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Robin Ptacek Collection

An inventory of his collection as it relates to melamine and Melmac at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: DF
Date: 30 Jun 2014

Biographical History

Robin Ptacek was an art historian, curator, community activist, researcher, and professor.

He earned an MA in Art History from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1982. His thesis was titled, "Highway culture iconography in pop art and superrealism." He eventually earned a PhD from the same school, completing his dissertation, "Bisson Freres: Two pioneers of photography" in 1989. In addition to teaching at various universities throughout his life, he also served as a curator of modern art at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. After retiring from his professional career, he became involved in community activism, primarily around senior and LGBT issues.

While he had maintained an interest in modernist and pop art throughout much of his life, his interest in researching and collecting Melmac was sparked during a vacation in Palm Springs, CA. He recalled entering a nearby thrift store to escape from a downpour of rain and, upon encountering some Melmac dinnerware designed by Russel Wright, his curiosity was immediately peaked.

He intended to have his research efforts culminate in the publication of a print or online encyclopedia of Melmac products, but passed away in 2012, before the project was completed.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Robin Ptacek Collection consists of research papers written and compiled by Ptacek as they relate to melamine products and, most particularly, Melmac. Melmac was the trade name of a melamine product created by the American Cyanamid Co. (it was also the name and elementary material of the home planet of 1980s TV character "Alf"). The collection contains mostly advertisements (originals and copies), communications with other melamine and Melmac collectors, and documentation of e-bay items and transactions. The collection also contains the research files of melamine collector and researcher Derek Schwartz, whose papers were given to Ptacek by Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer.

Advertisements contains original and copied clippings from magazines and newspapers, and bidding/transaction documentation.

Binders consists of 20 binders of research files of Melmac molders, producers, lines, and products.

Correspondence subject files contains mostly research and notes by Schwartz, including photocopied journals and book excerpts, inventories, contacts, and correspondences.

Arrangement of the Collection

Material is divided into the series listed above, and items have been alphabatized.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

Special Collections Research Center has numerous holdings in the areas of plastics and industrial design. Please refer to the SCRC Subject Index for a complete listing.

Special Collections Research Center has made a concerted effort over the years to ensure that its manuscript and rare books holdings complement each other. As a result, many of our manuscript collections are supported by books, pamphlets, serials and other items which are cataloged in the Rare Books Collection. Please be sure to search the Classic Catalog for these related materials.

Subject Headings


Ptacek, Robin.
Wright, Russel, 1904-1976.

Corporate Bodies

Allied Chemical Corporation.
American Cyanamid Company.
Bakelite Company.
Lenox China (Firm)
Royal China Company.


Moldings (object components)
Plastics industry and trade.

Genres and Forms

Research notes.


Art historians.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Robin Ptacek Collection
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Gregory F. Ptacek, 2014.

Table of Contents



Correspondence subject files