An Interview with the Egginton Sisters
By John Kohut
Reprinted from The Hobstar, April 2006
On a cold and snowy afternoon in February of 1972, Ken Wilson, at that time Curator of Glass at the Corning Museum of Glass, along with a visiting researcher, Olive Wilson of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, interviewed two surviving daughters of Walter Egginton at their home on First Street, in Corning, NY. Walter was the eldest son of Oliver Egginton who founded the O. F. Egginton Company (Rich Cut Glass) in 1896, in Corning, NY. Walter succeeded Oliver as President of the firm after his father died in 1900. As Sinclaire and Spillman note, the Egginton's produced some of the finest glass of Corning until they went out of business in 1918.
The daughters, Lucille Egginton and Susan Egginton Altonen, 75 and 83 years old at the time, were clearly delighted to welcome their visitors and talk about "Papa's" company. They had terrific memories, full of interesting detail, and generated spirited conversation. The interview was taped and it's difficult to listen to since there are often multiple conversations going on at once but what can be gleaned is a most interesting glimpse into life in the Crystal City of Corning - at the peak of the American Brilliant Cut Glass era.
Of particular interest are Lucille's comments on the company's processes -- how the cutting process proceeded, the acid bath polishing process, the washing and packing and the acid stamp signing of their production along with both sister's interesting comments on Walter's relationship with the Houghton's (founders and owners of the Corning Flint Glass Works, today Corning, Inc.) and with Frederick Carder, who founded (with the backing of T. G. Hawkes) the Steuben Glass Works in 1903. Finally, there's the conundrum postulated by Lucy who leads us to believe that "Papa published yearly catalogs…" .We know of only one, in the collection of the late J. Michael Pearson and republished by the American Cut Glass Association in 1982. One might ask where are there others? To be fair, Jane Spillman reminds me that in her experience family recollections can be specious. On the other hand, we can always hope that another Egginton catalog surfaces particularly since there are a number of what appear to be authentic Egginton signatures found on unidentified patterns (a few examples can be found in the illustrations accompanying this article). Interview Source Material: Audio cassette, taped on Feb. 3, 1972 80 minutes long, entitled "The Egginton Rich Cut Glass Works" in the archives of the Rakow Research Library, Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY. Interviewers: Kenneth Wilson, Curator of American Glass, Corning Museum of Glass, and Olive Wilson, Researcher, who resides in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She is visiting Corning in search of information about Enoch Egginton, brother of Oliver, and Enoch's factory in Montreal (The St.Lawrence Glass Company.)
Lucille (Lucy) Brennan Egginton, 1897-1991, youngest daughter of Walter E. Egginton, Corning, NY. Lucy started working in the stockroom of the O. F. Egginton Co. at 8 years of age, dropping out of school to do so.
Susan Krieger Egginton Hamilton Altonen, 1889-1977, second youngest daughter of Walter E. Egginton, Corning, NY. Susan never worked in the Egginton shop.
* "Grandfather" is Oliver F. Egginton (1822-1900), founder of the O.F. Egginton Company.
* "Papa" is Walter E. Egginton (1855-1925), son of Oliver F. Egginton, father of Lucille and Susan.
* "Uncle Joe" is Joseph Augustus Egginton (1846-1917), another son of Oliver, and a brother to Walter.
* "Enoch" is Enoch Egginton (1827-1869), brother of Oliver F..
* "William" is William Egginton, brother of Oliver F., who remained behind in England while brothers Enoch, Oliver, and Thomas immigrated to the USA.
* "Grace" is Grace Dena Egginton (1880-1957), one of Walter E.'s daughters, a sister to Lucy and Susan.
I've taken some liberties in paraphrasing the sisters' comments, since much of the tape is of poor quality and difficult to understand, and rearranged the rambling conversation into related topic groupings. The comments in italics are mine.
So - what did the Egginton Sisters have to say about where Oliver and his brother Enoch got their Training?
