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WISTARBERG OR SOUTH JERSEY-TYPE GLASS
THE story of American glass is an important part of American history. Its emergence from European beginnings into a distinctive American art parallels the industrial and artistic development of the United States.
American glassmaking was guided from its beginnings in the Seventeenth Century by trained craftsmen from Italy, Belgium, Holland, Germany, France, and England, and the traditions and technical practices of European glassmakers were brought to early American glasshouses. Although American glass in time took on characteristics which were distinctly American in expression, the industry continued to be guided throughout the two centuries of progress by these foreign trained artisans and their descendants down to the third generation.
The real history of American glass started in the Eighteenth Century with the glassworks of Caspar Wistar near Allowaystown, Southern New Jersey, in 1739, Caspar Wistar came to Philadelphia in 1717 from Hilspach, a village in the glass section of Germany. After making a success of brass button-making, he started a works for the manufacture of window glass and various kinds of bottle glass. Then, not knowing the business of glassmaking, he sent to Germany for four expert glass blowers who, in return for teaching the art of glassmaking to Wistar and his son, received one third of the profits. In 1752 Caspar Wistar died and his son, Richard, took over the business. He continued to operate the glass works until the Revolution brought on a depression of the glass business which resulted in financial failure in 1780.
In spite of the fact that Wistar is credited such a prominent place in American glass history, and that until the last decade or so all Early American free-blown glass was termed "Wistarberg," it is now established that very few pieces of Wistar glass have actually been authenticated. Also, there is practically no documental evidence as to the kind of glass made by Wistar. A letter of Governor Franklin written in 1768 includes this statement: "A Glass House was erected about twenty years ago in Salem County (New Jersey) which makes Bottles, and a very coarse Green Glass for windows." In 1769 Richard Wistar inserted an advertisement, a part of which is quoted, in the New York Journal or General Advertiser of August 17:
"Made at the Subscriber's Glassworks and now on Hand to be sold at his House in Market Street, opposite the Meal Market, either wholesale or retail, between three and four hundred boxes of Window Glass, consisting of the common sizes, 10 by 12, 9 by 11, 8 by 10, 7 by 9, 6 by 8, etc. Lamps Glass or any uncommon Sizes under 16 by 18, are cut upon a short notice. Where also may be had, most Sorts of Bottles, Gallon, Half Gallon, and Quart, full measure Half Gallon Case Bottles, Snuff and Mustard, Receivers and Retorts of various sizes, also electrifying Globes and Tubes, etc."
In 1708-I78I Jacob Stenger, or Stanger, who had been a workman at Wistar's works, started the second New Jersey glassworks at Glassboro. The products of the Stangers and other South Jersey Eighteenth Century glassworks, whose workmen had been former employees of the Wistar glassworks, were the same in technique, form, color, and decoration as those made at Wistar's Glass Works.The by-products of the individual blowers of these factories followed the Venetian technique of blown glass and produced a type of early American glass that continued being made in the New York, New England, Pennsylvania, and Ohio glasshouses as late as the I870s. Indeed, the old-time blowers and their descendants and apprentices continued in the old techniques, so that many later pieces are indistinguishable in form and technique from similar pieces made a century earlier. It is now conceded by experts that at least 90 per cent of the pieces of early American blown glass in art museums and private collections is of late Eighteenth Century or Nineteenth Century production, and some is as late as 1870- Many of the finest and most interesting pieces of early South Jersey-type glass were blown in small glasshouses of later date. The terms "Early" and "Early American" as applied to American glass are explained in an article in The Magazine Antiques, October, 1926, by George S. McKearin, foremost authority on Early American glass. He says: "When I speak of Early American glass, I refer to type, pattern, decorative technique, and quality of glass, rather than to date. The collector of Americana does not think of the period 1825 to I860 as early and, chronologically, it is not; but in the field of American glass, many of the finest specimens bearing every apparent indication of Eighteenth Century production were blown during the early and mid-Nineteenth Century." Furthermore, the value of early American glass is not determined by the date or the place where it was made, but by the aesthetic qualities such as line, form, color, and beauty of workmanship.
The fundamental character of a large class of American glass is attributed to the influence of the early glasshouses of the Southern New Jersey region. Perhaps a clear definition of the kind of glass made and of the materials from which it was made, as well as an understanding of the process which produced it, will aid in the appreciation and identification of South Jersey-type glass. The basic ingredients for making glass are silica or sand, and alkali such as potash, soda, or lime. Intense heat causes the fusion of the materials. This fusion is aided by the use of bits of old broken glass. Essentially there are three kinds of glass. These are: Green glass or bottle glass which was made of coarse materials together with soda or potash as its principal base; soda glass, usually a clear glass; and lead or flint glass of which the finest wares are made. South Jersey-type glass is made of green glass or bottle glass. It is glass in its natural color, that is, it has not been purified to make it colorless nor is it artificially colored. The natural colors of green glass are an accident of nature caused by the metallic substances in the raw materials. The colors are a variety of greens from light olive to dark green and aquamarine and the various shades of amber from deep golden brown to honey. Bottle glass was the first glass made in America. It was made with potash from wood ashes, and the staple products of the glasshouses that made it were bottles and window glass.
