Libbey Glass:
One Hundred Years in Toledo 1888-1988

by Frank O. Swanson

Reprinted from The Hobstar, May, 2005

 

Libbey GlassIn American glass, a name like LIBBEY having a 100th anniversary in Toledo is something special. Let us take time to review some of Libbey’s history and the handware the Company produced.

Libbey Glass started in 1818 as the New England Glass Company, in East Cambridge, Mass., and moved to Toledo, Ohio, in 1888. The move was prompted by strikes and a costly fuel problem in the east. Northwest Ohio had an abundant supply of natural gas and the Toledo area was ideal for industrial growth.

The first glass was made from the new furnaces in August of 1888. The Company changed its name to Libbey Glass Company in1892. The first trademark was the spread wing eagle, usually in red, encircled with the lettering "Libbey Cut Glass Toledo, Ohio." The signature was used during the first years at Toledo (1892 -1896). Signed pieces with this signature are quite scarce. Most of the cut glass produced during this period was the standard strawberry diamond, hobstar, and fan motifs. (Photo 1)


Photo 1: Typical cut glass covered butter
dish of this period. Height 5 1/2 inches,
plate Diameter - 7 inches (not signed)

At the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Libbey was awarded a gold medal for its cut glass excellence. Two other expositions in San Francisco and Atlanta also honored Libbey for its glass. At the close of the 19th century and during the first years of the 20th, the Libbey Glass Company had become the largest cut glass factory in the United States.

In 1896, a new trademark was established. The Libbey name was in script, the "L" and the "y" not connected, with a sword under the whole name. The sword was symbolic of the famous steel swords of Toledo, Spain; Toledo’s European sister city. This signature was used from 1896 through 1906. During this period, Libbey introduced numerous patterns and styles of handware. Many of these are shown in the  1896 - 1906reprint of Libbey’s 1896 catalogue.(1) Some of the most common patterns are: 1896-1906: Brilliant, Colonna (Photo 2), Corinthian, Gem, Harvard, Imperial, Kimberly, Princess.


Photo 2: Rare covered "bonbon" dish;
Colonna pattern, signed, height
5 1/2 inches, diameter - 7 inches, with an
interference lock for the lid to bottom.

Libbey’s exhibit at the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 was exclusively cut and engraved glass. The Company also won another gold medal at this fair for its cut glass. The center of the exhibit was "the largest piece of cut glass in the world" – a 25 inch cut glass punch bowl, which is now on exhibit at the Toledo Museum of Art. Also from the St. Louis Fair, the Museum has on exhibit a 32-inch tall three piece cut glass table in the Neola pattern with a top diameter of 28 inches.

In 1906, the sword was eliminated from the signature and the Libbey name in script retained, usually with the "L" and "y" connected. From 1906 through World War I some of the favorite patterns were continued, but many new ones were added to Libbey’s line of products.


Photo 3: The Gem pattern of the 1920's (signed).

Some of the most common patterns are: 1906 ca. 1913: Diana, New Brilliant, Cut Flute, Kingston, Gem (Photo 3), Empress, Somerset, Verna.

 

The popularity of the deep cut glassware continued throughout the “Brilliant Period”. The Brilliant period of American Cut Glass is that period between 1876 and 1915, 2 but a wide market for glass of this type continued until about 1925. The characteristics of the Brilliant Period cut glass are heavy lead glass with deep mitre cuts resulting in patterns of hobstars, fans, and other geometric designs. During the latter days of the Brilliant Period, 3 lightware and “rock crystal” came into circulation. In contrast to the heavyware of the Brilliant Period, the lightware was of thinner glass and the decorative patterns were not only straight-line cuttings but also cuts which were circular and sometimes combined with the straight-line cuts. Also, while all Brilliant Period heavy pieces were almost polished cuttings, the lightware pieces had unpolished gray cuttings combined with polished cuttings. In the case of the "rock crystal", it was lightware with all patterns polished. The duration of Libbey’s lightware was brief, lasting only a few years. The rarity of the Libbey lightware made through the teens make these pieces collectibles that are classified separate and distinctive from the heavyware of the American Brilliant Period cut glass.

