Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Through the Glass Brightly

QUESTION: My grandmother had the most amazing collection of Heisey glassware. Though she didn’t know much about it, she loved the way it sparkled. Gran has passed on and now I have her collection. I, too, know very little about Heisey glass. What can you tell me about it? And how would I go about continuing to collect it?

ANSWER: It’s always nice to inherit someone’s collection. But the act of collecting is what brings joy to that person. That same joy is missing when someone hands you their collection. Should you curate it and improve the collection or just warehouse it. If you choose the former, you’ll need to educate yourself about Heisey glass in all its forms. If you choose the latter, you might as well sell it. Holding on to it won’t necessarily do you any good if you don’t know its true value.

A.H. Heisey formed the A.H. Heisey Company in Newark, Ohio, in 1895. The factory provided fine quality glass tableware and decorative glass figurines. It produced both pressed and blown glassware in a wide variety of patterns and colors. The company also made glass automobile headlights and Holophane Glassware lighting fixtures. After Heisey died, his sons ran the company until 1957, when the factory closed.

Augustus Heisey was born in 1842 in Hanover, Germany. In 1843, his father took the family to the United States, settling in Merrittown, Pa. After someone murdered his father, his mother returned to Germany. Augustus spent the rest of his childhood with his sister in Brownsville.Pennsylvania. He worked first in a printing business but soon began working as a clerk with either for the King Glass Company or Cascade Glass Works. By 1861. Augustus H. Heisey was in the glass business.

Heisey fought in the Civil War and returned to the glass business soon afterwards. By 1870 he was a highly regarded salesman for, and son-in-law of George Duncan, who owned the George Duncan Glass Company. By 1895, he was looking at a site in Newark, Ohio, with hopes of founding his own company. The high quality limestone deposits and abundant natural gas, water, oil and coal nearby made Newark an excellent choice.

Heisey understood the importance of marketing. His breakthrough technique for combining blown vessels with fancy pressed stems put his product in the country's dining rooms, but his marketing innovations kept them there. He was one of the first manufacturers to market directly to the end user through advertisements in popular magazines for women. Heisey also understood niche marketing, producing specific products to appeal to various regions.

In the years before World War I, the company prospered, adding lines and colors and developing a reputation for a quality product at an affordable price. The war brought with it problems due to government controls of production and lack of manpower, but Heisey had developed a new etching technique that was more economical and required less skill to execute. The company remained strong until the passage of the Prohibition Amendment which severely curtailed the market for glass items intended for alcoholic use.

Augustus Heisey died suddenly in February 1922, and his son, E. Wilson Heisey, assumed the presidency. E. Wilson's passion was color, and during his time with the company, he worked closely with company chemist Emmett Olsson to produce a variety of hues.

The company went to great lengths to produce distinct colors, and Heisey glass may often be identified from the specific colors alone. In 1925, the company introduced Flamingo, a pastel rose-pink, and Moongleam, a vivid green. Marigold was a brassy gold-yellow color. Sahara, which replaced Marigold, was a satisfying soft lemony yellow and Hawthorne a lavender. Tangerine, a bright orange-red produced from about 1933, was part of a trend to darker, more vivid colors. During this time, the company introduced a Cobalt color called Stiegel Blue. Alexandrite, the rarest of Heisey colors, can be a pale blue-green under normal light, but in sunlight or ultraviolet light, it glows with a pink-lavender hue. Zircon is a very modern grey-blue and was the last new color introduced.

High clarity and brilliance, due to the process of fire polishing, were a hallmark of Heisey glass. Many of the pressed pieces look like cut crystal because of the high quality of the glass and the crispness of the molding. The majority of the pieces are impressed with the company logo, a raised capital letter "H" inscribed in a diamond. Popular pattern names include Crystolite, Greek Key, Empress, Plantation, Ridgeleigh, Stanhope, Old Sandwich, and Yeoman, amongst dozens of others.

In 1942, E. Wilson Heisey died suddenly and his brother, T. Clarence Heisey, took over. Shortages from World War II drastically curtailed production. And after it, labor unrest led to strikes over wages. By the 1950s, overseas manufacturers began producing handmade glass for less, and cheaper machine-made glass for everyday use became widely available.

At the time the factory closed in 1957, the Imperial Glass Company bought the molds for the Heisey glass production and continued producing some pieces mostly with the Imperial Glass mark until they went out of business in 1984. Many of these pieces were animal figurines, mostly in new or original colors using the old molds.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of 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 Colonial America in the Spring 2018 Edition, "Early Americana," online now.

NOTE: Sorry for the interruption in my blog posts, but I suffered a prolonged Internet outage as a result of a severe storm.

No comments: