morse, the telegrapher, who would have been painting in the late 1800s. It could be the design on your Couroc (the Monterey Pine?)was designed by the contemporary Morse and might have been a kind of logo for his Pebble Beach properties. But I'm just guessing, of course.

    Sorry I can't help you more. Thanks for writing. Good luck on your search!

    Mona

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  7. My Couroc tray with the Road Runner Bird only has the gold Couroc label on the back. It does not have the name Couroc embedded as part of the tray as some I have see on the internet. Can anyone tell me if that helps to tell the age of my piece?

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    1. Hi Trina, I've tried to find out about the embedded markings but haven't found anything that would date your roadrunner tray. I have one of those, too, but mine is at home and I'm wintering 1000 miles away right now! I don't remember what the back looks like other than the gold sticker.

      The Couroc line was very expensive when it was new and now seems to go for mere pennies, considering the quality pieces they are. I've sold some of the mushroom pieces but I'm tempted to hang onto the Roadrunner until people come to their senses about the value. Besides, I sort of like his looks!

      If I find anything more I'll post it here. In the meantime, any other info is welcome, of course. Thanks for visiting!

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    2. Thank You so much for your response. Trina

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  8. Does anyone remember a Couroc plate with a gray cat with blue fingernails? It depicted Charlie, the cat at Holman's Dept store in Pacific Grove, CA. I swear I remember a pile of the plates for sale downstairs by the register! It may have been after the dept store itself closed and it turned in to an antique store...

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