By James Measell
The story of Lornita Glass Corp. begins in 1945, when Max and Alvina Biberthaler purchased the Point Marion Glass Novelty Co. in Guyaux, Pa. Max had managed Viking Glass in New Martinsville, W. Va., and Alvina had experience with hand-painted decorations on glass, so Max took charge of sales and manufacturing, and Alvina hired and trained decorators. The company name, “Lornita,” is in honor of their daughters, Lorna and Anita, and its origin is interesting. When the daughters were playing outside, their mother called to them by combining their names in a loud “LORNITA!!” rather than “Lorna! … Anita!”
Today’s collectors call the Lornita products “milk glass,” but the glass industry uses the
term “opal” (pronounced “o-pal”). “The Glass Factory Year Book and Directory” for 1946 listed M.G. Biberthaler of Guyaux, Pa., as making “opal ware, blown vases, lamp bases, plain and with fired decorations; pressed plates, novelties, [and] ash trays, plain and with fired decorations.” The Lornita firm had its glassware in showrooms in Chicago, New York and San Francisco, and traveling sales representatives covered the Midwest and New England. Edward Tharp was the firm’s salesman for Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia, and Cobbett Associates represented Lornita in New England.
Although all of Lornita’s milk glass items were produced in Guyaux, the glassware was decorated in Middlebourne, W. Va. The Biberthalers’ family home was there, and rented space on the upper floor of the Odd Fellows Hall housed the family’s Middlebourne Art Co., where both glassware and china items were decorated. An employee trucked the milk glass to Middlebourne each week and returned the hand-painted glassware to Guyaux the next week. Alvina Biberthaler created hand-painted designs and supervised the staff of decorators — more than 15 when the firm was at its peak. Daughter Lorna Biberthaler sometimes worked after school at the decorating shop, hand painting the shading below the fruit on plates. She recalls that her mother “was strict” and that the plates “had to be done fast and be perfect.”
Lornita milk glass was a market success in the 1940s and early 1950s, because opaque white glassware was popular, perhaps due to the publication of Millard’s “Opaque Glass” in 1941 and Belknap’s “Milk Glass” in 1949. Other, much larger glassmaking firms, such as Fenton, Imperial and Westmoreland, were producing milk glass, but Lornita’s one-of-a-kind decorated glassware and novelties found ready sales.
In December 1945, the trade journal “China and Glass” mentioned Lornita milk glass plates that featured apple, apricot, cherry, peach, pear, plum and strawberry designs, as well as and a peach and plum combination motif. These 7 1/8-inch diameter plates, called Wreath Edge, were staples throughout the firm’s years of operation. The Wreath Edge “Scenic Set” depicted outdoor subjects said to be “from originals by famous artists,” such as a covered bridge, a gristmill, a windmill or a cabin in the woods.
By mid-1946, another plate, called Lace Edge, was in production. The Lace Edge plate, which is 7 3/8 inches in diameter and has fine beads around its plain center area, was used for various floral decorations (blue flower, dogwood, iris, morning glory, rose and wild rose), as well as the hand-painted fruit decorations.
The Lornita Pointed Lace plate also went into production in the 1940s, and it was available in three sizes: 6-inch diameter, 7 1/4-inch diameter and 9-inch diameter. The Pointed Lace plates were decorated with the same hand-painted floral or fruit motifs as other Lornita plates. Additional hand-painted motifs included various American birds (Baltimore Oriole, Blue Grosbeak, Cardinal, White-Winged Crossbill, Goldfinch and Lazuli Bunting patterns) and whimsical Dutch Boy and Dutch Girl scenes, which always feature a light gray stone dike in the background and continue the story from plate to plate. The plates were illustrated in the March 1950 issue of “Giftwares and Homewares,” and the description is worth quoting: “A proud boy on the first plate [is] smoking a big cigar. The girl on the next plate shows concern that he might get a tummy ache. He does.” There are at least three others: a Dutch girl with a goose, a Dutch girl holding a red apple and a Dutch girl with a small basket in her left hand.
In the late 1940s, Lornita announced two new plate groupings, the Guild Series and the Historical Series, produced on 6-1/2 diameter milk glass plates. These plates have a row of beads on the upturned edge and a second row framing the circumference of the center. Based on European woodcuts by the Swiss printmaker Jost Amman (1539-1591), the Guild Series depicted Medieval occupations (Baker, Barber, Blacksmith, Carpenter, Fishermen and Shoemaker) and were produced using a silkscreen process. Patterns in the Historical Series (Capitol, Independence Hall, Lincoln Memorial, Mt. Vernon, Statue of Liberty and Washington Monument) were applied with a decal process.
Large bottles with stoppers (probably for cologne or rose water) and vases were also among the firm’s products, as four different cologne bottles and eight different vase shapes were illustrated in a circa 1946-47 Lornita brochure. Most of the vases had names that correspond to cities in New England: Bethel, Cape Cod, Clinton, Durham, Essex, Granby, Greenwich, Groton, Guilford, Milford, Plymouth, Rutland and Winstead. Although plates and vases were most important, this line of Lornita’s milk glass also included other items: ashtrays and other smoking accessories, baby shoes, candle holders, a three-piece dresser set and jewel boxes and trays.
Lornita products may have the company logo (the word “Lornita” with an artist’s palette and brushes) on the back or underside along with the words “Hand Painted.” Both the logo and the words are black, and this was done with stamping devices, so there may be smeared, incomplete or illegible areas on examples found today. The logo also became the basis for a blue and silver foil sticker. A similar oval sticker reads simply “Genuine Milk Glass” with “Lornita” in the center.
The fortunes of the Lornita enterprise collapsed in late 1952 and early 1953, when some employees misappropriated money and concealed debts. The Lornita Glass Corp. was forced to seek legal protection, and the company’s bankruptcy petition for reorganization was filed in the United States District Court in Pittsburgh on March 27, 1953 (Cause No. 22157). Under the laws at the time, the firm had just 90 days to get back on track. However, reorganization proved impossible. When Lornita’s assets were sold at auction on Oct. 9, 1953, the molds went to the John E. Kemple Glass Co. in Kenova, W. Va. When Kemple closed in 1972, the molds were purchased by Wheaton Glass, and many of the molds are now at the Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center in Millville, N.J.
Ironically, a few months after the 1953 auction sale, the glass plant in Guyaux that had been home to the Lornita Glass Corp. was destroyed by fire.