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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Glass: Venetian to Stiegel

( Orginally published 1962 )

The world's most valuable example of the glass blower's art is the Portland Vase-a vase which the British Museum refused to sell even when offered fifty thousand dollars for it.

While it is extremely unlikely that the modern treasure hunter would find another Portland vase, still there are other examples of the glass blower's art which the treasure hunter should watch for.

Some of them will be worth only a few dollars, but some of them if they finish out a set or if they are rare examples-can be worth a great deal.

Probably among the best known of the collectors' items-so rare and so valuable that most of the extant examples are in museumsare the glass objects of the Venetians. Venetian glass, as we know it, was made from the eleventh century until it reached its peak in the seventeenth century. There were, of course, other periods of Venetian glass making, but it is to these centuries that we must look for our museum pieces.

The art of glass making was so well regarded in Venice during this period that laws were passed regarding its manufacture. To protect the secrets of the methods which they used, the Venetians moved their entire glass industry onto the island of Murano, where armed guards walked the streets at night to protect the workers.

The workers themselves were executed if they betrayed the secrets of their profession, but if they were loyal to the industry they became prosperous.

Even exportation of the raw materials from which the glass was made was prohibited. Yet, even with all precautions, other nations sent in agents to try to learn the secret of how the fabled Venetian glass was made. It was not considered enough to merely have patrolling guards as protection against these foreign agents. Professional murderers were hired who eliminated the foreign agents, thereby "protecting" the secrets of the glass which today museums all over the world are anxious to have.

Among the most beautiful of the Venetian glass was the so-called "Cristallo" glass, which was very thin and which was twisted into many shapes. It was clear glass although it had a slight grayishness of color. There is also a type of Venetian glass that is white and clear combined and so finely woven that it is called "Lace Glass." Yet, valuable as Venetian glass is, it is far more probable that the first thing the glass hunter will find will be American glass. Among these, if the treasure hunter is lucky enough, will be Wistar glass, Sandwich glass and Amelung glass.

Wistar glass is a "must" on the treasure hunter's list. In regard to the actual finding of Wistar glass, John C. Sheppard, Personnel Department, Glassboro Plant, Glassboro, N.J., says, "Whatever . . . (Wistar glass)... might be in existence would more than likely be in a museum." This does not, however, preclude the possibility that the treasure hunter might find a new and rare piece.

Caspar Wistar was a German button maker from Philadelphia. He imported glass workers from Belgium in the early 1700's and began his glassworks in a settlement called, appropriately enough, "Wistarberg," which was in the county which is now called Salem in New Jersey.

This Wistar factory was the first important glass factory in America. Window and bottle glass are among the important items to look for that were made in Caspar Wistar's factory. Other objects, such as bowls and household glass, were not made in the factory during working hours, but the workmen made these items for their own personal use to take home with them. They made them, supposedly, after working hours, and these, too, are items to watch for.

Caspar Wistar died in 1752. His son Richard carried on his father's business, until the year 1782. But there was another area where Wistar-type glass was made. The art was perpetuated as "Wistar type" glass by several workmen from Caspar Wistar's factory who also worked for themselves in Glassboro, N. J.

In 1781, according to local records, the Stanger Brothers, all four of them, went to Glassboro and opened a factory of their own. However, this factory failed and they sold it to Heston and Carpenter.

Heston and Carpenter sold out in their turn (shortly after 1800) to Ebenezer Whitney, and for over a hundred years the Whitney family made glass in Glassboro. Then they, too, sold out, this time to the Owens Bottle Company, which is still in operation today.

Thus, for over a hundred and fifteen years, Glassboro, New Jersey has produced glass which it is well for the treasure hunter to watch for, remembering of course that it will be the early pieces of this glass that you want.

Glass, either Wistar or "Wistar type" is well worth the time and effort of the vigilant treasure hunter.

Sandwich glass must also be on the treasure hunters' list. Worth from $10 or $15 apiece, every piece of Sandwich glass is worth something; and some pieces of Sandwich glass, if they are rare enough or finish out a collection, can fetch a great deal.

For example, a decanter of an ordinary Sandwich pattern sells for around $40 and a compote might sell for around $100-but find a piece of Sandwich that is rare or that can finish out a collector's set and you might get many times that amount.

Sandwich is a name familiar to all lovers of glassware and should be familiar to all treasure hunters as well, since collectors in all parts of the world desire rare and fine pieces of this glass. Starting about 1825, glass was made in Sandwich, Massachusetts, and they continued to make it there for over fifty years by a process which has now been lost.

Until the 1820's glass was all hand blown, but at about this time Deming Jarvis, together with Enoch Robinson, made several machines which pressed glass by a process which made it possible to press glass into an iron mold and then stamp a pattern on it.

The new machines were so successful that old-fashioned glassmakers who were still trying to make a livelihood by hand-blowing glass became enraged at Deming Jarvis, because by using his machines, pressed glass could be produced at only a fraction of the cost of hand-blown glass.

Afraid that they would kill him, Jarvis hid. Yet, even though he had to hide in fear of his life, Jarvis continued working with his new machines. He was the owner of the Sandwich Glass Company, which became very successful.

Jarvis was ahead of his time in many ways. He was vitally interested in the welfare of his workmen, and he helped them to such an extent that they returned his help by enabling the Sandwich Glass Company to withstand even the depressions of the period.

Although pressed glass was made in many places, it was in Sandwich, Mass., that it found its niche in the world of fine glass-and found its way onto the treasure hunter's list.