All trained at Thomas Webb in Stourbridge, England. Oliver made two trips to the US before emigrating, arriving in Portland, ME in 1864, and coming to Corning, NY around 1880. He went all over the world. He was a member of the English Army and at one time a member of Queen Victoria's Guards. Oliver was a big man, 6' tall, barrel-chested, blonde hair. Their younger brother William, with whom both Enoch and Oliver corresponded with for many years after they came to the United States, was packed up and "ready to come over when he just died. We got a cablegram." Grace said Enoch looked like Oliver. Enoch died young he "went down south" presumably to Meriden, CT to investigate an opportunity to make glass there, It was very warm there and he had no overcoat coming home. On his return to Montreal in the last grip of winter he caught pneumonia and died in 1869 at the age of 42. Lucy notes that Oliver converted to Catholicism after marrying a Catholic girl from Ireland and took the Priest's name for his middle name Foley.2
...and did the Egginton's make glass?
Yes, certainly! Enoch and Oliver were knowledgeable in glass making. Papa (Walter E.) was born in 1855 and educated by the Jesuits in Montreal. Papa came to Corning in 1874, at the age of 19. Grandfather experimented with pressed and stained glass. Mr. Houghton (owner of the Corning Flint Glass Works) borrowed a book of Glass Recipes from Grandfather. There was a recipe in the back for Ruby Glass. When the book was returned, it was torn right out of the book; they had "lifted it!" Oliver said "That's all right. I took it from the Jesuits in Montreal, so we are even-steven!" Grandfather had "hooked" the recipe!3
Here's the recipe for the Egginton's "Finest White (clear) glass".4
THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST VALUABLE
RECEIPTS (SIC) AND KEEP IT CLOSE
Pho. of Lime (burnt bones) 50
Oyster Shells 30
Salt (Common Salt) 40
Salt Peter 50
Fluor Spar 10
Manganese 2 ½
GET ALL YOUR MIXTURES FINE BEFORE MELTING THEN MIX GOOD. VERY
GOOD. PUT IT THROUGH A FINE SIEVE SAY A NO. 8 OR 10
Papa's brother, Uncle Joe (Oliver's eldest son) was an expert in stained glass. He designed, made and installed a stained glass window in Walter's home (60 West Fourth Street, Corning, NY.) Momma had the porch taken off, and a window seat put in the dining room. Uncle Joe made a window for Momma (approx. 1' x 4') that is above a large window that Momma had put in. We were born there, it's now owned by John Murphy. Uncle Joe also made a beautiful stained glass window in St. Mary's Church (in Corning) on the right hand side of the altar as a memorial to Grandpa Oliver. Uncle Joe did this as a sideline while working for Hawkes.
What was the establishment of the Egginton Rich Cut Glass works?
Oliver managed the St. Lawrence Glass Company in Montreal, Canada for a short time after Enoch died. Grandfather then left and went to Meriden, Connecticut and established a business there. Ken Wilson comments that the Meriden Flint Glass Works was started in 1874 and was in business until 1888. Grandfather left Uncle Joseph there to manage the business. Uncle Joseph was 14 years older than Papa. He didn't make a success of it. Uncle Joe then came to Corning to work for Hawkes.5
Grandfather joined T. G. Hawkes & Co. in 1880. Papa, too, worked there as a designer for Hawkes. Grandfather was in partnership with Hawkes. He left because they "weren't getting anywhere" and decided to start his own company in 1897. The original investment partners in the O.F. Egginton Company were H. Argu, Q. W. Wellington (banker), N.A. Hayes and William Sinclaire. The business was so successful that Grandfather bought them out within two years. Unfortunately, he only lived three years after founding the company. The 1898 N.Y. State Journal of Commerce had an article on Walter and the factory's progress.
Mr. Sinclaire offered to join Oliver when he started the business in Corning. Oliver said "No he wanted to swing it by himself, and didn't want a partnership" . Marvin Olcott (for years afterward a partner in H.P. Sinclaire, Jr.'s firm6) approached Walter after the O.F. Egginton Co. had been in business for a year and offered to invest in the company since they were doing so well.
