Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Gleam of Brilliant Glass

QUESTION: My mother loved cut glass. She once had an extensive collection, but sold much of it later in life. One piece, however, did manage to survive and now I have it. It’s a six-inch round,  shallow dish, with a flat bottom and sloping sides and a circular handle. Etched on the bottom is the name J. Hoare & Co. 1853. What can you tell me about this piece?

ANSWER: You have what’s commonly referred to as a nappy, a small serving dish usually made of glass. In this case, it’s one that originated during what’s known as the American Brilliant Period at the J. Hoare and Company glass cutting factory in Corning, New York. The date of 1853 refers to the company’s founding, not the date of manufacture, which was probably around 1900. Your piece carries the etched signature thought to have been used in 1901 and 1902. The company affixed paper labels to pieces produced prior to this time.

American Brilliant Period cut glass was a symbol of elegance. Pieces like this were often given as wedding and anniversary presents in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. American Brilliant refers to cut glass made from the time of the Philadelphia American Centennial celebration in 1876 to the beginning of World War I. J. Hoare & Company was one of the first companies to produce fine cut glass in the United States.

John Hoare, known as Captain Hoare to his business associates, was born in the city of Cork, Ireland on April 12th, 1822, the oldest of a large family of children of James and Mary Hoare. He learned the glass trade with his father in Belfast, and afterwards at the age of 20, left Ireland for England, where, in Birmingham, he worked as a journeyman for Rice Harris at Five Ways Glass Company and for Thomas Webb at the Wordsley Glass Works. Following his journeymanship, he became a foreman and traveling salesman for the firm of Edward Lacey & Son, of Birmingham. He was also foreman for Lloyd & Summerfield, one of the oldest glass houses in England.

In 1848, Hoare went into business for himself. Five years later, he and his family set sail for New York. When he landed, he had just a single half sovereign in his pocket. But being a skilled and experienced glass cutter, he had no difficulty in finding a good position. He soon began work E. V. Haughwout & Company on Broadway, and after a year, with five other men, formed a glass cutting partnership.

After two years Mr. Hoare bought the interests of two of his partners, then organized under the name of Hoare & Burns. This partnership continued until 1855, when he purchased and became proprietor of the glass cutting department of the Brooklyn Flint Glass Company, State Street, Brooklyn.

In 1868, John Hoare moved to Corning, New York, where he, together with Joseph Dailey, one of his original partners from Brooklyn, opened the glass cutting firm of Hoare & Dailey on the premises of the Corning Glass Company, from which it purchased its blanks, or uncut pieces of glass.

When people think of fine crystal today, names like Waterford and Baccarat immediately come to mind. But both of these firms are European. Today, buyers have few choices if they want to purchase fine quality cut glass crystal. But at the end of the 19th century names like John Hoare were at the top of the list because it was American firms like his that produced lead crystal that was far superior to anything made in Europe.

John Hoare became well known for his use of sharp geometric patterns. The light reflects off of these patterns beautifully creating prisms of color, exhibiting what Hoare became known for and what was then considered relatively new, the use of flared cuts rather than straight ones. Pieces produced prior to 1900 are often decorated with single motifs such as strawberry diamond or hobnail while those produced after 1900 are usually more complex. Combinations of three or more motifs are common. The company also created innovative celestial designs, inspired by the arrival of Halley's Comet. Pieces cut after 1910 often incorporate engraved floral and natural motifs. However, Hoare is best known for his earlier work.

John Hoare's experience in England undoubtedly provided the basis for some of the cut-glass designs he produced in this country. Hoare's Wheat pattern, thought to be characteristic of the American Brilliant Period, is a close relative of mid-19th-century cut-glass designs produced in the English Midlands.

After Captain John’s death in 1896, his sons carried on the family business. The firm prospered until World War I, when a shortage of lead crippled the entire cut glass industry. By 1920, the firm had declared bankruptcy.

Although J. Hoare & Company produced cut glass of fine quality during the company's last two decades, the average cut glass from much of this period was often inferior. Final polishing was often neglected or carelessly done, resulting in glass with an "acidy" appearance. Hoare cut glass that had been acid-etched with the company's trademark isn’t necessarily cut glass of fine quality. Your piece fits into this category. The best pieces originated in the late 19th century.

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