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American Glass Giants

Three giants took the sand and forests of early America and founded a giant business, looking first to windows for our houses and bottles for our medicines and liquors, but adding household glass for their womenfolk.

Caspar Wistar, colonist, challenged the laws of England which forbade American glass making, and he fused the wood ashes and sands of New Jersey into the "South Jersey Tradition" in glassware. William Stiegel, self appointed baron, turned from his iron stove plates to challenge the fine glass of the old world and give "Stiegel type" glass to America. And Deming Jarves, Yankee tycoon, mechanized glass making, set up large scale production, and challenged the world's markets with his Sandwich glass.

Not that these giants made our first glass. Jamestown had its glass makers, and other furnaces were started. But the glass house of Heidelber•g-born Caspar Wistar, in the wooded land of South Jersey, sold tax free glass to America for forty years.

Wistar's sand was not cleared of its impurities. His molten glass was not cooked long enough to boil out all the bubbles. The color, tinged with iron and other minerals in the materials, ran from lightest aquamarine through olive to deep amber. But the window glass and bottles were sturdy if not crystal clear.


Tradition gave the leavings in the pot to the glass blowers. So the Wistar men of America's South Jersey amused themselves by blowing and shaping wine glasses, bowls, pitchers and vases. They trimmed them with "self material" in self colors, or with opaque white, blue, or red.

Prunts (little blobs of glass) sometimes leaf-shaped, were stuck on the hot vessel. Self or bright colored glass "threads" or the wider "ribbons" were trailed around neck, base, or even body. These were sometimes dragged into zigzag patterns or pinched into diamonds, or made into other designs. Stems, feet, or rims of different color often trimmed the vessels. Overlaying the bubble then whirling it, gave a swagged, wave, or lily pad decoration.

Some glasses leaned a little on their stems. Bowls stood slightly awry. The sizable handles were not always identical twins. Bottles bulged in spots. The glass itself had bubbles and sand flecks. But this glass was valued in Colonial homes and today is treasured for the very hand-made frailties caught in the fabric of its being. This is South Jersey Tradition in American glass.


Cologne born Wilhelm Stiegel who turned baron in America and maintained a fabulous mansion and fabulous ambitions for his Manheim glass house, promoted fine table glass in this country. His imported workers are credited with continuing fine "Stiegel type" glass after his passing.

They made flint (lead) and soda lime glass, both crystal and colored including red, amethyst to purple, light emerald to smoky green, and aquamarine. Stiegel's other blues ranged from his favorite sapphire to royal blue, and a blue between lapis lazuli and indigo.

His glass men blew and molded many designs among which are Stiegel's own invented patterns of "four small diamonds within a large one," the "diamond and daisy," and the "daisy in hexagon" and "in square." Quilted, ribbed, and molded or sunken panels were standard Stiegel. His two pound size, six panel tea caddy bottles, engraved or enameled, with pewter rimmed mouths and stoppers, have great charm.

Much of the Stiegel glass had tiny bubbles through it. Many a wine cup sat askew, and pitchers and bowls leaned. The handles seemed a little uncertain at the curves. Forms and flowers varied to the tastes of his imported German, Italian, Irish, or Bristol glass men. But his four German 2namelers must have been his heart's delight, for they exceeded their mother country in the bright colors of their enameled decorations including their cheerful sunflowers, their doves, birds, tulips, and their towering steepled. castles.

His engraved crystal-not so fine some say as America's Amelung's -frequently carried the beloved tulip either upright or on its side, in opening bud or in full bloom. Flowering hearts with facing birds perched on each upper lobe, diamond and lattice filled lozenge, vine and grape, and steepled castle, all took shape under the copper wheel on Stiegel's flips, goblets and pitchers. Stems were "drawn out" or stuck on, and the little knob of the latter in the bottom of a wine glass is a pleasant decorative touch.


When Baron Stiegel failed, his glass artists scattered. Maybe some went to the Ohio river valley. Tradition indicates Pittsburg's "Page and Bakewell" made the first crystal chandeliers and first cut glass in America. Other glass houses in West Virginia and Indiana helped supply the West moving settlers with windows and bottles. The Midwest tradition of fine cut, fine pressed, and fine colored glass flourished.

Deming Jarves, the third glass giant, with his Boston and Sandwich glass, used Cape Cod wood and New Jersey's or Massachusetts' (Berkshire) sand for his pressed and lacy, or fine flint glass. It was straight on its stems, true in line, and rich in perfected engraving, etching, cutting, enameling, and color work done in fancy stripes, in thousand flowers, and in gold ruby.

Using the new Robinson invention for pressed pattern glass, the molten "metal" was ladled into the mold then pressed with a plunger. Sometimes the metal did not get into all the crannies and had a rough finish. Fire polishing, a slight, heating, smoothed down the rough edges thus giving a higher luster.

Elaboration of pattern gave a stippled, frosty, beaded or lacy surface and the name "lacy glass" stuck to it. Cup plates, salts, lamp bases and shades, clear and colored candlesticks with baluster or dolphin bases -you name it, they made it. From here came many a "vaseline" candlestick though Deming Jarves would likely have called it "canary yellow."


William Leighton of West Virginia developed a new lime glass brilliant, inexpensive, yet beautifying still more the lacy glass and pattern glass. Nicholas Lutz. Frenchman, did Sandwich proud with his color work "in the Italian manner," such as his "striped" glass with colored glass rods swirled into a rib effect. Pressed patterns included geometric, florals, fruits, and historical designs, in both the usual dishes and in the novelties such as slippers and hats, animals and birds, and the hen or duck on the nest-which often held the family candy.

Peachblow's triplets-smoky pink top to blue white base; red rose top to white base, usually satin finish; red rose top to yellow base, white cased, glossy or satin finishwere favorites. So were cranberry glass, milk white glass, and ruby glass. Satin glass came from dipping it into hydrofluoric acid which ate into and dulled the surface.

Amberina with its morsel of gold, kept its feet cold and they stayed amber, but its top was heated a second time, turning it to ruby due to its gold content. Moonstone, made possibly with barium, was an icy, silvery glass. Louis Tiffany's floral elaborations in crystal and his Favrile-metallic lustered and iridescent-are famous.

Recent massive glass with its deep cut designs either stone polished with gray finish, or smooth polished with high transparency, have charm. Simplified lines of cutting and engraving now flow with the shape of the piece. Much modern engraved glass runs to figured and pictorial designs, with mythological and human figures, animals and stylized vegetation adapted to the glass form.

One modern type of coloring is done with powdered, colored glass in oil. It is painted on molded glass. The whoie is then fired to fuse on the colored glass, producing a soft and lovely rose, amber or blue glass piece.

Museums give the protection of fine jewels to the glass of our early days, as well as to our modern colored, bubbled, plain, cut, engraved, or etched glass-either the massive or petal thin. For both, whether as family heirlooms or modern collections, record the history of our nation caught fast in the glass art of a vital, growing country.

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