Flowers are synonymous with Victorians who could never have too many bouquets. While many of their arrangements were large and showy, Victorians were also attracted to smaller bunches of flowers placed in glass basket vases. When not being used for flowers, baskets were considered perfectly acceptable standing empty, adorning table tops.
It is the Victorian period and early 1900s during which baskets flourished in America.
Glass baskets can be thought of as receptacles made of glass, with or without a handle. Or you can think of them as party dresses for flower arrangements. Some are frilly, with ruffles along the top or bottom. Others are streamlined with simple lines. Some styles are quite playful with their dots, swirls, or stripes. One example might glimmer; another might not shimmer at all. Colors can range from subdued and dignified to wild and bold. While pastels suit some personalities, others lean towards darker shades.
Fortunately, many can be purchased quite inexpensively, enabling admirers to more easily spring for them. But there is no reason to become a basket case in pursuit of these collectibles. Regardless of budget or taste, there are many waiting to be toted away … whether you want to limit yourself to just baskets or incorporate them into other glass collectibles.
Most tableware companies included baskets in their lines. Tom and Neila Bredehoft wrote in Fifty Years of Collectible Glass, 1920-1970, “The ability to press a basket with a handle attached required expert innovation by mold makers. Duncan and Miller was able to patent its method of doing this, and most companies followed with pressed handled baskets of their own.”
Some enthusiasts are interested in baskets produced by a particular manufacturer. Kathy Files, a member of the Great Plains Heisey Club, collects glass made by the A.H. Heisey Company. Although she doesn’t restrict her collection to just baskets, Files has a fondness for them and has gathered over 50. Most Heisey baskets are found in crystal, but some were made during their color period. Flamingo and Moongleam are the easiest Heisey colors to locate.
While Files has specialized in Heisey, others seek out baskets from such companies as Fostoria; Imperial Glass Company; Cambridge Glass; American Glass; Fenton Glass Company; Hobbs, Brockunier and Company; or Duncan and Miller.
Those beginning a collection might check out Fenton glass. If one item would symbolize the Fenton Glass Company, it would be baskets. Their first handled vessels were made in 1939 and 68 years of basket-production followed.
During the 19th century, many a child was entertained with a nursery rhyme which began, “A tisket, a tasket, a green and yellow basket.” However, collectors aren’t limited to green and yellow baskets. Open any book about this topic and you will be mesmerized by the rainbow of colors stemming from the late 1880s and continuing well into the 20th century.
Color is certainly one collecting category. Some choose to gather all sorts of glass items, including baskets, in their favorite color. Others have eyes only for baskets.
Do you wander towards cranberry, ruby or a more timid pink? If you’re drawn to blue, perhaps you’ll choose cobalt, sapphire, or pastel blue. Maybe you lean towards violet and purple. There’s also black, but there’s nothing basic about it. Manganese and powdered charcoal were added ingredients for making black glass. Many items considered black are actually purple or green, made extremely dark from extra manganese. Maybe you don’t want any color at all, choosing instead to collect clear pressed glass baskets.
If you are dazzled by crystal of the American Brilliant Period (ABP), study closely to ascertain it’s genuine, circa 1880-WWI . Newer glass has ridges (from diamond wheels) and its teeth have sharp points; ABP has blunted teeth and no ridges. Authentic ABP handles were applied to the body, unlike one piece helmet-shaped reproduction baskets.
Opalescent glass is a category of baskets worth checking out. Enthusiasts of this glass, especially of items from the period 1880-1930, rank in the thousands and blown opalescent is their all-time favorite. Cranberry opalescent is the leader of the pack, but there are other choices nipping at its heels. In Standard Encyclopedia of Opalescent Glass, Bill Edwards and Mike Carwile wrote how this unique glass was made when two layers of glass, one colored and one clear, had been fused so the clear areas become milky when fired a second or third time. The clear layer is pressed “so that the second firing gives this opal milkyness to the outer edges.” Look for baskets with good milky opalescence. Edwards and Carwile believe that the opalescent glass produced by Duncan and Miller “most impresses collectors today.”
