This is the ever popular Bellflower pattern. It was first made in the 1840s and is made of flint glass. The pattern was originally known as R. L. Pattern; aka Ribbed Bellflower, Ribbed Leaf. A clear single or double vine of bellflowers and berries on a finely ribbed background or on a coarse ribbed background. According to Ruth Webb Lee, one of early pioneers in glassware identification, this pattern was probably the first of the patterns to be made in a complete set of pieces for tableware use.
The original production included clear and other colors. Colors included amber, cobalt blue, fiery opalescent, green, milk white, opaque blue, sapphire blue; however the colors are very RARE! The quality of the glass varies according to the manufacturer. Most pieces were mold blown with a pontil mark on the bottom. Some of these were much cruder than the machine pressed pieces. The pattern was produced by many manufacturers over the years.
McKee Catalogs, 1864 and 1868, illustrates the pattern and include a price list. McKee & Brothers, Pittsburgh PA, produced the largest variety of table forms. Jenks and Luna believe the pattern was produced by Boston Sandwich first and by McKee Brothers later.
When asked to name the top ten best selling patterns ever made, the Bellflower pattern was included in the list. The pattern was first produced prior to 1840. It features a rib design with a swirled lo featuring a leaf and flower design. The glass was made using flint and has a bell tone ring when the piece is tapped lightly.
Because of the variations of the pattern on the feet of the pieces it is clear to see there were numerous makers. The foot can be domed, flat, patterned, clear. Other variations include variation in the finials, stems, ornaments. Some stems may be knobbed while others may be plain.
The basic pattern has two variations: (1) Single vine with narrow rib; Double vine with wide rib. The compote (open pedestal bowl) in the photo features the single vine with the narrow rib design.
The goblet in this photo is an example of the wide rib with double vine pattern. There are very many variations related to the design on the foot. Some pieces have ribs that stop short of the edge of the foot. This particular goblet is known as a “buttermilk goblet.” Actually, it is an open sugar bowl. If you are not a fan of buttermilk (a southern tradition) these goblets make excellent dessert bowls!
This pattern was made in a wide variety of forms and is a great pattern to collect because of the variety of items available in the pattern. The first reproduction was a tumbler in 1938. It was made from a new mold and has a greenish cast unlike the original pieces. The manufacturer remains unknown. In 1970, the MMA authorized Imperial Glass Co. to produce certain items in lead crystal from new molds; these are embossed with “MMA”). In 1979 the Smithsonian issued its own version of the Bellflower Single Vine Fine Rib tumbler from a new mold in clear noflint glass. The Smithsonia pieces are marked SI.
Be forewarned — this is not an inexpensive set to collect since it made of flint glass which had largely disappeared after the discovery of the soda lime formula used in making glass around 1864. The formula was discovered by William Leighton, a pioneer in glass making improvements and procedures. A formula to replace the flint glass formula was necessary to help reduce production costs since making flint glass was a costly procedure and flint became very scarce during the Civil War. The flint used in glass making was needed for use in manufacturing war goods.
Many of the pieces available today are still in very good condition considering the age of the pieces; however, it not unusual to find tiny dings in the ribs. Sometimes there will be a piece with a popped bubble on the base or even along the rim. When buying old glass be aware that even good or excellent condition does not mean perfect or new.
SOURCES: Jenks and Luna, EAPG 1850-1910, p. 60-63; Lee, Early American Pressed Glass, Pattern 35, p. 66, 63, 92-9, 106, 112-13, 173, 302, 381, 456, Plates 30, 31, 31A, 32, 33, 34, 35, Classification 94; Jenks, Luna, and Reilly, Identifying Pattern Glass Reproductions, p. 30-32.