“Custard glass,” as collectors call it today, came on the American scene in the 1890s, more than a decade after similar colors were made in Europe and England. The Sowerby firm of Gateshead-on-Tyne, England had marketed its patented “Queen’s Ivory Ware” quite successfully in the late 1870s and early 1880s.
There were many glass tableware factories operating in Pennsylvania and Ohio in the 1890s and early 1900s, and the competition among them was keen. Each company sought to capture the public’s favor with distinctive colors and, often, hand-painted decoration. That is when “Custard glass” appeared on the American scene.
The opaque yellow color of this glass varies from a rich, vivid yellow to a lustrous light yellow. Regardless of intensity, the hue was originally called “ivory” by several glass manufacturers then who also used superlative sounding terms such as “Ivorina Verde” and “Carnelian.” Most Custard glass contains uranium, so it will “glow” under a black light.
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The most important producer of Custard glass was certainly Harry Northwood, who first made it at his plants in Indiana, Pa., in the late 1890s and, later, in his Wheeling, W. Va., factory. Northwood marked some of his most famous patterns, but much early Custard is unmarked. Other key manufacturers include the Heisey Glass Co., Newark, Ohio; the Jefferson Glass Co., Steubenville, Ohio; the Tarentum Glass Co., Tarentum, Pa.; and the Fenton Art Glass Co., Williamstown, W. Va.
Custard glass fanciers are particular about condition and generally insist on pristine quality decorations free from fading or wear. Souvenir Custard pieces with events, places and dates on them usually bring the best prices in the areas commemorated on them rather than from the specialist collector. Also, collectors who specialize in pieces such as cruets, syrups or salt and pepper shakers will often pay higher prices for these pieces than would a Custard collector.
Key reference sources include William Heacock’s Custard Glass from A to Z, published in 1976 but not out of print, and the book Harry Northwood: The Early Years, available from Glass Press. Heisey’s Custard is discussed in Shirley Dunbar’s Heisey Glass: The Early Years (Krause Publications, 2000), and Coudersport’s production is well-documented in Tulla Majot’s book Coudersport’s Glass 1900- 1904 (Glass Press, 1999).
The recently formed Custard Glass Society holds a yearly convention and maintains a website to keep collectors connected.
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