Yet from this crude coarse glass the skilled glass blowers formed the pitchers, sugar bowls, and graceful footed bowls which we prize today. It was the custom in glasshouses to give the blowers the residue glass at the end of the day and, from this left-over glass, blowers from early Roman days down through the Nineteenth Century formed beautiful free-blown or offhand-blown individual pieces. Thus first of all South Jersey technique is individual and, generally speaking, it is related to the sturdy peasant glass of Europe. The workmen were the designers as well as makers of the glass and they formed the pieces as their own skill, taste, and fancy dictated.
At all times the ornamentation was governed by the process, and except for the occasional use of the pattern-mold, South Jerseytype glass is free-blown, and shaped and decorated by manipulation. Much of the skill depends on the ability of the workman to shape and manipulate the hot glass while he blows and rotates the piece. A part of the art also consists in keeping the hot glass at the right degree of temperature and reheating it before it becomes too cool. Every touch must be sure. One mistake and the blower must start again. If the glass gets too cold it must be reheated. If the blower waits too long it will explode. The expert glass blower judges the temperature of the glass by the pliability and also by the color.
The decoration of blown glass is closely related to the process of
forming the article. In fact, the decorative devices used are only those
possible of being executed while the glass is in a plastic state. Thus
we find the same types of decoration on the blown glass of Renaissance
Venice as we do on South Jersey-type glass or any glass made by the
same process today. The ornamentation of this blown glass was applied and
tooled and consists of:
The most distinctive and characteristic type of decoration used on South Jersey-type glass was the lily-pad decoration. There are three varieties of lily-pad. On the first type slender vertical stems terminate in a bead. This is the earliest type and is usually found on Eighteenth Century or early Nineteenth Century pieces. The second type of lily-pad has broader stems and circular or oval pads. It is found on pieces made about I830 and later. The third type has a curved stem ending in a leaf-like pad and is of later Nineteenth Century origin. These decorative motifs were used singly or in combination, and some elaborate pieces have three types of decoration, such as a threaded neck, lily-pad on the body, and a crimped foot. Handles, finials, and feet of free-blown articles are of particular interest. The handles of bowls, pitchers, mugs, and vases are especially decorative. Sometimes they end in a blunt turned end, or the end may turn back in a graceful loop, or it may be manipulated into pinched trailings according to the whim of the glass blower. The knobs or finials of sugar bowls and footed wines sometimes had a solid blob of glass tooled into the form of a bird and are called swan finials.
In the Nineteenth Century, probably about 1830, the use of colored loopings or threads of glass of one or more colors on a body of a different color were used on South Jersey-type glass. Such combinations as aquamarine or amber and opaque white, and red on aquamarine are found. More unusual colorings are deep blue with milk-white loopings, or aquamarine with white, rose, and blue. Loopings of contrasting color are seldom found on glass made in New York glasshouses. The colors of South Jerseytype glass vary with the locality, and the variations are due to the differences in the sand and other native materials used. While generally the colors were the greens and ambers used for bottle glass, artificial colors such as cobalt blue, and late in the Nineteenth Century ruby and opaque white, were used. Amethyst and wine are rare. As we have stated, the colors vary with the locality. For example, in the South Jersey factories light aquamarine of a green or yellow tone and clear sea-greens were made extensively while ambers and blue such as the deep cobalt are less common. The South Jersey-type glass made in New York state is predominantly aquamarine and sea-greens, and amber and olive tones are less frequently found. Blues when used were light and date around the middle of the Nineteenth Century. Amber, olive-yellow, and dark olive-greens and ambers that appear black and are called "black" glass are, however, among some of the finest pieces of New York Nineteenth Century blown glass. They are usually undecorated. The South Jersey technique of decoration was used on many New York free-blown pieces. Feet of pitchers and bowls were crimped and necks of vases and pitchers were threaded, but between I830 and the end of the century the New York glasshouses excelled in the use of the superimposed and tooled lily-pad decoration. Nearly all lily-pad pieces made in New York are aquamarine, but once in a while a delicate blue or clear amber or olive-green or a bright sea-green piece has lily-pad decoration. In most cases the technique of these pieces is finer than the New Jersey lily-pad pieces. Pitchers and bowls of various sizes, both with and without a base, are the articles most often found with lily-pad decoration. New York state glasshouses made compotes and rare handled mugs with lily-pad decoration, and sugar bowls are often found with lily-pad decoration.
Glassmaking started in New York in the Eighteenth Century. Window glass and bottles and naturally some free-blown individual pieces were made at Albany Glass Works beginning in 1785. Between ISoo and 1870 over forty glass houses were established in New York. Of these a good percentage produced individual free-blown decorative and table wares that are classed as South Jersey-type. While the predominating color is aquamarine, colors vary with different localities and glasshouses. Soon after the War of 1812 glasshouses were established in Woodstoch. In 1836 glass blowers from New Jersey were employed at the works in Ellenville, and the individual pieces which they made were of amber, olive-green, and olive-amber bottle glass. They also made "black" glass pieces and the articles included bowls, pitchers, hats, canes, and rolling pins. Two different glasshouses were operated at Sand Lake. The earliest was started in 1806 and stopped operation in 1816. In 1819 another glasshouse opened and the individual pieces blown here include plain bowls, pitchers, and jars in deep green and light green. A glassworks was started in Peterboro in 1809, and by I820 about sixty men were employed. The articles found today are jars, bowls, bottles, dishes, and decanters in pale green.
