Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Assistive tableware, Russell Manoy, 1969

Currently on display in the museum as part of the Why Plastics? exhibition, is a range of tableware created by industrial designer and ergonomist, Russell Manoy, in 1969. It was intended for disabled users, with particular reference to those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, but was also considered suitable for children and the elderly. All of the pieces were designed to minimise difficulties in handling and manipulating, whilst retaining aesthetic appeal. 

The tableware on display in the museum.

Image credit: MoDiP

Melamine formaldehyde (MF) was the material selected by Manoy due to its better than normal break-strength, design flexibility, lightness in weight, hygienic, easily cleaned finish and low cost of production. It was felt that this combination of requirements could not be met by anything other than plastics.  
Compression moulded, the simple ergonomic design helped to reduce tooling costs, which was then reflected in the sale price, deliberately kept low for the benefit of pensioners to purchase at an affordable price. This consideration also led to the removal of complex insulation within the beaker from the original design; the heat transmission properties of the melamine being deemed sufficient. 

The small plate,
AIBDC : 008784
Image credit: MoDiP

Both the large and small plates were given directional flow, provided by a gentle slope which allows the food to gather towards the bottom for easy scooping. They also both have a large flange on the opposite side to aid grip (refer image above).

Several examples of the beaker,
AIBDC : 007774.1-2 (left),
AIBDC : 006616SA (top, right), AIBDC : 008785 (bottom, right).
Image credit: MoDiP

The beaker has no handle, the cantilevered weight being balanced by the base which can be held between the thumb and the palm of the hand. The design is similar to the Joe Colombo 'Smoke' glass, 1963.

The spoon/fork, AIBDC : 008786.2-3 (left and centre)
and knife,
AIBDC : 008786.1 (right).
Image credit: MoDiP

The spoon/fork double purpose cutlery (refer image above, left and centre) has a triangular shaped handle design with radiused edges to provide improved grip and the blade is angled to reduce wrist flexing in use. The same handle was utilised on the knife (on the right), to reduce tooling costs and for production economy. The blade is designed to cut in either a slicing or rocking action, the latter more suited to one-handed use. 

Entrance to the 'Plastics at The Design Centre' exhibition.

Image credit:

5000 sets were produced initially, sold at a cost of 49s 6d, equivalent to roughly £45 today. The range was displayed as part of the ‘Plastics at The Design Centre’ exhibition in 1970 and features within many museum collections all over the world. It is a good demonstration of considered design using appropriate materials and can be seen in MoDiP until 2 September 2022.  

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer 

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