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From Your Motherís Cupboard?Ö
Morgantown Glass Graced the White House.

by Jeffrey B. Snyder

Between 1899 and 1971, the Morgantown Glass Works (under several names), of Morgantown, West Virginia, produced glassware for a wide variety of uses, in thousands of different shapes, styles, and patterns. The company would be best known for the production of handmade, mold blown stemwares and tumblers for both the retail and institutional markets. Included among the institutional markets, the firmís primary customers between 1939 and 1957, were American steamship passenger lines, restaurants, hotels, and bars. This prolific factory also produced striking and decorative glassware in the forms of glass baskets, bowls, candleholders, and free forms, to name a few.

In 1952, the Morgantown Post reported that the company, then known as the Morgantown Glassware Guild, produced 3600 dozen sets of glassware for the luxury liner United States. The Guild provided a much more extensive listing of the institutional buyers for their wares as well. In the 1950s, these included:

Hotel Taft, New York; Hotel St. George, New York; Carlton House, New York; Hotel Savoy Plaza, New York; Hotel Sherry Netherland, New York; Hotel New Yorker, New York; Hotel Astor, New York; Virgin Isle Hotel, Virgin Islands; Desert Inn, Las Vegas; Chambord Restaurant, New York; Brussels Restaurant, New York; Hotel St. Regis, New York; Hotel Ritz Carlton, Boston; Hotel Carlyle, New York; Colony Restaurant, New York; Versailles Restaurant, New York; Biltmore Hotel, New York; Park Lane Hotel, New York; Commodore Hotel, New York; Jack & Charlies "21" Club, New York; El Morocco, New York; Stork Club, New York; United States S.S. Lines, New York; American Export S.S. Lines, New York; Ambassador Hotel, New York; Leoneís Restaurant, New York; Sardiís, New York; Carlton House, Pittsburgh; Schenley Hotel, Pittsburgh; Matson Navigation Co., San Francisco; Isthmiann S.S. Co., San Francisco; Edgewater Beach Hotel, Chicago; Hotel Drake, Chicago; Hotel Cleveland, Cleveland; Frisco Railroad, Chicago; Illinois Central R.R., Chicago; Hotel Webster Hall, Pittsburgh.

The Guild also provided deep etch crests and initials for their institutional customers upon request. It is not uncommon to find the crest or initials of railway and ship lines on Old Morgantown barware from the 1940s and 1950s.

Specific and distinctive molds were also manufactured during this period to produce stemware design specifically for private clubs and clients. These are now highly sought by collectors. Among these stemware designs are the Jockey Stem, the Mai Tai Polynesian Stem, and the Top Hat. Also produced at this time were an Owl tumbler and the Chanticleer Cocktail stemware. The Chanticleer has a rooster-shaped stem joining the bowl and foot. The Chanticleer cocktails were sold in sets of eight in a rainbow assortment of colors, at $3.00 a set. Each Chanticleer cocktail was decorated in a different color within the set. The available pastel colors included Amber, Amethyst, Azure, Light Blue, Blue, Champagne, Coral, Green, Rose, and Smoke. Chanticleer cocktails were also produced in all Crystal and in Ruby and Crystal as well as Ritz Blue and Crystal combinations. Another stemware line highly prized from this period is the Summer Cornucopia line, in which the delicate stems are molded in the shapes of horns of plenty, each horn filled to overflowing with glass flowers.

Over the years, Morgantown Glass served drinks to the rich, the social elite, and the New Yearís Eve revelers. Morgantown Glass also served up a mean ice tea for the girl next door. It all makes for an interesting story.

A Brief History

In 1899, Frank Bannister organized the Morgantown Glass Works in Morgantown, West Virginia. The name of the company would change several times over the years. In 1903, the original Morgantown Glass Works was reorganized as the Economy Tumbler Company. By 1923, this name was considered too restrictive and the corporation became the Economy Glass Company. However, in 1929 the firmís management looked back to the past for inspiration (over the years, company management had referred to their wares as "Old Morgantown" on company logos despite the Economy factory name) and the title Morgantown Glass Works was reinstated. Morgantown Glass Works continued to produce under this name until 1937 when the company, facing financial
difficulties, was forced to close. Over the next two years the factory glassware stock was sold off and the company was reestablished as a guild, a cooperative employee owned venture. The factory opened its doors for business again in 1939 with the newly minted name Morgantown Glassware Guild. Although the plant was purchased by the competing glassworks Fostoria in 1965, the factory would continue to produce glassware under the Guild name until it ceased operations in 1971.

