Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Glassware for the Rich and Famous

QUESTION: My mother was extremely proud of her good glassware and china, which originally belonged to her mother. She would lovingly take it out of her china closet for each special holiday dinner. Boy, how those glasses did shine. I’ve always wondered about what type of glassware this was. My grandmother particularly liked cut glass, and these glasses—water goblets, wine, champagne, etc—had delicate floral designs cut into them. Some told me that they may have been made by the Seneca Glass Company, but I’m not sure. What can you tell me about this company and the glassware that they produced?

ANSWER: From the photo you sent, I can definitely tell you that your grandmother had fine taste, for these pieces are definitely by Seneca Glass. By the early 1920s, the company offered a new line of deep-etched glassware. Your grandmother’s pieces most likely were in this group.

In 1891, a group of immigrant glass artisans and businessmen from Germany's Black Forest region settled in Seneca, Ohio. Seeking to take advantage of the opportunities available in the American glass market, they purchased the former Fostoria Glass Company factory and established the Seneca Glass Company, named after the county where the factory stood and the local Indian tribe of the same name.

But the lure of cheap natural gas, free land, abundant quality glass sand within easy reach, and a city subsidy was too much to resist, so the owners moved the company to Morgantown, West Viriginia. in 1896. They kept the name and over time, the firm
developed a reputation for creating some of the finest lead crystal glassware available anywhere.

Embassies used it, Eleanor Roosevelt bought it, and Americans with finer taste and a pocketbook to match loved it. Seneca produced quality, delicate, mold-blown glassware in a wide variety of forms for the next 86 years. It became known for its striking cut glass patterns. Some of the patterns were so complex, they took an experienced cutter 12 hours to complete. Later years, company owners boasted that Seneca had more than1,000 cut glass patterns available.

Popularity grew quickly as the word got out in social circles. Large-scale retail stores all over the country began ordering Seneca products. Over the years, Seneca Glass received orders from B. Altman's and Tiffany's in New York, Marshall Fields and Company in Chicago, Neiman-Marcus in Dallas, the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Boston, and the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco. Philadelphia's highly regarded John Wanamaker Department Store, placed an order for 218 dozen glassware items, all cut with the crest of the president of Liberia which the company planed to sell him for his executive mansion.

Not to be outdone by private organizations and foreign powers, the U.S. State Department ordered Seneca crystal for 30 American embassies and consulates in 1944 and 1945.

While searching for glassware for a special occasion, Eleanor Roosevelt chose stems in an obsolete Seneca pattern, being sold at the reduced price of 25 cents each. These she chose over patterns offered by the store's staff from famous firms, expensive glassware items priced in excess of $50 a dozen. Mrs. Roosevelt used her bargain Seneca glassware at a State dinner held in honor of England's King George VI.

Mrs. Roosevelt wasn’t the last person associated with the White House to order Seneca glass. Ladybird Johnson purchased peach champagne glasses in Seneca’s Epicure pattern for Vice President Lyndon Johnson. Each glass had the vice president's initials, LBJ, and an Open Road Stetson hat, her husband's trademark headgear, etched on it.  Jacqueline Kennedy also used Seneca glassware in the White House.
Today, Seneca glassware is highly prized and actively sought by an ever-growing group of collectors with impeccable taste.

Seneca’s glassware was handmade and mold blown. Glass blowers produced such glassware by first gathering a small, molten blob of glass on the end of a hollow pipe or rod. By plowing through the pipe and manipulating it in certain ways, a glass worker would pre-shape the slowly cooling, glowing mass. The blower then inserted the pre-shaped "gather" into an iron mold—a mold that a skilled Seneca artisan had produced. Blowing into the pipe forced the hot glass to conform to the shape of the inside of the mold.

Depending on the specific object being produced, several operations could follow. For example, on stemware, the molding of the stem and foot might be done with forms and paddles or an intricate stem might be produced using a mold. Once the glass worker formed an item, he annealed or reheated it and allowed it to cool gradually and uniformly to avoid uneven cooling that would shatter the glass in an oven called a lehr. Other workers would then send the cooled object on for finishing, including the removal of excess glass, grinding and polishing.

One glass decorating technique, the “optic,” directly involved the shape of the interior of the mold itself. The interior of the mold could be shaped in panels, pillars, spirals, swags, and other interesting shapes. These shapes become part of the shape of the body of the glass formed in the optic mold. Seneca used this technique to create a variety of pleasing optics.

Seneca also produced wares decorated with needle and plate etchings and sandblasted decorations. Artisans also used other decorative techniques, including banding and metallic decorations. While elegantly cut lead crystal would be what came to consumers' minds first when they thought of Seneca glass, the company did offer a variety of colored glassware. The quantities of colorful glasses and tablewares available fluctuated over the decades, reflecting changes in public taste. Colored glassware would be offered in larger amounts during the later years, beginning around the 1960s.
Some of Seneca's specific glassware forms included goblets, sherbets or champagnes, cocktails, oyster cocktails, sherries, wine glasses, clarets, and cordial glasses classified as "stemware;" ice teas, hi-balls, old fashioneds, juices, and water glasses grouped as "tumblers;" along with a variety of decorative glassware" or "artware," including bowls, candle-holders, and vases.

 To read more articles on antiques, please visit my Web site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about the Victorians in the Winter 2018 Edition, "All Things Victorian," online now. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Souvenir of a Loved One

QUESTION: I recently attended an antiques show at which one of the dealers had a beautiful display of antique hair mourning jewelry. What can you tell me about this unique art form? Is it still practiced today?

ANSWER:  Mourning jewelry was a souvenir to remember a loved one, a reminder to the living of the inevitability of death, and a status symbol, especially during the Victorian Era.

The earliest examples of mourning jewelry originated in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. People often set black-and-white enameled heads or skulls into rings and brooches. In the 17th' and 18th centuries hair became a status symbol to present mourning rings to friends and families of the bereaved.

Mourning jewelry reached its peak popularity in England after the death of Prince Albert in December 1861. Queen Victoria went into deep mourning, which her subjects imitated when faced with their own bereavement:.

Hair, a symbol of life, has been associated with death and funerals in many cultures Egyptian tomb paintings portray scenes showing pharaohs and queens exchanging hair balls as tokens of enduring love.

But it was in Sweden that commercial hairwork began centuries later. The craft of hairwork spread throughout Europe. Jewelers made beautifully detailed landscapes and floral designs using human hair. In England in the late 18th century they bordered early neo-classical style pieces with seed pearls surrounding the words "In Memorium" and a panel of simple, twisted hair. During the 19th century, Queen Victoria presented Empress Eugene with a bracelet of her own hair, and the Queen recorded in her diary that the Empress was "touched to tears."

The 1853 Crystal Palace Exposition featured a full line of hair jewelry, as well as a full tea set made entirely of hair. By the 1850s hair was an expensive commodity with a variety of commercial uses. Every spring hair merchants visited fairs and markets throughout Europe where they offered young girls ribbons, combs and trinkets in exchange for their hair.

Hair jewelry caught on in the United States by the 1860s. During the Civil War, soldiers would leave a lock of their hair with their families as they left home to join the fight. Upon the soldier's death, the family would often have the hair made into a piece of mourning jewelry or placed in a locket. These were gold or black, and were sometimes engraved with "In Memory Of" and the initials or names of the deceased.

Beginning in the 1850s through the 1900s, hairwork became a drawing room pastime. Godey's Lady's Book and Peterson's Magazine gave instructions and patterns for making brooches, cuff links and bracelets at home. To further the craze for the home-based craft, Godey's reminded readers that while mourning etiquette said that women should only wear jet jewelry for first mourning, for the second mourning, a woman could wear a brooch and bracelet made of hair with a gold and black enamel clasp. Even a watch chain or plain gold belt buckle was permissible for widowers to wear if made of hair or if it enclosed hair.

Women did hairwork on a round table. Depending on the height of the table, it could be done sitting or standing. Women's work tables were usually 32 or 33 inches high, and men's tables stood 4 feet. Preparation was important. The hair had to be boiled in soda water for 15 minutes. It was then sorted into lengths and divided into strands of 20 to 30 hairs. Most pieces of jewelry required long hair. For example, a full-size bracelet called for hair 20 to 24 inches long. Sometimes horse hair was used because it was coarser than human hair, and thus easier for beginners.

Women made almost all hairwork around a old or firm material. Snake bracelets and brooches, spiral earrings and other fancy hair forms required special molds which local wood turners made for them. The women attached the mold to the center hole in the worktable. Then they wound the hair on a series of bobbins. They  attached weights to the braid work to maintain the correct level and to keep the hair straight. When they finished and while the work was still around the mold, they removed the hair and the mold, boiled it for 15 minutes, then dried and removed the hair from the mold. It was then ready to be sent to a jewelers for mounting.

The use of mourning jewelry slowly died out at the beginning of the 20th century. Hair jewelry and other forms of hairwork were particularly popular during the 19th century but are still practiced today as a home craft.

 To read more articles on antiques, please visit my Web site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about the Victorians in the Winter 2018 Edition, "All Things Victorian," online now.