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( Originally Published 1963 )
Pressed glass bread trays with patriotic decoration were probably first exhibited at the Centennial Exposition. They also were given as premiums at grocery stores and bakeries. (The Centennial with Eagle bread tray that I own was prized by my grandmother all her life, and I remember her saying that it had been a premium from the general store in a small Pennsylvania town.) Other pieces of pressed glass and particularly some of the colored glass and novelty pieces were premiums too. The fact that they were, does not lessen their value today if they are authentic nineteenth-century pieces.
The ten most popular pressed glass patterns, according to a consensus of experts, are Bellflower, Wildflower, Rose in Snow, Daisy and Button, opaque or milk-white Blackberry, Horn of Plenty, Thousand Eye, Westward Ho, Lion, and Three Face. Authentic nineteenthcentury pieces of any of these patterns sell for premium prices.
A Bellflower mug with a clear glass applied handle may bring $30; a Horn of Plenty mug $35, because this pattern was made for a shorter period and hence the mugs are fewer. Mugs were not included in the sets of all ten most popular patterns. Goblets were. At the present time, the least expensive goblet is Daisy and Button, which will bring not more than $5. Wildflower and Bellflower goblets are worth about $8 each, and Thousand Eye at least that much. A Rose in Snow goblet is reasonably priced at $12, whereas a Horn of Plenty or Lion goblet can be sold for as much as $17.50. A milkwhite Blackberry goblet is worth all of 520, and one in Westward Ho or Three Face may bring $25 or a little more. These prices, with the exception of Blackberry, refer to goblets in clear glass. Those in color bring somewhat higher prices.
One drawback to finding a piece in any of the ten most popular patterns is the fact that it may well be a reproduction made only last year or 25 to 35 years ago. Daisy and Button, Wildflower, Moon and Star, and any number of old patterns are being made today. In fact, goblets have been reproduced in nine of the ten most popular patterns, the only exception being Bellflower. Some of these current copies are produced from original molds-or so they are advertised; others are outright, cheap reproductions. The quality is not comparable to that of pieces made 100 years ago in the same pattern.
A ring, clear and musical as a bell, when glass is struck with a knife or the finger is no more proof of nineteenthcentury glass than it is of Sandwich glass. The clear ring does mean that the glass is made of good quality metal. Thin blown glass has the clearest ring, but pressed glass of good quality gives a musical ring too. Goblets, tumblers, sauce dishes, and other round pieces give a more musical ring than flat dishes. Colors usually will not ring quite as true as clear glass. The belllike sound is most likely to be heard from old patterns such as Argus, Petal and Loop, and Huber.
It takes considerable knowledge and familiarity to tell the quality of glass and to recognize characteristics of authentic antique pressed glass. There is great variation among different patterns and different decades of the nineteenth century. Colored pressed glass often is not of quite as good quality but it does appeal to collectors. Not all nineteenth-century glass is of the finest quality and there is surely a difference between pressed glass made in the 1850's and that made in the 1950's.
A square plate and goblet in Wildflower pattern, one o f the most popular among collectors; these pieces are being reproduced. The example shown is clear glass, but the pattern was made in light and dark amber, yellow, blue, and apple-green
The dimensions of the goblet, sugar and creamer, or other pieces and. the details of the pattern are the differences that are easiest to spot. The stem of a goblet may be shorter, compotes and covered dishes smaller, tumblers wider.
Nineteenth-century pressed glass looks different and feels different. Run a finger over stippling on a known piece of old glass and note how sharply defined it is. On a reproduction, stippling is blurred. Molded or raised motifs such as faces or grapes and other fruits were in higher relief and more rounded in old glass. On reproductions, they can be almost flat.
Reproductions, more often than not, are made in more colors than the originals. Furthermore, the colors are not always true to the old ones. Clear glass in reproductions can be quite different -it may be dull, dead, or gray-looking or have a tint. The quality of the glass can be a giveaway even when old molds are used.
