Early American Glassware
one knows exactly when or where glass was first made.
Archaeologists believe glass appears to have been produced
as far back as the second millennium BC by the Egyptians.
Glass was a lot less common and considered very precious
back then than it is today. Glassmaking was the first
industry set up in America at Jamestown, Virginia in 1608.
In fact Captain John Smith and his Englishmen were
responsible for the first glass factory in the New Land.
Along with other raw materials, the basic components used to
make glass are silica derived from sand, flint and quartz.
Once all the materials are combined, they are heated at very
produced in various shapes, sizes and colors. It may be
decorated in a number of ways, including cutting, molding,
engraving, and etching. In the 19th Century, glassmaking was
influenced by rapid advances in technology and the
rediscovery of older methods. Mechanical pressing,
introduced in the United States, was a cheap, fast means of
production. With the scarcity of materials and few crafters,
the depression of the 1930s and 1940s diminished the amount
of glassmaking in the United States. This exhibit features a
variety of glass, including hand-blown, cut and pressed
The earliest method of making glass was to
blow the glass. The materials used to make glass are mixed
together to form a batch. The batch was then melted in clay
pots, heated by wood or coal furnaces to form what is called
molten glass, or metal. After the batch was melted it was
then blown through a blowpipe to form a ball, much like a
child blowing a piece of bubblegum. After doing this, the
glass is then shaped.
glass industry was started in America, one of the first
products made were glass bottles. Glass bottles were blown
by hand; the workman dipped a hollow iron pipe into a batch
of hot glass, extracted a glob and expanded it with his own
breath. There are various types of glass bottles such as
medicine bottles, household bottles and baby bottles.
comes in various colors and the color is determined by the
contents found in the hot glass. Iron can produce a greenish
color, iron and sulfur together can produce ambers and
brown, copper can produce light blues, cobalt produces dark
blue, tin turns glass white and gold produces red. Uranium
is an element used in glass to make a blue-yellow color.
When the glass is reheated it becomes a two-tone color.
Cut glass has been around since ancient
times. The English started cutting glass about 1715 and it
began to gain fame by 1760. By the 1800’s, many American
factories were making cut glassware for table use. The cut
patterns resembled the English or Irish glass of the day and
there were few characteristics or designs. The single star
and panel curves were the most popular designs and ruby red
and dark blue were popular colors.
the periods of 1880-1905 was when the most elaborate cut
ware became available. During that time, newlyweds were
given very expensive cut glass bowls and pitchers, instead
of silver. This was a time when water tumblers, dishes,
goblets and many more serving pieces were made.
have trouble distinguishing cut glass from pressed glass.
Cut glass has very sharp edges, while the pressed glass will
be round and smooth. Cut glass is also very heavy and
sparkles. If you tap your finger on a piece of pressed glass
it will sound very dull and flat, however, if you do the
same with cut glass, it will ring with a clear tone.
glass machines were invented in the late 1820s. The molds
were made from brass and iron, and had to contain the correct
amount of those metals. If there was too much metal in the mold,
the glass could not be clearly impressed. However, if there were
too little, the glass would be too thick.
Early pressed glass pieces such as platters
and vases were very heavy and had many bubbles and imperfections.
The later pressed glass was almost perfect because the glass
was pressed with weights and not put in a mold. More elaborate
pieces of pressed glass appeared in the 1860s with stylish
In the 1870s, glass companies made
patterns of glass to resemble things in nature such as Daisy,
Thistle, and Rose in Snow. More familiar patterns such as Daisy
and Button and Hobnail came out around 1880. Colored pressed
glass patterns became popular after the Civil War. Press glass
novelties such as glass shoes, hats, and animals were among the
variety of styles made from 1850-1900.
The Southwest Virginia Museum is a
member of the American
Association of Museums, the American Association of State and
Local History, and the Virginia Association of Museums.
Famous Glass Companies
As you know, they are several varieties of glassware.
They are companies that have became famous for their manufacture
of glass. Most companies are know for their rarity and uniqueness
of glass, while others are famous only for the color or style.
In business from 1892-1902,
one of the most well known glass companies was the Tiffany Glass
and Decorating Company. Louis Comfort Tiffany, a glassmaker an
artist with great skill, was known for his iridescent glass.
Tiffany glass was hand blown and made from 1894-1935. Iridescent
glass was made in various shades of blue, green, pink, white
Another famous company which
still exist today is the Fenton Art Glass Company of Williamstown,
West Virginia. In 1906, Frank Fenton established the company
for the manufacture of colored, blown, pressed and cut glass
pieces. Through the use of metallic salts, the Fenton Company
was able to produce colors not previously known and gave them
unique names such as clam broth, which is a shade of brown.
The Imperial Glass Company
of Bellaire, Ohio has been making pressed and cut glass pieces
since the late 1880s. Some of the best cut glass was made in
the early 1900s. The Imperial Glass company was well known for
their reproductions of the expensive Tiffany glass and is still
manufacturing glass today.
Collecting and Caring
With centuries of glassmaking came centuries of
collecting glass. Whether it has been handed down from generation
to generation or bought at an auction, every piece of glass is
unique. A well known type of glass being collected today is carnival
glass, which originated nearly a hundred years ago. Milk glass
is found in many American households and is said to have been
named this because it resembled the color of milk. Depression
glass originated during the depression of the 1920s and 1930s
and is unique to many collectors. These are just a few of the
very many types of glass being collected today.
It is important to remember
to treat your glass special and care for it properly. Glass should
be washed in warm water in clear ivory detergent and wiped with
lint free towels. When using cut glass serving pieces do no serve
anything very hot, because the cut glass is very sensitive to
The Southwest Virginia
Museum would like to thank Ms. Kay Key for sharing her knowledge
Early American Glassware and helping to make this exhibit possible.