Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Sweets for the Sweet

QUESTION: My aunt collected small glass candy containers. Because I always admired them, she gave them to me when she moved to a retirement community. I really don’t know anything about them. What can you tell me about these containers? Are they still being made?

ANSWER: That was nice of your aunt to think of you. Because of your interest, she probably felt that you might not only care for her collection, but add to it.

Several manufacturers, mostly located around Jeannette, Pennsylvania, produced glass toy candy containers in America for 90 years. Although many of them originally sold for about a dime, they now range in price from $5 to $5,000. There are nearly 600 different containers known to exist. About 14 companies distributed them in America.

The use of glass candy containers began in Philadelphia at the Centennial Exposition of 1876 where confectioner Wilbur Croft and Company produced candies in Machinery Hall. Croft sold his candy in clear glass containers shaped like the Liberty Bell. With a pewter screw-on closure and a paper label on the bottom, collectors consider this bell to be the first American glass toy candy container, currently valued around $200.

One of the primary makers of glass candy containers was Westmoreland Specialty Company,  operated by brothers George and Charles West in Grapeville, Pennsylvania. They built their factory in 1889 and produced nearly 100 different candy containers through 1932, each made by hand in single molds, with some being hand-painted. The factory also made tin closures and other parts needed to produce complete containers.

Though candy containers started as souvenirs with simple designs, they evolved into great glass toys filled with candy. One of Westmoreland's early souvenirs, dated 1896, featured a painted milk glass Uncle Sam hat that doubled as a bank. It had paper portraits of Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt glued onto a slotted metal closure, and now brings about $125.

In 1913, as designs became more intricate, Westmoreland produced several glass candy container lamps that held a candle and a lithographed paper and cardboard shade. There were Christmas, Easter and Valentine lamps as well as three novelty lamps featuring a tree trunk base with an embossed rabbit, hatchet or cherries.

By producing candy containers such as Charlie Chaplin, the Spirit of St. Louis airplane, Jackie Coogan, the Carpet Sweeper and the Phonograph, Westmoreland took advantage of popular people or new inventions to increase sales of the glass toys.

Manufacturers produced most candy containers of clear glass so the colorful candy could be seen, but Westmoreland used some colored glass in 1927 to attract buyers. It made the Spirit of St. Louis in clear, amber, pink, green and blue, and its Pointed Nose Racer, which now sells for about $2,500, in several colors, also.

One of the most valuable Westmoreland containers is a functional tin kaleidoscope featuring a turning glass tube filled with candy, estimated to be worth $5,000 or more. Another unusual container is a 31-inch-long whip made of cloth-covered wire with a candy-filled glass handle.

Westmoreland also made some glass containers and tin parts for Turney H. Stough of Jeannette, another major player in the candy container industry.

Stough produced more than 100 different glass containers, which is more than any other company. Candy containers comprised more than 95 percent of  Stough's business. He hired outside firms to produce everything he needed while his company did the assembly, packaging and distribution.

Like Stough, George Borgfeldt & Co., a New York City toy wholesaler, hired Westmoreland and other companies to produce)le its candy containers. Some of Borgfeldt's most sought-after containers are pieces of Flossie Fisher's furniture, dating from around 1916. Based on a cartoon in Ladies' Home Journal, the yellow tin bed, table, chairs and other items featured black silhouettes of animals and children. The bed alone sells for over $2,500. From 1913 to 1916,  L.E. Smith of Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, produced only about 20 to 30 different candy containers, including a bureau, a mantel clock, a flat iron and a figural container of Charlie Chaplin, all hard to find today.

A former Westmoreland employee founded the Victory Glass Company, also of Jeannette, which produced nearly 100 different containers from 1919 to 1955. Not having an in-house tin shop like Westmoreland, Victory relied on intricate glass designs, like the Swan Boat and the Amos and Andy Taxi, to make its candy containers attractive and appealing.Two of Victory's hard to find containers are the Refrigerator with short legs, which sells for about $4,000, and Dolly's Bathtub, which sells for about $3,000.

In 1940 J.H. Millstein, a worker at Victory Glass, developed fully automatic machines to speed up production and lower costs. Millstein opened his factory in 1943 with machines that could handle 12 molds at a time. Though he only made 13 different containers from 1943 to 1956, he produced and sold millions of them.

Unfortunately, World War II brought rising production costs to the industry. Candy containers became basic again as companies cut costs with simpler designs, less hand-painting and fewer intricate metal parts switching from tin closures to paper or card-board. By 1956 only two companies were still making candy containers. Though Millstein and Stough produced some plastic containers around 1967, high production costs and declining sales closed the remaining factories making glass candy containers.

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