Sunday, June 15, 2014

Follow One Man’s Midcentury-Mailbox Dream

When Greg Kelly and Laura Herring relocated their family of four, they did what some might call unconventional. They moved into a home in the same neighborhood that was half the size of their previous home. Working with architect Richard Hall, they transformed a 1,200-square-foot 1954 ranch into something a little more in line with their needs and midcentury modern tastes. Hall tore down walls, opened the indoors to the outdoors and sculpted a house that was just right.

Photos of the renovation were published in the New York Times in November 2012, and later that year, the home also was featured on the local Remodelers Home Tour. Afterward one of the architects told Kelly that his wife had remarked that the mailbox did not work with the impressive renovation. Kelly couldn’t shake that comment. “I’m a bit of a perfectionist,” he says. “I didn’t obsess on it, but it always kind of bothered me.”

Shown: Kelly’s remodeled house with the standard mailbox designed by U.S. postal engineer Roy Joroleman in 1915.

Around the same time, Kelly, a business appraiser, picked up an issue of Atomic Ranch, a popular magazine for midcentury enthusiasts. In that issue a reader asked the magazine’s editor if she knew of any sources for ’50s period mailboxes. The frustrated reader had searched the Internet for authentic pieces and reproductions to no avail. Seeing this plea, Kelly thought, “I’m not alone on this.” The editor responded with “The retro. market seems to be wide open.” If one midcentury homeowner was struggling with the mailbox, there must be more, Kelly thought. He calls this his “aha” moment.

The History of Midcentury Mailboxes

The atomic mailbox photo that accompanied the question intrigued Kelly. “I thought it might be patented,” he wrote on his blog documenting the quest. He scanned through decades of patents through the United States Patent and Trademark office, but none accompanied that mailbox design. Kelly then pored through catalogs and magazines from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s for clues to the design’s origin. He found some leads, but the trail went cold. Where had this mailbox come from?

Kelly pursued an alternative avenue. He assembled and contacted as many approved U.S. mailbox manufacturers from the 1950s and 1960s as possible. “Everywhere I went, everything had been acquired,” he says. Of the 22 independent companies producing mailboxes in the United States in the early 1970s, only one — Fulton Corporation — still made mailboxes.

Kelly mailed the mailbox photo he had seen in Atomic Ranch to Fulton and asked if they knew who made it. A Fulton representative responded quickly to his request, stating: “I believe we did, at least I see one very much like what you sent, in one of our old catalogs … we stopped making it in 1993.” The rep included the original catalog shot of the company’s Sleek Suburban mailbox (highlighted in the photo here). Unfortunately Fulton no longer had the original dies that Kelly could repurpose, the way Modernica had done with Charles and Ray Eames’ original case study molds.

Follow One Man’s Midcentury-Mailbox Dream

Follow One Man’s Midcentury-Mailbox Dream

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