Before 1820, American made glass was blown glass which was costly to produce because the labor intensive manufacturing process. American manufacturers were unable to compete with foreign imports that flooded the market. Mechanically pressed glass was born out of the necessity to compete with the imports. The glass industry as a whole began experimenting with new processes to produce glass more economically. Imagination and ingenuty by the pioneers in glass making led to lower production costs and less intensive labor to produce glassware which could be available for the masses.
By 1832 pressed tableware was being manufactured for domestic and foreign distribution. Thus the Early period of pressed glass began. The first efforts produced elaborate ornate, and heavily stippled patterns known as Lacy glass. The stippling and the ornate patterns often hid the imperfections in the glass. By the 1850s, because of the high cost of the mold making for the elaborete patterns manufacturers began producing simpler designs. Patterns such as Bellflower (estimated to have been prduced as early as the 1840s) , Horn of Plenty and Ribbed Grape were introduced. This was known as the Middle period of pressed glass.
This is a Bellflower Goblet featuring wide ribs and a single vine. The goblet is made of flint glass. The pattern was made in a large number of forms and is considered to be on of the first patterns offering an extended number of table ware pieces. The pattern was made in Clear, Amber, Cobalt Blue, Firey Opalescent, Green, Milk White, Opaque Blue. (Finding the pattern in colors is very rare today.)
By the 1860s the glass industry was fluorishing. The industry was revolutionized by technological improvements in manufacturing, and the use of natural gas rather than coal in the manufacturing process. William Leighton, Sr. (Hobbs, Brockunier & Co., Wheeling W.Va), revolutionized the glass industry when he created a new glass formula, soda lime (simply known as lime glass), which replaced soda ash with bicarbonate of soda in the lead glass formula. The glass was far more economical to produce, was much lighter, and had clarity similar to lead glass. By 1865 lime glass dominated the glass industry. Companies refusing to use lime glass rather than the expensive lead glass soon faded away because they could not compete.
The late period of pressed glass began around 1870 and continued during the following years. Rainbows of colors, frosted and satin-glass, chocolate glass, ruby stained glass, and extended table services became the norm. Some pattern lines had as many as 60 different forms. But by the 1890s the party was over for many glass companies.
My next blog entry will focus on the problems facing the companies in the 1890s.
SOURCE: Jenks & Luna, Early American Pattern Glass 1850-1910, 602 pgs.