Monday, September 18, 2017

Thanks for the Memories

QUESTION: When I was a kid, my parents used to take me to Atlantic City every summer. As I get older, my memories of those summer vacations are but vague recollections. Recently, I was browsing a local antique cooperative and came across a small, red and white cream pitcher with “From Atlantic City 1897" scratched into what looks like a red coating. Immediately, memories from those vacations from my early childhood came flooding back, so I bought it. What can you tell me about my little pitcher?

ANSWER: Obviously, your little cream pitcher dates from before your birth, but like other souvenirs of summer destinations, it’s no less important. In fact, with the coming of the railroads in the early part of the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution, middle-class Victorians took to the road, rail, and sea in great numbers. Most of them wanted to take home a souvenir of their trip, and your little cream pitcher is one of them.

One of the most popular of these were ruby-stained glass toothpick holders, tumblers, goblets, creamers and pitchers inscribed with their name or the name of the destination and the date.

Glass souvenirs did not first appear at the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876, as many believe, but much earlier. Little keepsakes had always been made in blown glass. After less expensive pressed glass appeared in 1825, owners of fairs and expositions sought out these more profitable items. Manufacturers pressed plates and tumblers with pictures of an event. But it was the smaller items, such as match and toothpick holders and little creamers and mugs that became popular. Makers often stained these pieces red or amber and engraved them with an inscription. Glass makers created thousands of these small articles for the large expositions, such as the Chicago Fair in 1893, as well as the popular county fairs.

Staining a piece of glass involved painting an already-pressed piece of clear pattern glass with a ruby-colored stain and reheating it to 1000 degrees in a kiln which turned the coating bright red. Sometimes, makers used an amber stain to decorate their pressed pieces. Pieces stained in this fashion could then be engraved with flower or leaf bands or souvenir inscriptions.

Produced in the United States from 1880 to 1920, there were eventually thousands of patterns of pressed glass that flooded the market. Makers produced many of the more popular patterns in a variety of forms. They combined different colors of glass and different decorating techniques to produce hundreds of thousands of pieces of glass. People would purchase a piece of blank stained glass at an event or travel destination and could then have it personalized with their name and date.

One of the more popular ruby stained patterns, Button Arches, introduced originally around 1898, continued in production until the 1960s and 1970s. The design consisted of slightly overlapping pointed arches around the bottom edges and covers of pieces, each arch containing tightly packed "buttons."  Made in clear, clear with ruby staining and gold-stained bands, collectors can find this pattern highlighted with souvenir inscriptions.

In the late 1890s, the U.S. Glass Co., a consortium of smaller companies, came up with the idea of marketing a series of glass patterns named after the various states. Though a few of these patterns were new to the series, some were reissues of earlier lines reintroduced as part of this line. The state series continued through the turn-of-the-century. Most of the state patterns featured geometric or imitation cut-glass designs, but a few had a plant and flower motif that added to their appeal.  Obviously, state patterned glass was popular as a souvenir from the state for which the pattern was named.
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