Monday, June 22, 2015

History in a Jar

QUESTION: I’ve just begun to collect old jars and bottles. Recently, I found an old blue Mason jar at a church sale. Embossed on the front of it are the words “The Clyde.” The letters “CGW” appear on the bottom. I haven’t been able to find any information about this jar. Can you help me out?

ANSWER: It appears that you found an old Mason jar made by the Clyde Glass Works of Clyde, New York, in 1895.

When New York Governor DeWitt Clinton proposed the Erie Canal that would cross the state, linking the Hudson River with the Great Lakes, people sarcastically called it "Clinton’s Big Ditch." A construction project of that magnitude, completed entirely by hand labor, seemed impossible. But by July 4, 1817, construction of the canal had begun. It wasn’t until October 26, 1825 that a canal boat made the first full-length voyage on the new canal.

Frederick Augustus Dezeng, an immigrant from Saxony, Germany, who operated a window glass factory near Geneva, New York, was a good friend of Governor Clinton. He understood the importance of being able to transport goods by water from Lake Erie all the way to New York City via the Hudson River. But more importantly, he realized that shipping his glass by canal boat would be safer and cause less breakage.Even carefully packed, glass didn’t  travel well in horse-drawn carts over bumpy dirt roads of unpredictable condition.

Dezeng saw the potential of doing business via the Erie Canal. Access to firewood to fuel the glass furnaces was a major reason, as was the ease of packet boats bringing in sand from Oneida, New York, along with quantities of potash lime via the Canal. He encouraged his  youngest of five children, William, to set up a glassworks along the Canal in nearby Laurelville, which later changed its name to Clyde.

William S. Dezeng and his brother-in-law, James R. Rees, went into partnership to open a glass factory to make cylinder window glass in 1827. They laid the cornerstone for their new enterprise on March 27, 1828, and the factory began production that year. A newspaper advertisement from 1833 promoted the firm’s glass as  first quality and free from imperfections. This was a major achievement in itself since up to that time window glass had many imperfections. In the process, a glassblower blew molten glass into a cylinder, then cut it it open and annealed it to flatten it out. However, ripples and small bubbles in the finished glass were almost unavoidable.

Though Dezeng and Rees’s glass factory in Clyde, New York, began operation in 1828, the plant didn’t begin producing bottles until 1864. Over the years, the company reorganized periodically—mostly due to retirements, deaths, and new partners— although it maintained a continuity of ownership. In 1880, the owners incorporated as the Clyde Glass Works.  The firm made soda and beer bottles, liquor flasks, and fruit (Mason Patent) jars marked with the Clyde logo.

The G in the logo is very distinctive. The wide-angled G included a downward slash as the serif or tail of the letter, tilted at a much greater angle than most. The “Clyde” embossment on the front of the jar is in a upwardly slanted cursive style.

The firm probably made these jars in 1895 to commemorate the anniversary of the incorporation of the Clyde Glass Works. Originally hand blown, they were eventually made by machines by 1903 but only for a short time. In fact, there are more hand-blown jars on the market today because the factory produced more of them. Workers at the plant ground some of the lips of these jars while leaving others unground. It’s unclear why.

Lackluster sales caused the Clyde Glass Works to close in 1915.

While the Clyde Glass Works’ Mason jars sell on ebay for $15 to $75, those embossed with the words “The Clyde” usually sell for a price at the higher end of the range.

1 comment:

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