A new signature with a thin stylized Libbey, the "L" and "y" connected within a circle, appeared during the teens. Some authorities differ on the actual start of this trademark and signature. In the late 1930’s some of the signatures had a double rim. This signature continued until after World War II, or the late forties. Some of the favorite patterns were: 1919-1945: Anita Brilliant Cherry Blossom Gem Gloria Mignon Regis (Photo 4) Wisteria (Photo 5).


Photo 4: Regis pattern - 8 inch diameter bowl with the
complete surface of the glass being cut, typical of the
"Brilliant Period" for the utmost in design and quality (signed).

Photo 5: The Wisteria 8 inch diameter bowl has a combination
of polished vine and leaf with copper wheel engraed birds and
sprays of wisteria blooms (signed).


These and many other patterns and shapes are shown in Carl Fauster’s book, Libbey Glass - Since 1818, which contains reprints of the 1905 and the 1920 catalogues. Libbey made Amberina glass at Toledo during the late teens. This glass was red shading to amber that Joseph Locke perfected and patented in 1883 for the New England Glass Company. Most of the pieces that were signed had the name “Amberina” etched on them , while some had only Libbey enclosed in a circle. This glass and other colored glass made by Libbey throughout its years in Toledo can be found in various articles on Libbey and pictures can be found in Carl Fauster’s book. (4)

With costs of labor and fuel going up the cut glass orders declined and the factory was to concentrate production of glassware for restaurants, hotels, and commercial uses for the next decade. Tied with this, Libbey announced their Safedge Glassware (1924) with a beaded rim that prevented chipping.

Douglas Nash came to Libbey and created a new line of glass in 1933 drawing upon his experience from Tiffany. The new series specialized in tableware and produced formal stemware and matched centerpieces of candlesticks, bowls, and vases. Eighty-two ifferent patterns were in the Libbey- Nash series with over half of the pages in the 1933 catalogue illustrating the stemware. (4)

 


Photo 6: Libbey-Nash stemware from left to right: Talisman
(threaded with ruby-twisted stem), Majesty (with
controlled bubble stem - unpolished, Cornucopia (with
unpolished pattern and twisted stem), Marquis (with
column stem and unpolished pattern), and Morningfrost
(opalescent with clear spots). (All pieces signed)

The introduction of the Libbey-Nash line of glassware could not have been more poorly timed with the country experiencing a depression. The Libbey Glass Company was acquired by Owen-Illinois with the acquisition being completed by the end of 1935. The Nash line was produced no more than a year or two by Libbey. In view of the short production time, it is easy to understand why this glassware is so highly prized by today’s collectors. (Photo 6)

 


Photo 7: Embassy (4900 line)
with a flat column stem and clear
glass. Cocktail and sherry
pictured. Modern American
Series (signed).

A new line of handware was started in 1939 and released publicly in 1940 as the Modern American Series. The simple heavy blown crystal pieces were of great brilliance which characterized the series. The brilliance was made possible by a perfected mechanical means of mixing the batch of glass. Some of the fine glassware that was introduced at this time included the Embassy stemware (Photo 7).

It was designed for the State Dining Room in the Federal Building at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Some of the simple shapes of the line had copper wheel engraving and simple flute cuts. An article in the March 1985 issue of the Ohio Antique Review (Page 14) shows the process of making a Modern American vase (August 18, 1940 - Toledo Times). Other patterns and styles of this famous Modern American Series can be found in the catalogue reprint of this series. (4)

orld War II forced the conversion to the war effort and necessitated limited production of consumer glassware. The Modern American line marked the end of fine completely handcrafted glass by the Company.

To give an idea of the quantity of glassware produced by Libbey during the forties, I reference an article in the December 21, 1945, Lib-bits, paper printed by Libbey Glass for its employees. Mr. Nils Johansson, managing director of Orrefors Glass Works in Sweden, stated that a half day’s production (machine and handware) at Libbey would equal a full year’s output of any one of Sweden’s 49 glass factories.