Patterns seldom display fine details in reproductions. For example, the veining of leaves, the hair on deer and lions, and similar delicate markings are likely to be indistinct. Some details may be missing entirely-a tendril on a reproduction of Paneled Grape, for example. Frosting may be more restricted on such frosted and clear patterns as Westward Ho and Lion. Designs often are altered or simplified in reproductions. In the popular Wildflower, a reproduction has fewer leaves and flowers than an original nineteenth-century piece in this pattern.
Few of the old patterns that are being reproduced at present are being manufactured in complete sets for the table. Copies usually are limited to the more popular and currently useful piecesgoblets, salts, sugar and creamer, small plates in the sizes for dessert and salad, and small compotes are the most likely pieces. Lacy glass of a sort also is being made in salts, sugar and creamers, and candleholders.
The spoonholder or spooner, as it was called, was a part of most sets of pressed glass made during the 1800's. Since the piece is no longer indispensable on tables, it has not been reproduced. That was why one beginner who wanted to learn about pressed glass started thirty years ago to buy only spoonholders. Her collection has grown until it consists of more than 400 spooners. Most of them are clear glass, in an amazing range of wellknown and generally unfamiliar patterns, although a few are custard glass and art glass.
Toy sets, incidentally, are not necessarily reproductions. These miniatures of the four pieces that made up a table set-butter dish, sugar bowl, creamer, and spooner-were made in some of the best-liked patterns and were first popular at the time of the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.
When a person has found a piece of pressed glass and dusted or washed it carefully so that the design can be seen clearly, the first important step is identifying the pattern. A person in your town who collects pressed glass or an antique dealer who specializes in it may be willing to identify the piece for you. If not, the library surely will have some books on the subject. When you are quite certain about the pattern, find out as much about it as possible and make all comparisons and tests to decide whether or not the piece was made during the 1800's. It is always helpful to compare a piece you have found with another authenticated piece in the same pattern to be sure that the general characteristics match.
Because so many patterns were made, chances are that you will not find pressed glass in one of the ten most popular patterns. This group does not necessarily include the best of all the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pressed glass patterns. Each one of the ten simply has something a little extra in the combination of motifs, such as the stippled background for a clear glass, open rose in Rose in Snow, the classic form of Horn of Plenty, the quaintness of Daisy and Button, the simplicity of Thousand Eye. Whatever it is, all of these patterns have an indefinable something that appeals to many people.
Horn of Plenty was an excellent glass that was made in quantity for many years, but it is still expensive because collectors are so interested in this pattern. The name came from the shape of the alternating panels combining sawtooth and a clear section with a bull's-eye. A person not too familiar with pressed glass might well confuse a later pattern, Dickinson, with Horn of Plenty. Actually, the two were quite different, and it's only at first glance that they could be confused. Pieces of Dickinson were circled with a curved panel of sawtooth and a similarly shaped clear panel with a thumbprint that was an elongated oval in comparison with the round bull's-eye of Horn of Plenty. Dickinson sells for about a third as much as a comparable piece of Horn of Plenty.
The quality of glass appears to have nothing to do with popularity. Some of the top ten were made of excellentquality glass. Some examples of Bellflower, which was made by many firms for so many years, are better-quality glass than others. Daisy and Button seldom was made in anything but average glass, and some of it was quite poor. In this century, all pieces of pressed glass are salable, regardless of quality or general popularity.
Many of the simpler early patterns are fully as valuable as any pieces in the ten most popular patterns, although they do not sell for as much because the demand is not as great. Some of these early patterns arc distinguished not only by their simplicity but also by the high quality of the glass. Ashburton and Argus, for example, are early enough to be flint glass. A person need not be embarrassed to ask $7.50 for an Ashburton goblet and $10 for one in Argus pattern. Waffle, a pattern first made by the Sandwich factory, can be sold for as much as an Argus goblet, and one in Waffle and Thumbprint pattern, which is clear, brilliant glass and not as plentiful, for $10.50.