A 1929 article in the trade journal China, Glass and Lamps succinctly described the range of products produced by Morgantown as, "... an extensive line of stemware and specialties in transparent color as well as in crystal. The factory has quite a large decorating department and many hundreds of pieces are decorated there each day. Etchings, cuttings, and gold, silver, and enamel color work are included in the forms of decorations turned out in the Morgantown factory. Not only has the factory produced all of the more staple pieces of blown stemware and table service, but has introduced many novelties and specialties. It also can and will develop exclusive shapes
and patterns for particular services or stores."

Whatís in a name?

The glass produced at Morgantown is generally referred to as handmade, mold blown glass. This glassware type was produced by first gathering a small, molten blob of glass on the end of a hollow pipe or rod. Blowing through the pipe and manipulating it in specific ways, a glass worker next pre-shaped the slowly cooling, glowing mass. The blower then inserts the pre-shaped "gather" into an iron mold. Blowing into the pipe forces the hot glass to conform to the shape of the inside of the mold. Depending on the specific object being produced, several operations may follow. For example, on stemware, the molding of the stem and foot might be done with forms and
paddles. Once an item is formed, it is annealed (reheated and allowed to cool gradually and uniformly to avoid shattering the glass) in an oven called a lehr. The cooled object is then sent on for finishing operations, including the removal of excess glass, grinding, and polishing.

Moving on to specific glassware forms, Morgantown "stemware" included goblets, sherbets, tall sherbets or champagnes, cocktails, oyster cocktails, sherries, wine glasses, clarets, and cordial glasses. Included under "tumblers" were ice tea, highball, old fashioned, juice and water glasses. Morgantown also produced brandy inhalers and "decorative glasswares" or "artwares" including baubles, bowls, candleholders, and free-forms--colorful decorative vases and bowls formed without the used of a mold and which have a distinctive flowing shape.

In its prime, the Morgantown factory had eighteen furnaces in operation simultaneously. The plant had three furnace stacks. One stack was used exclusively for the production of bar ware. It was separated from the other two because it used soda-lime glass and cheaper materials. The other two stacks were for the companyís better glassware lines.

Decorative Techniques

One glass "decorating" technique directly involved the shape of the interior of the mold itself and is called the "optic." The interior of the mold may be shaped in panels, pillars, spirals, swags, and other interesting shapes. These shapes become part of the shape of the body of the glass which is formed in an optic mold. The Morgantown glass factory used this technique to good effect, creating a variety of pleasing optics. Many of these optic designs have been named. The "Palm" was one of the companyís most popular optic designs.

Prior to 1937, optics appearing on Morgantown glass included the Cascade, Festoon, Palm, Peacock, Pineapple, Pillar, and Tulip. After 1937, the Guild produced the Spiral optic. When the Spiral optic mold was discontinued in 1963, it was retooled by the company to create a line of textured tableware in 1966 known as Festival.

Other decorative treatments produced by Morgantown within the glass itself include the extremely popular cased filament stems and controlled bubbles. Cased filament stems were a Morgantown original, first presented to the public in 1935. These stems feature a thin central core of color surrounded by a pressed crystal clear glass stem. Cased filament stem colors include Black, Green, Ritz Blue, and Spanish Red.

The controlled bubbles decoration gives the impression that bubbles of various sizes swirled up through glass connectors between bases and bowls or within finials. The effect was created by piercing the connector or finial with a pattern when that piece was still in its molten state. This created tiny air pockets that appeared as swirling bubbles when the glass cooled.

The Morgantown Glass Works (under any of its various names) also created a number of striking surface decorations, including applied rims, cased glass, color banding, lining, painting, cutting, decalcomania transfers, etching, encrustation, frosting, ice decoration, luster decoration, metallic decoration, silk screening, and staining. Since there is not sufficient room here to cover them all well, weíll hit a few of the highlights.

The applied rim was a decorating technique in which a band of glass with a contrasting color was bonded to the edge of a piece of glassware. Some of Morgantownís most striking glasswares have applied rims. Such wares were never produced in large numbers and are now considered to be scarce.