The original factory was named “Factory A” and this factory produced almost all of Libbey’s handware. “Factory A” was torn down in 1951 and production of handware ceased. From this time on, the Company had to rely on machine made glassware or subcontract to other companies making handware for blanks.

This leads to the glassware made in the late 1940’s through the late 1950’s as an era of Libbey collectible glass that up until now has not been touched upon in detail. A catalogue from about 19565 shows Libbey’s lines of glassware like Flair (Photo 8) low stemware (Photo 9), and tumblers that were all machine ware which were cut. An example of tumblers that were cut is the Kent series (Photo 10) as found on the salesman’s sheet. This is a typical example of a machine tumbler made during the fifties. Machine made tumblers usually have a blown-in in a circle and would usually have a silver/blue sticker similar to the trademark in the lower right corner of the sheet in the photo. This glassware was made of a good grade of glass with the pattern cut in the piece and not molded or pressed in.

Reportedly the last etched signature of Libbey ware was the 1958 stemware patterns known as the “1818” line. This signature was the Libbey name in Script with a sword below and above the name. A black sticker with the same signature is normally found on these wares and others in the late fifties. The “1818” line was a machine made line similar to that of the Waterford line of handware of the Modern American Series. The “1818” line came in four cut patterns, each with the names symbolic of Colonial America: Jamestown, Raleigh, Williamsburg, Yorktown.

During the early years of machine produced stemware, the ware did not carry a molded “ “ in a circle like the tumblers of the extra cost of manufacture. Machine produced stemware made today do carry this mark due to a change in production techniques.

The black sticker is significant as it depicts the death or the end of cut glass at Libbey. The last 30 years Libbey has concentrated on high volume machine ware and still is regarded as a great name in glassware. Since Libbey no longer produces handware or does cutting and engraving, this creates an opportunity for the collector of American glass to form a collection of Libbey glass by periods: 1) Cut Glass (Brilliant), 2) Lightware - Rock Crystal, 3) Amberina - colored glass, 4) Libbey-Nash, 5) Modern American, 6) Machine made-cut, and 7) Miscellaneous paperweights, whimsies, etc., made by the workers and not sold commercially. By far the longest and the best known period of time would be the Cut Glass – Brilliant Period, 1888 - 1925. Some of its patterns were produced only for a few years while others were produced over many years. While some of the common and favorite patterns are easy to find, there are others that are difficult to find because they were made for a very short time.

Glassware produced in the other time periods, in many cases, are more scarce than some of the more common cut glass pieces from the Brilliant Period. Most of the handware made from 1892 through the 1940’s was signed with the signature (trademark) from that period of time. It is recommended that the collector study existing known original signed pieces to get familiar with the style and appearance of the Libbey signature along with patterns and shapes produced. With wear and location of signatures, sometimes a collector might have a piece in his collection for years before the signature is apparent. Today’s trends in pricing shows that signed pieces command a 20 to 30 percent price premium over the same piece not signed. This would explain why there are forged signatures on the market today and why it is very important to study what you collect. I hope that this article has stimulated the interest of the collector of American glassware and especially those collectors interested in Libbey glass. We congratulate Libbey on its one hundredth anniversary in Toledo and wish the Company continued success during the next one hundred.

Footnotes:
1. The Libbey Glass Co. - Cut Glass 1896 Catalogue (Reprint): Antique & Historic Glass Foundation. Director Carl U. Fauster.P.O. Box 7413, Toledo, Ohio 43615 2. The “Brilliant Period” as I have defined, starts with the Philadelphia exposition of 1876 and ends about 1915 when the great demand for this heavy and costly glass declined.
3. “Rock Crystal” is defined as fine lead crystal, commonly cut and polished in shallow motifs.
4. Carl Fauster’s Book:Address under #1 5. Libbey Fine Cutware Catalog circa 1956 from Carl Fauster’s collection.

Acknowledgements:
I wish to thank Carl Fauster and my family’s long time friend Stan Westlund for their contributions and support of this article marking Libbey’s 100 years in Toledo. I also wish to thank my wife, Harriet, for her support and encouragement, and my son, John, for the photographs of glass used in this article.

Article reprinted by permission of Krause Publications Inc

 

 

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