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Stiegel and Stiegel-Type Glass

THE MAN whose name has long been synonymous with fine antique glass was born in 1729 at Cologne, one of the oldest German glass centers. When he was twenty-one he sailed for America, landed in Philadelphia, settled in Lancaster County, and by 1752 had married Elizabeth, daughter of Jacob Huber, a prosperous iron founder with whom he went into business.

It was a profitable venture and had Henry William Stiegel been content to make stove plates, he could have died wealthy and been completely forgotten. But he elected to make glass, American glass that could compete with the best of English and Continental wares then being imported into the colonies. His glass-making career began in 1763, lasted eleven years during which he built and managed three glass factories, employed over a hundred and thirty men, advertised widely, and had distributors in New York, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Eastern Pennsylvania.

His largest glass houses were in Manheim for which he traveled to Europe to obtain skilled workmen. As a result, his products equaled the best imported glassware. Nevertheless, the business failed in 1774 and he died ten years later in obscurity and poverty.

Stiegel is remembered today as the first American glass maker to produce fine tableware and decorative items commercially. He made three types of blown glass: colored with quilting, clear with enameled decoration in colors, and clear with wheel-etched decoration. This last appeared on flip glasses and similar articles.

Gradually, after his failure, his workmen gravitated to other glass houses in New York, New England, the Pittsburgh area, and the several factories of the Ohio Valley, taking with them the Stiegel tradition of color, texture, and beautiful shape in fine blown glass. Long after Stiegel's death, Stiegel-type glass continued to be made at these factories by his workmen and their apprentices. Much of the glass was made in the Middle West, probably at Zanesville, Ohio, about 1800 or later. Some Stiegel-type glass was still being produced as late as 1840.

It is very difficult to distinguish pieces actually made at Manheim from those produced elsewhere in the Stiegel tradition. Also, during the years of the Manheim venture, a considerable amount of fine European glass, like that made by Stiegel, was shipped to America. Consequently, even experts find it safer to use the term, "Stiegel-type" for this glass. Incidentally some fine glass is now being made at Corning, New York, that is of the Stiegel spirit though it of course lacks the irregularities found in examples of the old glass.

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