Diamond Jim Brady's Glassware

By Jane Shadel Spillman

Reprinted from The Hobstar, October 1989



Last year the Corning Museum of Glass received as a gift a set of rock crystal engraved tableware which had formerly be-longed to James Buchanan Brady, more familiarly know as "Diamond Jim" Brady. The glass, when it arrived at the Museum, turned out to be superb in both design and execution. I would probably have cataloged it as European, since it is much more elaborate than most American examples I’ve seen, except that the donor also sent us a copy of a page from the auction catalog from which her parents had purchased the glass in 1917 shortly after Brady’s death.

The catalog, published by the American Art Galleries, was titled, "THE COSTLY FURNISHINGS AND EMBELLISHMENTS REMOVED FROM THE RESIDENCE OF THE LATE JAMES BUCHANAN BRADY, WIDELY KNOWN AS "DIAMOND JIM BRADY/NEW YORK CITY," and it listed a quantity of household furnishings, including a set of cut glass (the description says merely "with rib and diamond cut-ting." The set we received was listed as "#1570—ROCK CRYSTAL GLASS TABLE SERVICE with intaglio cutting of vases and dolphins, consisting of 12 cocktail glasses, 11 sherry glasses, 12 port glasses, 12 champagne glasses, 12 punch glasses, 12 goblets, 12 frappe' glasses, 12 cordial glasses, three decanters, and 12 finger bowls with plates. Note: only two sets of this glassware were made by James Hoare, of the Corning Glass Company, of Corning, New York." Twelve champagne glasses on tall foot and 12 highball glasses "to match the preceding" were the next two entries, but our donor’s family had apparently not purchased these. We received two decanters, one with a handle, eight full place settings as listed above, and extras of some of the shapes. Because lack of space does not permit us to accession entire sets, we have selected two places settings and the decanters and have set aside the remaining place settings for eventual sale or exchange with other museums.

JimBradyDecantersWhen the glass finally arrived in Corning, I searched every single piece for a Hoare trademark and was disappointed to find none. Since the Hoare company was still in business at the time of the sale, and not so famous that the Anderson Gallery would make that claim without some reason, I am sure that the glasses were retailed by Hoare and probably engraved in Corning. Whether the blanks were made in Corning or elsewhere, I’m not sure. However, the next mystery to clear up was the question of the date the service was made. I read a couple of biographies of Diamond Jim and discovered that he lived in an elaborately furnished apartment in New York City in the early 1890’s and bought and furnished a house in 1898. He was famous for giving away his possessions on occasion, and refurnished the house periodically. At first I thought this set must have been bought for the house in 1898 or shortly thereafter. However, if so, it should certainly have had a Hoare trademark on at least one of the pieces, since Hoare started using the trademark in 1895. On stylistic grounds, it is unlikely that Hoare made anything this elaborate after 1905 when his business started to slide. As far as we know, in Corning, only H. P. Sinclaire made heavy, polished engraving of this quality after 1905.

One of the happiest periods in Brady’s life was the summer of the Chicago World’s Fair. He had just concluded a very profitable deal and he took much of the summer off and spent it in Chicago, going to the Fair every day, and apparently consuming prodigious quantities of corn-on-the-cob every night. It was in Chicago that he met Lillian Russell, who became a close friend. J. Hoare & Co. was an exhibitor at this Fair, and their prize was for 1) glassware, 2) rock-crystal cutting, 3) cut glass, and 4) engraved glass. They must have had a substantial exhibit, of which the centerpiece was a 24-inch punch bowl which was broken while on exhibition.

Fridoli Kretschmann, a "glass carver" according to the Corning City Directory, had come from Webb, England to Corning in 1892-1893 to work on Hoare’s exhibit. He was in Corning for less than a year, and presumably executed the engraved pieces which were sent to Chicago. It seems to me that it is a distinct possibility that this service was engraved by Kretschmann for Hoare, exhibited at the World’s Fair Columbian Exposition as an example of rock crystal engraving, and was purchased by Diamond Jim Brady directly from Hoare during the summer. That would account for its lack of a trademark, for its firm attribution to Hoare in the auction catalog, and for the fact that Brady apparently kept it, when he so often gave his possessions away. It was a lasting memento of his favorite summer. Regrettably, this is an unprovable theory. However, I do think it is a much more likely scenario than that Brady merely bought the set in a store in New York City in the 1890’s. Regardless of the date of this service, it is a stunning example of American rock crystal style engraving.

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