Cased glass shows two different glass colors together. The inside of the cased glass is generally white and the  exterior is a bolder color. Large cased glass items include Morgantown pitchers and vases.

Both detailed needle and plate etching designs were created using acid etching techniques. Glass companies all assigned specific numbers to each of their etchings for identification (numbers collectors have also adopted to identify the various designs). These companies also frequently contracted out to other firms to provide etched decorations for the companyís glass blanks. While it is well known that etching was done within the walls of the Morgantown glass factory, there is little documentary evidence to suggest exactly how much of the etched decoration appearing on Morgantown glass was done in-house and how much was contracted out to other firms.

The needle etching process requires both a complex and intricate machine and a skilled setter who must be able to adjust the machine to create the proper pattern. The first step in the needle etching process was to dip the ware to be etched in wax. The wax-coated glass was then taken to the needle machine. The operator carefully placed the ware upside down on a rubber-cushioned plate where it was held fast by suction. The glass was slowly rotated while the machineís needles traced the pattern into the wax.

Once the pattern was inscribed in the wax, the glass was taken to the to the dipping room where an acid etcher immersed the ware in a hydrofluoric acid bath. The exposed glass was eaten away by the acid, transferring the design etched in the wax to the glass. The length of time the glass was to remain in the bath was determined by the depth of the etching.

Plate-etched designs were produced using similar methods; however, the pattern was first produced on a steel plate. Once the design was complete, it was transferred to the glassware using a combination of wax and transfer papers. Once the wax bearing the pattern is transferred, the process is the same.

When speaking of Morgantown glass decoration, any etch over which enamel has been painted is referred to as an "encrustation." Once the etch was over-painted with the enamel, it was fired to finish the glass.

A frosted-glass effect was created by dipping crystal blanks into a bath of hydrofluoric acid. To create an "ice effect," a layer of printing oil or a mixture of balsam or copaiba and turpentine was applied to the glass with a rubber stamp or brush. When this oil or mixture became tacky, glass "ice" was poured over the impression and a layer of it adhered to the surface. The "ice" itself was a colored or colorless low melting granular glass that was crushed and screened to 50-150 mesh size. Once the ice was in place, the piece was fired. If the applied ice was under-fired, the ice was sharp and rough; if it was over-fired, the ice effect was completely lost.

A silk screening process was also employed to decorate some early Morgantown glassware. Simply put, silk screening was a stenciling process that involved forcing colored material onto a glass blank through meshes made of either silk or organdy screen. The screen was prepared in such a way that previously printed areas and areas not to receive any color were impervious to the colored material.

Values

Morgantown glass presents the collector with an interesting challenge. The various stemwares, tumblers, and artwares left the factory with only the packing box (or barrel in the early years) and a paper label on the glassware to identify them. The vast majority of the boxes and labels are long gone. Also, the unscrupulous have been known to apply bogus labels to glassware and sell it as original "Old Morgantown." Therefore, the collector needs to become quite familiar and comfortable with the various wares produced by the company before seeking out Morgantown glass.

Establishing a present day value is a delicate thing. Values vary immensely according to the condition of the piece, the location of the market, and the overall quality of the design and manufacture. Condition is always of paramount importance in assigning a value. For glassware produced prior to the Guild years (1939-1971), values vary less, region to region, than for Guild year items. Except in the case of stemwares, color is generally not a major factor in determining the value of pre-Guild glassware.

One Last Address

Finally, there is one more illustrious address where Morgantown glass graced the tables. In the early 1960s, Morgantown received an order from its most illustrious customer. The Morgantown Glassware Guild advertised a leaded crystal glassware line called "The Presidentís House" in 1963. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy had personally chosen this glassware line as the "Official Crystal Service" of the White House. It was a very simple, straightforward glassware design. Presidentís House glassware was identified with a paper label that read "The Presidentís House/Handmade Lead Crystal/by/Morgantown." Shown in an early advertisement were three items from the line including an eight-inch plate, an Old Fashioned tumbler, and a Rhine Wine goblet. In 1967, The Presidentís House line would return to the news as the glassware pattern chosen by Lynda Bird Johnson for her
December wedding.

About the Author: Jeffrey B. Snyder is the author of Morgantown Glass: >From Depression Glass Through the 1960s, available through Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. 4880 Lower Valley Road, Atglen, PA 19335, 610-593-1777 for $29.95.