Amtrak Images: The Out-of-Place Cup
Part of the joy of working on the Archives is that you never quite know what you’ll discover. Much of the material that will eventually be posted to this site has yet to be scanned and digitized, so we thought it would be fun to share some of the more interesting finds each month as we process the many boxes sitting in our offices.
When I was scanning this Week of Wheels in Florida brochure from the early 1970s, the photo of the couple having dinner caught my eye—and it wasn’t because of the gentleman’s groovy suit. If you look closely at the coffee cups, you might notice that they have a red zig-zag pattern on the rims. These pieces belong to the popular Mimbreño china pattern introduced in 1936 for use on the dining cars of the Santa Fe Railway's First Class Super Chief .
Designed by famed architect and interior designer Mary Colter, who worked for the Fred Harvey Company and the Santa Fe, the china features patterns derived from those developed by the Mimbres American Indians about 1000 years ago. The group lived in villages along what is now the Mimbres River in southwestern New Mexico, but mysteriously disappeared in the thirteenth century. Featuring abstract images of animals—often in black and white—their pottery was discovered during archaeological digs in the early twentieth century.
Colter was enamored of the Southwest’s American Indian and Hispanic cultures—and their synthesis—and drew on design traditions from the region when drawing up plans for her hotels and interiors. The Mimbreño china (a Hispanicization of “Mimbres”) proved quite popular and is sought by collectors today. Many original Mimbres bowls and pots can be found in museums across the Southwest, such as the Deming Luna Mimbres Museum near the Amtrak stop in Deming, New Mexico.
When Amtrak took over the nation’s passenger rail service in 1971, it retained the Chicago—Los Angeles route of the Santa Fe’s Super Chief. Not only did Amtrak inherit rolling stock from the Santa Fe, but it also gained basic goods such as the Mimbreño china, which was used until the company could order its own pattern. Although the Mimbreño was only around for a little while, it lives on in this archival brochure—for a promotion in Florida, no less.