Vintage TV tray sets have went from being a household eating necessity to a collectible among those who still have them. It is hard to find vintage TV tray sets today due to the use they have most likely endured by families who used to eat from them while watching television in the 1950’s and 1960’s. These trays represent nostalgia as well as comfort form a time where things were simple and family oriented.
Television tray sets were made of mostly metal in the 50’s and 60’s. Designs included themes from popular television shows like Bewitched and The Lone Ranger. Cartoons were a popular theme with television trays as well. The Smurfs were a beloved cartoon represented on trays with children. Flowers have been used in many ways as well on trays.
Vintage TV Tray Sets
Vintage TV Tray Sets
Today, vintage TV tray sets are popular for people who collect antique furniture, for those who like 1950s throwbacks, and those who simply need a tray for horizontal activities like eating and sewing. Midway through the last century, however, TV trays were an innovative, integral aspect of the average American lifestyle. An important part of the United States' cultural history has been preserved in artistic variations of these simple metal contraptions.
The earliest of vintage TV tray sets emerged on the market in 1952 from an inventor whose identity has been lost in the shifting cracks of history. It likely evolved from the kinds of trays that were used at drive-in restaurants and clipped onto rolled-down car windows. This made it easy for the waiters to deliver orders. It is easy to see how the convenience of eating in a car could translate to eating in front of a television set.
While it has often been assumed that the TV tray was invented to hold the TV dinner, the two inventions actually appeared in the opposite order. Swanson's TV dinners did not appear until autumn of 1953, when Gerry Thomas found a use for over 500,000 pounds of turkey leftover from a poorly-planned Thanksgiving sale. He compartmentalized the turkey with peas and potatoes into metal trays and hoped to sell around 5,000 to a test market. The resulting explosion in popularity resulted in 25 million sold just within the first year. For this sudden new craze, the vintage TV tray sets were the best complementary piece of equipment for the average family and enjoyed an upswing in popularity.
Vintage TV tray sets were made from metal, usually aluminum. The tray was flat and thin and was fixed onto the extended, tubular metal legs using clips. The tray was the perfect size to accomodate a TV dinner, and was necessary because the dinner trays were cooked for a half an hour in an oven and were therefore hot. The legs caused the tray to sit about two to three feet off the ground, ideal for people sitting on sofas and chairs. After a meal, the legs would fold together and the tray would hang down the side, clipped to one of the legs. In this way they could be stacked on a stand, and often came in groups of four.
The advent of the vintage TV tray sets was caused by the sudden availability and affordability of television sets. In the previous decade, families sat at the dinner table and shared a meal and conversation. In the 50s, the table was abandoned so that the family could cluster around the TV and share a meal and entertainment with the rest of the country. Since there were so few channels and no reruns to speak of, everyone would be eating at the same time as everyone else and watching shows such as "I Love Lucy," or "The Ed Sullivan Show."
Vintage TV tray sets often reflect the mentality and sentiments of the era, which abounded with picturesque paintings of natural scenic countryside or nostalgic portraits made by artists such as Norman Rockwell. Cartoon characters, logos and product placement were on the rise as well, and any combination of these can be found on today's vintage TV tray sets. Popeye the sailor and Olive Oyl, Coca Cola characters such as a Santa Clause, or simply pastoral scenes of gardens and gazebos became the art that adorned vintage TV tray sets.
The sheer variety of art available on vintage TV tray sets is staggering. Subtle and intricate patterns and designs are heightened with a wide spectrum of colors. Animals, flowers, TV characters and superheroes have all made appearances on vintage TV tray sets over the years. Their popularity is possibly due to the nostalgic quality they hold for people. It is a reminder of a time when family togetherness and sharing was valued, and cultural entertainment was rendered in lovely, clean ways.
Since vintage TV tray sets are old and often made from cheap materials, some of the products you might fine will be chipped or covered in rust. If you want to keep a a set of vintage TV tray sets, there are ways of restoring and repainting them. Try sanding away the rust with grit paper, then washing the metal tray. It will be a blank slate for a new picture. Use rust-proof paint with a brush or spray can to renew a lovely old vintage piece.
Vintage TV tray sets aren't often used for their intended purpose any longer. With the introduction of the flat screen TV, many families have a television in view of the dining table. However, vintage TV tray sets can still be put to good use. Use them to do a puzzle, or to play a board game. Many people have grape-themed sets that they use to display wine bottles, or to keep sewing equipment at hand.
Whether you use them for eating in the living room, for displaying valuable items, or for setting down drinks on the back patio, vintage TV tray sets are beautiful works of art in their own right. More than that, vintage TV tray sets are a reminder of America's cultural past and a little piece of an innovative history.