Another important center of glassmaking in New York was Oneida County. There were three glassworks established in 1809 and 1810. Of these the Mount Vernon Glass Works continued to operate for about forty years, and enough specimens of free-blown glass remain to tell us pretty definitely what kind of glass was made there. Besides free-blown flasks and bottles, they later made historical flasks, such as Success to the Railroad and a LafayetteMasonic flask, and blown three-mold glass. Dark olive-green and olive-amber bottle glass was made at Saratoga Glass Works between 1844 and 1865. Free-blown pieces include sugar bowls in deep amber, and amber and green pitchers, and some articles with lily-pad decoration. When the works was later moved to Congressvi11e, the output was usually a clear deep green or light green and amber, some of it amber-black.
At the glasshouses established in the I83os in northern New York at Redford, Harrisburg, and Redwood, some of the finest lily-pad decorated pieces were made. Bowls, sugar bowls, and pitchers were made in aquamarine glass. The Lockport Glass Works established in 1840 also made lily-pad pieces in artificial blue, aquamarine, and other colors. Pitchers with lily-pad design were made at the Lancaster Glass Works after 1849, usually in aquamarine or a delicate blue.
In 1840 the Cleveland Glass Works was established, and in 1852 a works was established a few miles away at Bernard's Bay. The output of these works was similar and included pitchers of several sizes, washbowls, bottles, pans, hats, rolling pins, canes, etc. They were blown in light green or aquamarine, and some are found in Victorian forms.
Most of the New England glasshouses made plain free-blown articles of South Jersey-type. Threading and lily-pad and other superimposed decoration, however, was rarely used, although lilypad was employed at the Stoddard glasshouse in New Hampshire, at New London, Connecticut, and Burlington, Vermont, and possibly Keene, New Hampshire. In New Hampshire free-blown-glass was blown at Keene, Lyndeboro, Stoddard, Lake Dunmore, and Suncook. In general these factories produced aquamarine,light green, and yellow-green pieces-some with lily-pad designs. "The best-known glasshouses are the factory at Keene and those at Stoddard which were established after 1842. Stoddard is famous for a beautiful blood-amber color, but all types of amber and olive-green were made. Blood-amber was also made at Westford Willington, Connecticut. At Coventry, Connecticut, pitchers and jar were made in amber and olive-green.
The best-known glassworks in Connecticut was the Pitkin Glass which was in operation from 1783 to 1830. This works is well known for its bottles and flasks and other pieces which were in patterned flask molds and expanded. The molds used v iDbed, and the patterns were of vertical, diagonal, and rihbing. The colors used were ambers, from yellow to red and olive-greens. Articles included large carboy jugs, "Ludlow"chestnut bottles, plain jars, inkwells, and Pitkin flasks of various sizes with swirled patterned ribbings. There were also several glasshouses established in Vermont in the Nineteenth Century. Of these the Champlain Glass Company and the Lake Dunmore Glass Works prospered. While the usual run of South Jersey-type free-blown pieces were not made at Sandwich and New England Glass Company houses, such articles as pitchers and covered sugar bowls with superimposed decoration are found, and such fancy articles as banks decorated with loopings and ribbons and applied prunts were made and are among the rare free-blown pieces. One of the richest sources for South Jersey-type glass were the Nineteenth Century glasshouses of Ohio. They made plain free-blown pitchers, bowls, jugs, inkwells, salts, and sugar bowls in amber, olive-greens, and aquamarines.
Besides the general run of articles in free-blown glass there were workman's whimsies which included blown hats of various types, canes, rolling pins, and toys. These were made at all glassworks. Another article common to all bottle glassworks was the witch ball. The English witch ball was a hollow ball of mottled glass which was hung in the cottage window to ward off witches. They were made in the Bristol -lass district of England. Those made in American glasshouses were used as covers for pitchers, jars, and vases and were made in all sizes and in various colors. Pickles and preserve jars were made at most glasshouses, including the Gothic paneled light green pickle jar which has been reproduced today.
The collector of South Jersey-type glass must take pleasure in the artistic values of line, form, and color. Decoration is subordinated to form, and a piece should be judged by its beauty of line and shape, but perhaps the greatest pleasure is to be derived from color. A similarity betwecn the glass of various sections of the country is noted. It is due not only to the identical free-blown technique used at all glassworks, but also to the migration of workmen. Some of the best-known glass blowers actually worked in several different factories, but without exception their descendants or apprentices of the early New Jersey glassworks were the glass blowers in the New York and New England glassworks a few years later, and similar connections existed between the east coast glassworks and those of the Midwest.