The third well known type of American glass desired by collectors is Amelung glass, made in the Amelung Glass Factory, which was established near Frederick, Maryland, in the late 1700's. The factory failed, but the examples of their work-if you can find any of them-will be well worth your time. Some of these pieces of glass made in the Amelung factory were probably the only pieces of early American glass which were inscribed and dated.

There are many types of glass worth watching for. The list is almost endless. Patterned glass of any kind can be valuable. Certain pieces, of course, are very rare and therefore more sought after, like the "Bellflower" patterned cake plates which can be worth $250 apiece. Or the "Horn of Plenty" patterned dishes and cake plates which bring as much as $300 if they are of rare size and shape.

"Thumbprint" patterned punch bowls and compotes, in certain sizes, may be valued as high as $400; "Sandwich Star" patterned compotes can be worth $250; "Blackberry" patterned milk-white water pitchers are sometimes valued at a couple of hundred dollars.

All of them, of course, must be the ones that are the rare shapes, sizes, etc.

Also included among the American types to watch for is Amberina glass, a special type of glass into which gold had been put. The colors are amber, yellow and red, and the pieces were made during the nineteenth century in Massachusetts.

Peach Bloom glass, also made in Massachusetts during the same period, is another type to watch for. There are also examples of glass upon which are pressed scenes of historical interest, and these are of especial interest to American collectors. Examples of authentic milk glass are also highly prized-although there are so many reproductions of milk glass that what you do find will probably be merely another reproduction. Yet there is always the chance that you have found an authentic piece-and if you have, it belongs in the hands of the collectors.

There are also in America many types of European glassshipped here as gifts, wedding presents, etc., or sometimes even for the commercial market-which are worth your time and effort. These would include the fabulous Bohemian glass of the 1500's; English crystal glass of the late 1600's; and the smoky blue glass of Waterford, Ireland, which was produced for over a century.

The list of types of glass to watch for is endless, and any piece of glass, if it is old enough, rare enough, and beautiful enough, should be investigated by the treasure hunter.

The pastor of the little church steps down from the pulpit and hands one red rose-the year's annual rent-to the descendant of the Lord of the Manor. Feudal times? Europe in the Middle Ages? No! For the time is now and the place is a little town in Pennsylvania.

It is a strange thing to happen in our days, in our country, but it is so. It is the strange story which begins with two words: Glass and Stiegell

The words Stiegel and glass are synonymous with treasured glass -and the treasure hunter will do well to remember it. If he has what he thinks might be a piece of Stiegel ware I might suggest, as a reference, the book Stiegel Glass by William Hunter, with introduction and notes by Helen McKearin, 1950, New York, Dover Publications, Inc. This book may be used by the treasure hunter to familiarize himself with Stiegel ware as he searches for it, and to check what he has found against known items of Stiegel's.

One thing which the treasure hunter will soon discover is that there are certain colors which are of more value than other, more common, shades of Stiegel glass. Cobalt blue and amethyst are the two colors to especially look for, because these are the most unique.

Any example of Stiegel glass, however, is worth something to the treasure hunter. Stiegel glass of any kind is a rare find. There is, however, one pitfall open to the Stiegel hunter: there were many "Stiegel types" of glassware made both here and abroad.

But there are many authentic Stiegel items to watch for. He made many types and kinds of glass objects, from bottles, jugs, and salt cellars, to mustard pots, decanters and tumblers, and even window glass.

When searching for this glassware, it is also important to remember the age of the glass. The Stiegel glassworks were open from 1763 to 1774, making any glassware made in this factory very old by American standards.

Very old-and very fine-for Heinrich Wilhelm Stiegel did nothing halfway. In his factory he employed the very best of foreign workmen, and he also did something which was unheard of in that day. For his workmen he built a whole town-and for their education and happiness he built a church.

He called his little town Manheim. Today, Manheim, Pa., remembers Stiegel as one of its earliest and most illustrious citizens. The town remembers Stiegel as a man who lived in his own way-a way which harked back to feudal times. Manheim remembers Stiegel as the man who rode in fabulous coaches and lived like the oldtime nobility. It remembers him as a man who loved riches and fine and expensive things.

He called himself Baron Stiegel. Today, no one knows for sure whether the title was authentic, but Stiegel certainly lived like a Baron.

It is known definitely that he was born in Germany and that he came to America as a very young man, arriving in Philadelphia in 1750. Very little else is known about him. We do know, however, that he became famous and wealthy, and that he loved his wealth, and that he spent money so lavishly that his extravagances eventually broke him.

He lost everything, and he died a forgotten man. Even his grave was not considered important enough to remember.

By the time the people of Manheim awoke to the fact that one of their most illustrious citizens had died-and that he should be remembered by them-it was too late, and his grave has not been located to this day.

Even though Manheim forgot Stiegel as he lay dying, Stiegel remembered Manheim. As one of his last acts he willed a parcel of ground he owned in Manheim to the congregation of the Zion Lutheran Church. This was the little church that Stiegel himself had named.

Today Manheim-belatedly-remembers Stiegel in a ceremony which is known as the "Feast of the Roses," held on the first Sunday of June every year. One red rose is handed, by the pastor of the church, to a descendant of the "Baron" Stiegel.

This red rose is the year's rent for the use of the lot which Stiegel willed to the church. This annual payment of a rose was stipulated in the will which Stiegel himself had made in that grand and feudal manner which he loved so well.

Yet even without his "Feast of the Roses" Stiegel would be remembered as long as collectors search for specimens of fine and treasured glass.

The treasure hunter will do well to remember him, too.