Walter said no. Marvin had 3 marriage-aged daughters who had an eye on two of Walter's sons - Alfred and Oliver. (Papa had four boys and seven girls.) It didn't work out.
What about the Egginton patterns?
Papa was a designer. Some of Papa's patterns were patented. We showed them to Revi. Papa left Hawkes in 1896, and the (Egginton) company was incorporated in 1897.7 Papa published yearly catalogs of his beautiful designs. We took them to be photographed on Market Street, on black velvet. Lucille worked with Papa for 6 years. Susan did not work for Papa. Their best patterns included Arabian, Berkshire, Calve, Cluster, and Diadem. Verdi and Gounod were done in the late teens and they were lovely. Marquise and Warwick were beautiful, so heavily cut the cutter had to "feel" it to cut it because he couldn't see it through the glass when cutting a vase.
Trellis was patented by Hawkes when Papa was working for them as chief designer. Hawkes called it something else.8 Walter called it Trellis. A barred pattern with double hobnail. 2" cuts. We don't have a single piece of it.
A Pattern Book did exist; we sent it to Market Street (Corning) to be photographed by Mr. Hillman. He has since gone out of business and his daughters have died. Another pattern is Magnolia (patented by Walter Egginton 2/24/1903.) Calve was cut on blank 684 Corset Vase. It was named after Emma Calve, the opera singer. Papa had a pair of whiskey decanters in fine, fine hobnails called Berkshire in the family home on the sideboard. the only pieces he had left (after the business closed.) It was difficult to keep new designs in house.
Both Hunt and Hoare and a few others would "steal" cutters when "something new" came along and they took the designs with them before they could be patented.
What about the Egginton Factory & its Workmen?
Grandfather owned the whole city block between 5th and 6th Street, bounded by State and Washington. Harry Hunt bought his property from Grandfather. Oliver brought over English workers who lived on Washington Street. Family names like Onions, Share and Crookston. The sisters particularly thought Oliver Onions had a "funny name." These workers came from Stourbridge, same as Papa and Mr. Carder.
And the Egginton cutting shop?
It had two floors with cutting frames on each floor. Papa had an engraving lathe or two. John Illig did their engraving. There was an overhead shaft with wide leather belts driving the cutting frames, with an engine room at one end. There was imported sand and excelsior--25 to 40 bales of excelsior--for packing. The sand was white. It went in the hoppers with emery. The sisters liked to play in the sand….
The factory has been made into a "tenement house". Lucy remarks that she "can't stand to drive by it now".
They employed upwards of 200 men--100 frames per floor. Engraver John Illig occupied one corner. He took over the factory after it closed. The company went bankrupt. Mr. Wellington called in the loan.
What were Egginton's Blank sources?
Papa bought blanks from Belgium (Val St. Lambert9) and Baccarat. According to him, they made the best blanks! He felt Houghton's blanks (Corning Glass Works) were "not worth cutting, it's so poor."9 He also bought blanks from Libbey, Dorflinger, Union (Massachusetts), Steuben, but very few from Corning Glass Works. Corning Glass Works got Grandfather out of bed one night when a batch of their glass went bad. He told them "You had better bury it it's no good!"
What was The Cutting Process?
The rougher used white and red lead and calipers to mark the pattern on the blanks. Lucy recalls standing and watching the roughers and smoothers for hours and found it fascinating.
And The Polishing Process?
Papa kept the secret of the acid dip to himself. He never gave it to anybody and our brothers weren't interested in that they wanted other lines of work.
The Final Steps?
Markings were put on by Mary Schichtel Steele. She would dip a very, very tiny Camel Hair Brush into the acid and then transfer it to the rubber stamp. She would then try it on a piece of glass and when it was "just right" would start signing the wares. When the factory was going full blast, there were a lot of people involved. Sister Helen was in charge of the Stockroom. There were bookkeepers. There were six to eight girls involved in the final steps.