There. is much less demand for Prism and Flute, which also is heavy, clear, and brilliant pressed glass, so it would be difficult to get $5 for a goblet in this pattern-probably $4 would be about right.
Any of the several Dewdrop patterns as well as the Ribbon ones made between 1860 and 1890 are not only attractive but also good quality. In clear glass, a goblet in Dewdrop with Star or one in sparkling 101 is worth about $6.50, a plain Dewdrop about $5. A goblet in Clear Ribbon might sell for a little more than $5, whereas one in Frosted Ribbon or Double Ribbon is worth $7.50. Of the frosted and clear group, Roman Key and Frosted Circle are as good quality as the much more popular Westward Ho, Lion, and Three Face. Again, demand rather than quality sets the selling price, and so probably it would be difficult to obtain more than $10 for a Roman Key goblet or quite that much for one in Frosted Circle. Yet a goblet in Lion, Westward Ho, or Three Face often is sold for $18 to $25 (Lion is least expensive).
Of the later conventional patterns, Marquisette, Herringbone, and Feather arc more than run-of-the-mill. Yet $5 undoubtedly would be maximum price for a clear goblet of Marquisette or Herringbone. For a goblet in Feather pattern, which is somewhat better known, it might be possible to get $6.50 to $7.50. All of the fruit patterns are desirable ones, yet goblets in Cherry and Gooseberry sell for half to onethird as much as Blackberry. Flower patterns vary as much in quality as design, which extends from the naturalistic Bleeding Heart of not especially good-quality glass ($5 or so for a goblet) to the more formally arranged Paneled Daisy (goblet perhaps $10) and Paneled Thistle (goblet $7.50), both of them sparkling patterns.
A few pressed glass patterns are amusing. If you find a sauce dish in Cabbage Leaf, any youngster in the family will probably want to eat from it because the sides have been pressed to look like cabbage leaves and the base displays a rabbit's head. A butter dish in Cabbage Leaf-and other covered dishes-has as a knob a rabbit's head that emerges from the leaves that form the cover. A sauce dish has a market value of about $5, a covered butter dish between $20 and $25. It's easy to guess the name of the pattern, if you stumble on a large plate or round tray of Currier & Ives pattern, for the center supposedly reproduces a Currier & Ives comic print. Either piece would be worth about $10. Incidentally, Currier & Ives pattern originated with the Bellaire Glass Company, Findlay, Ohio.
The prices that have been quoted are for pressed glass in perfect condition. It's not uncommon to find a piece with a nick or a crack, or a compote or butter dish without its cover. Imperfect and incomplete pieces can be sold, in many cases almost as rapidly as a fine example. Of course, allowance should be made in setting the price.
No one should expect that pressed glass can be sold at a country auction for prices comparable to those in antique shops, particularly in city shops. And there is great variation in price for the same piece of glass in different parts of the country. A Cardinal Bird pitcher that is good, if not superior, glass sold at an auction in New Hampshire for $3 and was resold in Connecticut for $4.50. Another Cardinal Bird pitcher in a New York City antique shop that specializes in pressed glass was priced at $16. Admittedly, the New York City price seems high, and the New Hampshire auction price low, for a pitcher in excellent condition. A fair appraisal would probably set the price at about $10, for the pitcher is 5 1/4 inches high and 3 inches across, and shows a cardinal in two different poses. Obviously, there are a few locales where it would be possible to sell this pitcher for its appraised price or a little higher, but in most parts of the country it would have to be sold for less.
Where it is being sold is only one factor that influences variation in price in all kinds of pressed glass. This is as true of milk-white and colored glass as it is of clear. Both milk-white and colored pieces are more expensive than clear ones in the same pattern.
