Monday, April 18, 2016

Mother Nature’s Gift to Glass

QUESTION: My mother loved decorative glassware. She died recently and left me her collection. While some pieces are older, most date from the 1950s and 1960s. I particularly like several vases that look like flowers. Do you know what they are called and tell me a little about their history?

ANSWER: Back in the 1950s and 1960s, many women collected decorative glassware. Most of the pieces came from Fenton Glassware, but several other manufacturers also made a wide assortment of vases, candy and butter dishes, ashtrays, and the like. Many of these feature hobnail decoration. The vases you’re asking about are known as Jack-in-the-Pulpit vases.

To glass lovers the name "Jack-in-the-Pulpit" has become synonymous with glass vases styled to imitate a wild flower. This flower is native to some parts of the United States, but this style of glassware originated in England, where no jack-in-the-pulpit flowers don’t grow. Most likely, this design came from the adaptation of a similar wildflower found in England known as Lords and Ladies.

Like the flower, a glass Jack-in-the-Pulpit vase consists of three parts, a base, a stem and the trumpet. The trumpet is the large flared top which gives the piece its style, much like the trumpet forms the flower on the plant. The stem connects that trumpet to the base, much like the stem connects the flower to its root. Trumpets vary in style, from flared, rounded trumpets, to those with pinched and twisted points in the front and the back. Some trumpets, particularly those by Fenton, have a raised back and dip downward in the front.

Some collectors believe Louis C. Tiffany created the first Jack-in-the-Pulpit vase around 1900. But that isn’t the case. The first known Jack-in-the-Pulpit vase appeared in 1854, a good 40 years before Tiffany’s vases. The style of the early English Jack-in-the-Pulpit vase even more closely resembles the flower. However, English glassmakers at the turn of the century didn’t name their pieces, unlike their American counterparts. Instead, they just gave them a pattern number.

English Jack-in-the-Pulpit vases came from a number of makers, including Thomas Webb & Sons, Richardson's, Webb-Corbett and Stuart, plus many small companies. Some smaller firms subcontracted work out to finishers, so it's possible that one firm decorated the blanks of another. British glassmakers did, however, blow most of their Jack-in-the-Pulpits.

Prices for British Jack-in the-Pulpit vases range from $75 for a piece which can’t be attributed to any particular manufacturer to several thousand dollars for a rare Webb or Stevens & Williams piece. Rare pieces can command $2,000 to $3,000. On average, British pieces go for about $175.

While decoration doesn't seem to have a effect on the price of unattributed British pieces, it does effect the prices of the higher-end ones. Size and the decorations, such as applied glass chainwork, vary. Companies produced vases in opalescent patterns such as spiral optic and   cranberry, and some come in the various colors like Beaded Melon.

Fenton’s Burmese vases are particularly popular with collectors. The company also made decorated Jack-in-the-Pulpits in other types of glass. Fenton decorated white and off-white, called cameo satin, blanks with scenes sell for around $75.

Other noteworthy American producers include Northwood/Dugan, Imperial, Westmoreland, Mount Washington and L.G. Wright. Northwood made jacks in various colors in Carnival glass, a short marigold version being the most common. But Northwood and Dugan also made them in opalescent glass. These generally sell for under $100 apiece.

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