By James Measell
Glass objects more than 4,000 years old are known to exist, so collecting glass may be among the oldest of human endeavors. Glass is an amazing material, capable of exhibiting seemingly unlimited hues and able to be formed in various ways. Here’s an introduction to a fascinating avocation, written by someone who has collected glass for 50 years.
Utilitarian and decorative objects can be made by pressing or blowing molten glass. Pressed ware is typically more economical to produce, and patterns range from simple Colonial styles to intricate geometric motifs or elaborate depictions of flora or fauna – or both! Blown ware items are usually plain, graceful shapes and they can be quite large. Pressed glass or blown glass can be decorated in many ways, ranging from applications of hot glass or iridizing during the manufacturing process, to a wide variety of decorating techniques such as cameo carving, cutting, engraving, etching, hand painting, sandblasting or staining. Tip: Look for videos of glass pressing and glassblowing processes on YouTube.com [glass blowing: http://bit.ly/1ZImK5a; glass pressing: http://bit.ly/1StHNp2].
Collecting glass by color
Glass can be found in virtually every color of the rainbow, from amber or blue to wisteria or yellow, at least. Transparent hues vary from colorless crystal to these: amber, avocado green, light blue, cobalt blue, cranberry, emerald green, orange, pink, purple, red or ruby. There is also canary or topaz, which is called “vaseline” by collectors and is currently quite popular. The iridescent glassware called “Carnival glass” has been collectible for many years, and the website managed by author David Doty is a top-notch resource (www.ddoty.com).
Opaque glass colors are popular, too, ranging from white milk glass to black, but there are also wonderful opaque greens and an opaque brown that was originally called “Chocolate.” The Chocolate color was perfected in late 1900 by Jacob Rosenthal when he was factory manager at the Indiana Tumbler and Goblet plant in Greentown, Indiana. An unusual opaque cobalt blue was made at McKee in Jeannette, Pennsylvania, about the same time.
Tip: If your glass collection is by color, the background and texture of your display area make a big difference in how attractive the display is. For example, Amber looks great in a shelf unit painted flat white, and Chocolate looks good on light, natural wood.
Video on glass blowing:
Collecting glass by era
For quite some time, the major periods for collectors were “flint glass” (handmade, 1850s-60s), “early American pattern glass” (handmade, 1870s-1915) and “Depression glass” (machine made, 1920s-1930s). However, collectors have also warmed to handmade glass from the 1910s and Roaring ’20s made by Cambridge, Duncan-Miller, Fenton, Fostoria, Heisey, Imperial or Westmoreland.
The studio glass movement that started in the 1960s has evolved into today’s enthusiasm for “contemporary art glass,” and the well-known, worldwide works of famous glass artist Dale Chihuly have had great influence. Glass artisans Robert Barber, Dave Fetty, Delmer Stowasser and Frank Workman, all of whom were associated with Fenton Art Glass, also enjoy a following among collectors. Quite a few universities and colleges now have glassblowing programs where student works can be seen, and independent glass artists may share workplaces for economic reasons.
Tip: Many studio glass artists are members of the Glass Art Society; see its website (www.glassart.org) for members, lots of pictures and exhibitions near you.
Collecting glass by form and pattern
There are collectors who enjoy acquiring covered butter dishes, cream pitchers or spooners, and those who love toothpick holders or salt/pepper shakers often have hundreds in their collections, perhaps because these glass items are small and easy to display. The National Toothpick Holder Collector’s Society (NTHCS) and the Antique Glass Salt & Sugar Shaker Club (AGSSSC) are active groups, sharing information through their newsletters and annual conventions.