Washing--Hot suds, and we used only Ivory Soap. The sink shelves were of wood to minimize breakage. It was amazing how tough the glass could be while being scrubbed.
Rinsing-- it was very thorough!
Drying-- While still warm, the glass was buried in great big bins of sawdust. Carefully brushed off after 30 minutes in the sawdust
Final Inspection & Packing--the pieces were wrapped in tissue, then in heavy handsome Manila paper, then marked with the item's description, and then with the item's pattern.
Breakage--the glass could "fly" during the final washing and wrapping processes if the temperature of the room was too far from that of the glass piece. It was not uncommon for glass to break. It could be reused and melted down again. There was one Christmas season when a Marshall Field order of a punch bowl "flew" while being washed. Papa was "just sick" over it. He didn't know how he could make another and get it there in time.
Please comment on Walter Egginton's personality and business acumen.
He wasn't a business man, he was not progressive. "Money didn't mean anything to him! He threw it away as fast as he made it." Papa was robbed blind by the office staff even by his own daughters! He was no businessman. Walter bought Sealskin Caps, guns, dogs, pianos and musical records. He liked to "live it up!" But he was very interested in theatre, music, art and design. Papa loved to read! He kept big pieces of sketch paper in his desk, and would pull it out when "he had an idea." He would seek approval of his sketch from his wife, and he kept a sketch of his "Dogwood" pattern in his office. He experimented trying to cut soda lime glass. Cheap. No good.
Papa was not a wealthy man - he had 11 kids! He died in 1925, Momma died in 1921.
Why did the company go out of business in 1918?
Because of No Business! Papa went bankrupt, and Mr. Wellington called in his loan.
What happened then?
After the company folded, Lucy went to work for the New York Central Railroad as a telegraph operator for 3 or 4 years.10 There were no other jobs in Corning except for the Houghton's glass factory and "that would never do!" "I went to New York (City) after that." And Lucy eventually spent some time in California with Susan, before both sisters returned to Corning.
What happened to the equipment when the factory closed?
It was taken over by the bank. Papa was in debt to the Wellington Bank. John Illig kept things going for awhile.
What was the inventory when Egginton closed its doors?
When the business was closing, Lucille asked Papa to cut her a pair of bottles. He found the blanks and had them cut in her desired pattern, Calve. One bottle has since broken. Lucy paid for the bottles and a corset vase also in Calve that she took on closing. She wanted a pair of the latter, but it was already packed. All the remaining stock at end of the firm's life (some $6,000 worth) went to the Marshall Field Department Store in Chicago.
A pair of colognes that Walter gave Mother on the birth of their son Enoch was later sold to an Art Dealer who resided in Angels Camp, CA. They belonged to Sister Ruth at the time and she wanted them sold. There were clear plaques on each, which were engraved with Momma's initials and the date 1895. Beautifully cut, both sisters agree. Large sized 10 oz or 12 oz capacity. A West Coast antique dealer bought all of Susan's other available pieces for a Fresno, CA collector.
How about Frederick Carder, founder of Steuben Glass Works?
Mr. Carder was very interesting. We weren't allowed on the front porch when he was there because he cussed terribly, every other word was "bloody." Mother didn't like us being around him. Papa and Mr. Carder would sit around drinking their ale and porter (Half & Half). The sisters both admired Carder's Aurene glass. Mr. Carder gave a beautiful piece of it to Papa but they don't know where it is. They liked Cyril, Carder's son. He was Enoch's age (Walter E's son Enoch, born 1895.) He was a lovely boy a terribly nervous kid, who stuttered and stammered severely because of his "Old Man who was so strict with him." Poor Cyril - he was blown up in the First War. The Carders lived only a block away. Gladys (Carder's daughter) was a nice daughter, who lives now in Hudson, OH. Gladys brought her baby over in a carriage to show Momma one day. Momma asked "shouldn't baby have something on his feet?" Gladys said "No, he's fine!" "Poor little thing with bare feet!" Paul Perot (then Director of the Corning Museum of Glass) and Ken Wilson visited Gladys the previous year as it turns out. She was worried about "poor Welles, her husband, who could hardly pour Paul and Ken a drink. Ken found out later that she died a week after their visit.