Colored glass is in great demand everywhere. However, interest is not quite as high in cranberry glass as it was fifteen years or so ago, and prices have dropped somewhat. Still, an authentic cranberry glass pitcher with painted or enamel decoration can be sold for about $25. It is especially important to be certain that cranberry glass is not of recent manufacture, either in this country or abroad, and that pieces in other colors are nineteenth-century examples and not reproductions.
In a pressed glass pattern that was made in one or more colors as well as clear, the latter is least expensive. In Pointed Hobnail pattern, for example, a clear goblet can be sold for $5 to $8.50, an amber one for $10 to $12.50, a blue one for about $15, and a green one for as much as $17.50. Green sells for a higher price than any other color. Vaseline glass also can be priced a little higher than clear glass pieces of the same pattern. Usually vaseline can be sold for about the same amount as amber or yellow, which are quite different. (Daisy and Button, Thousand Eye, Maple Leaf, and Primrose arc among the patterns made in vaseline glass.)
A few patterns, among which Blackberry, Strawberry, Gooseberry, Cherry, Waffle, Princess Feather, and Sawtooth probably are best known, were made in milk-white as well as clear glass. In each case, the milk-white piece usually sells for considerably more. In Icicle, a less-well-known pattern, a clear creamer may be sold for $5, the milkwhite one for $12.50 to $15. A sauce dish of clear Icicle probably will not bring more than $3, one of milk-white glass more than $4.50.
Odd pieces of milk-white or opaque colored glass bring satisfactory prices. That is, if they obviously were made during the 1800's, are complete, and have no nicks or cracks. A milk-white glass dish, 5 inches long, with the cover pressed in the form of a duck, may be priced fairly at $20, one of the same size with a hen cover at about $12, and with a rabbit about $15. A compote with a lace edge and a high standard certainly should bring close to $35. Milk-white bowls with lacy or lattice edges sell now for much more than their otiginal price. One 8 1/2 inches wide with lattice edge is worth about $20; plates with lattice edges, $5 to $10.
Collecting nineteenth-century pressed glass became a popular hobby in the 1920's. Certainly the people who started then or in the 1930's, aiming to get together a complete table set in one pattern, had a better chance of achieving their goal than those who start in the 1960's. Or, at least, of doing so for a modest cash expenditure. Collectors of the 1920's and 1930's bought pressed glass for much less than it can be purchased for now. Thus their pieces have proved to be a good investment, for they have increased greatly in market value. Even at today's prices, pressed glass is a good investment if the purchaser is careful to buy only pieces made during the 1800's. And collecting is not a hobby only for the wealthy. The collector who chooses his goal wisely and searches widely should find it possible to buy many pieces of some patterns of excellent pressed glass for a couple of dollars each. Many flower patterns, for example, are not only less expensive than Bellflower but easier to find.
Small pieces in both colored and clear glass appeal to collectors because a good many can be displayed in a limited space. Thus, if you find no more than one or two salt dishes, a mug, and a spooner in different patterns in an old cupboard or sideboard, this small haul of clear glass has a cash potential of not less than $10, and perhaps considerably more. To be sure of not cheating yourself or the buyer to whom you sell, it is desirable to identify the pattern of each piece. Clear glass salt dishes have a market value ranging from $1 to $9 each. Few spooners and mugs sell for less than $3.50 each, and some patterns bring two and three times as much.
If you are intent upon selling every old article in a house that must be cleared out, then it's a good idea not to become overly curious about any pressed glass that you find. Anyone who delves deeply enough may decide to keep rather than sell, and his finds may turn out to be the nucleus of a collection. Nineteenth-century pressed glass may have been looked down on by Victorians in the beginning as cheap stuff. That they soon changed their minds is evident from the quantities that were produced by 1900. Maybe the sparkling lacy glass first made by the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company was responsible, or perhaps it was the premiums given by stores, or the exhibits at the Centennial Exposition in 1876. In any case, the pressed glass made during the 1800's is fascinating to study, worthwhile to keep, and profitable to sell.