Many pattern glass lines from the 1880s and into the early 20th century had original names that are just wonderful. Who could improve on Northwood’s Alaska, Crystal Queen, Geneva, Intaglio, Klondyke, Louis XV, Opaline Brocade, Pagoda, Regent, Royal Ivy, Royal Oak or Venetian? The Riverside Glass Company’s names easily roll off the tongue (America, Brilliant, Croesus, Empress, Esther, Victoria and X Ray), as do those from McKee Glass (Apollo, Britannic, Champion, Doric, Eureka, Harvard, Ionic, Jubilee, Masonic, Maypole, Naomi, Navarre, Nelly and Vulcan). Tip: John and Elizabeth Welker’s book Pressed Glass in America offers a great introduction to pattern glass, as do the books by William Heacock and this splendid website: www.patternglass.com.
Collecting glass by factory/maker
The history of glassmaking in the United States from the 1850s to the present is generally concentrated in factories located in New England, the Philadelphia area, Pittsburgh, the Ohio Valley or northwestern Ohio and central Indiana.
The Boston and Sandwich Glass Co. is well known, as is the Gillinder firm in Philadelphia and Wheaton in New Jersey. In the 1880s and 1890s, Pittsburgh was home to many enterprises that made decorative and utilitarian glassware.
About the same time and into the early 20th century, there were similar glass factories popping up in Ohio Valley cities — Steubenville, Wellsburg, Bridgeport, Martins Ferry, Wheeling, Bellaire, Moundsville, New Martinsville and Paden City. Fenton Art Glass began as a glass decorating company in Martins Ferry in 1905, and, after its founders decided that they needed to make their own glass instead of buying it from others, they erected a plant in Williamstown, West Virginia. Glass was first made there in January 1907, and production continued until 2013.
The glass boom in Ohio and Indiana saw many factories built in or near Fostoria and Findlay, Ohio, and throughout central Indiana near Anderson, Kokomo and Marion. The short-lived Indiana Tumbler and Goblet Co. in Greentown ran from 1894-1903, and a group of collectors in the National Greentown Glass Association (NGGA) preserves the legacy of this factory. Tip: The annual NGGA convention, held in Greentown, Indiana, is June 10-12, 2016 (www.greentownglass.org).
Collecting by country of origin
While most readers here will go for glass made in the U.S., it’s often possible to find glass in the U.S. that was made in Canada or England. Articles made on the European continent also turn up sometimes. Tip: the Glass Message Board (www.glassmessages.com) is a great source of information for glass worldwide.
Learning about glass
You can learn a lot about glass. There are many books devoted to glass or glass collecting, and over the past 30 years or so, quite a few have appeared. The books I’ve authored typically deal with
individual factories (Dugan, Fenton, Findlay, Greentown, Imperial, New Martinsville or Northwood), and other writers have covered their favorite glassmakers, ranging from the art glass of Durand, Steuben or Tiffany to the popular products associated with Blenko, Degenhart, Kemple or Viking.
Tip: Inter-library loans are easy to process, and you can find great book bargains by author, title or keywords on this website: www.abebooks.com
The Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, is simply fantastic. Other major glass collections can be found at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Oglebay Insitute in Wheeling, West Virginia; and the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio. Tip: Many glass collectors’ clubs (Cambridge, Duncan-Miller, Fostoria, Heisey and Imperial) maintain museums, but always check for open hours before you travel. My favorite is the Greentown Glass Museum in Greentown, Indiana, east of Kokomo. Tip: With so much to see, allow plenty of time and don comfortable walking shoes.
Buying collectible glass
From an ordinary yard sale, an antique mall or an online auction to a prestigious auction gallery or antique show, glass can be found everywhere. Do some searches on eBay. Feast your eyes on the catalogs of top auctioneers such as Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates (www.jeffreysevans.com) or Early Auction Company (www.earlyauctionco.com).
In addition to shows held in conjunction with glass collector club conventions, the Eastern National Antiques Show in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, is well worth a trip. (The next one is May 6-7, 2016.) Tip: Combine trips to auctions or antique shows with stops at museums and antique malls.
By preparing yourself ahead of time with knowledge and a plan, you’re setting yourself up for the most successful glass hunting adventures possible.