Was there cut glass in your home growing up?
Yes, we used it. It didn't mean so much to us, and we "flung it around." Well, there were knife rests, "Dresden" baskets (Dresden refers to their shape) and compotes. There was the ferner with a fern in it sitting in the middle of the dining room table. The family used cut glass every day; sugar bowls, relishes, spoon trays, and celery trays.
The Final Chapter ...
Gin Time!-- Lucy and Susan politely invite their visitors to partake of refreshments asking "do you people take a drink?" and they pour drinks for Ken and Olive after they reply in the affirmative. They've clearly enjoyed themselves! The interview winds down with a surprise of sorts - "It's snowing outside! It's been a mild winter so far, except for Thanksgiving." Lucy comments that she doesn't mind shoveling the walk but she gets "a crick in my back" which prompts Susan to chime in with "you're no Iron Maiden anymore!" Both sisters have a terrific sense of humor, clearly. Thus ends the tape and its remarkable glimpse into times past.
Further material on this fascinating family of glassmakers and their long journey from England to Corning, NY, via Brooklyn, NY, Portland, ME and Montreal, Quebec can be found in Jane Shadel Spillman's excellent article entitled: The Egginton Family: Glassmakers on the Move, published in the Glass Club BULLETIN of the National American Glass Club - Winter 2005 issue.
Many thanks to the staff of the Rakow Research Library, particularly Gail Bardhan, Reference Librarian, for their much appreciated help in unearthing materials relating to the Egginton family. And thanks to my friend George Kuzora whose "find" of the plate pictured in Figure 2 started me on this project to learn more about the Eggintons.
Finally, please keep your eyes peeled for the missing Egginton "Pattern Book" and those other yearly catalogs the sisters claim were published!
1. Sinclaire & Spillman, The Complete Cut & Engraved Glass of Corning, The Corning Museum of Glass/Syracuse University Press, 1979/1997, pg. 133.
2. This may explain why there are two marriage ceremonies for Oliver Egginton and Ellen Brennan recorded in the Egginton Batch Book, i.e. "Married at St. John's Chapel, Limerick by Father Quinn by license on January 28, 1844. 2nd Marriage by the Rev. Mr. Gubins(?), St. Mary's Cathedral, Limerick, August 26, 1844."
3. This explains why at least two pages in the Egginton Batch Book have indeed been torn out of the "receipts" section.
4. The Egginton Batch Book (Rakow Research Library, Corning Museum of Glass, TP857.12.E29, contains several recipies for glass with a high lead content, ranging in quality and price from "Regular" to "Best." It also contains genealogical information with entries attributed to Enoch, Oliver, and Walter E. Egginton.
5. No corroborating information has surfaced to date validating that Oliver went to Meriden, CT with Joseph. Lucy's recollection however is sure and strong.
6. Sinclaire & Spillman, The Complete Cut & Engraved Glass of Corning, The Corning Museum of Glass/Syracuse University Press, 1979/1997, pg. 204.
7. Note that the incorporation date printed on their stationary is one year later.
8. I find Lucy's comment interesting--she could easily be talking about Hawkes Willow pattern or a variant, which was not patented by Hawkes until 1911. Spillman suggests in, The American Cut Glass Industry T.G. Hawkes & His Competitors (pg. 57), that it was cut as early as 1905. Given the similarities between Egginton's "tusked" pattern (Figure 2) and Hawkes "Grecian", it's not out of the realm of possibility that Walter Egginton was, as the sisters suggest, involved in both firms "Trellis" designs.
9. Sinclaire & Spillman, The Complete Cut & Engraved Glass of Corning, The Corning Museum of Glass/Syracuse University Press, 1979/1997, pg. 136.
10. Jane Shadel Spillman recalls that Lucy told her she would hop the New York Central Railroad as it went through Corning to get to Watkins Glen, NY to get to work, over 20 miles each way.