Glass basket collectors often hone in on specific patterns, and there are many. Perhaps a special aunt favored Fostoria; your quest may be to acquire her pattern. First Love, the most recognized of Duncan and Miller’s etchings, might touch a heart string. Collectors with names of Cleo, Diane, Elaine, Gloria, or Janice can let their baskets introduce themselves.
If Rose Point by Cambridge Glass attracts you, Gene Florence (Elegant Glassware of the Depression Era) suggests also looking at their Daffodil pattern. If daffodils don’t appeal, you might gather a bunch of their Wildflowers. Pick Heisey Orchids though and you’ll need to dig deep into your wallet.
Those most excited about fun designs will appreciate the parrots on Tiffin Glass Company’s Jungle Assortment. “You do not find this [pattern] every day,” wrote Florence, telling of “the difficulty over the years keeping those parrots from flying off their perches.”
The reason for a pattern’s appeal can be as varied as the availability. But more often than not, it boils down to this: You just like it.
How about Goofus glass baskets? The years roughly between 1897-1925 was the peak production period for when companies were creating Goofus glass by applying paint to already completed pieces of pressed glass (rather than firing it on). In his essay Goofus Glass: That Beautiful Old Stuff, G. David Ballentine speculated that blanks were purchased from manufacturers, then “gussied up by decorating houses for resale.” According to Ballentine, Goofus glass was originally marketed with such as names as Egyptian Art or Golden Oriental. “Somewhere along the way, however, its glamorous reputation became tarnished.” (Undoubtedly when the paint started coming off.) Decades later, Goofus glass has people eagerly searching for what Ballentine describes as “a real piece of Americana if there ever was one.”
Turn to Crackle Glass from Around the World, by Stan and Arlene Weitman, if your basket collection isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Add some pieces created by glass blowers who intentionally made their glass fracture by plunging the hot glass into cold water, then quickly pulling it out. Reheating afterwards sealed the cracks. This process might have been done before the desired shape was blown or afterwards. To make cracks finer, the piece was rolled in sawdust before being plunged into water. Carbon formed by the sawdust protected the glass from deeper cracks. Pieces with large fissures are of equal value to the finer crackled ones. Crackle glass was first created by Venetian glass blowers as far back as the 16th century. It reappeared in the late 1800s and early 1900s when the process was copied by Bohemian glass makers. (Look for Moser’s beautifully hand-painted, crackled glass.) Between 1930-1970, there was a lot of glass being crackled in the United States, with over 500 companies producing it during this period.
If the above stimulates interest, also seek out overshot glass baskets. To make overshot, the gob of hot glass was rolled onto finely ground shards of glass, then blown into the desired shape. Another way of production was to blow the desired shape, then roll it onto shards. Pieces made by the latter method are often sharp to the touch. Frequently overshot glass was also crackled, but those are two different creation processes.
Baskets of Milk glass and Custard glass may sound good, but how about Vaseline? Observe Vaseline glass glow under a black light to understand why many collectors acquire a taste for this transparent glass made with uranium, which is what gives it its green fluorescent color under UV light.
Most manufacturers made baskets in graduated sizes from those of a couple inches to the larger of more than a foot. Enthusiasts often collect just miniatures of different companies, patterns, and/or colors.
Glass baskets have an ageless popularity, so are still being made. If you desire antique, do your research to confirm the piece you’re acquiring isn’t new.
Also when buying, keep in mind there are different methods for measuring baskets. Some manufacturers measured from rim to rim, others from base to rim. Some people measure from base to top of handle. If not purchasing in person, inquire how the basket’s size was determined.
Glass baskets have been made in all types of glass, in all kinds of shapes, and with all sorts of embellishments. With so many choices, making a decision about which to collect need not be overwhelming … once you have a handle on all the delightful possibilities.
Check out those handles!
A basket with a “stuck handle” has a handle which was applied after the piece was mold-blown. The handle was “stuck on” while the glass was still hot, then left to cool freely in ambient air. It was not annealed. According to Glass A to Z, by David J. Shotwell, the annealing process is where glass is heated to a temperature just below the point where flowing begins, then held at that point until it has reached that temperature throughout. It is then cooled slowly. Shotwell finds handles applied by the latter method suffer less stress. The areas where handles have been joined should be carefully examined for cracks before purchasing.