Early American Glassware

The following article is the record of a speech/program given by Mr. Ralph C Bevan at the September meeting of the Western Rhode Island Civic Historical Society and printed in the Hinterlander Vol. 2 No. 4 October 1958

…’Mr. Ralph C. Bevan, who lives in the old Mount Vernon Tavern, Foster, was our speaker. His subject was “Early American Glassware”. He exhibited about fifty pieces of clear and colored pattern glass’…

…’Glass has been made for thousands of years. As early as 1609 blown glass was made in the colony of Jamestown, Virginia. T his has all disappeared. Glass beads were also¬† made and used in payment for furs or land the colonists bought from the Indians. They were known as trade beads. Historical records show that the first glass works in New England was established at Salem Mass. in 1641. England seemed to take the attitude that the colonies existed for her sole benefit and allowed manufacturers and merchants to charge exorbitant prices for their goods. This aroused resentment in the colonists and spurred them on to establish industries that would make them independent of the mother country. Glass was only one of the industries they started, to that end.

No records have been found, to tell what products were made in the Salem works. Bottles found in Indian graves in Rhode Island, and Connecticut may have been made there. Durig the years 1634 to 1764 blown glass was made in New Amsterdam, New York. Early in the 1700’s a number of glass works sprang up in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Gaspar Wistar established the first three mold glass business in Salem County, New Jersey, in 1717. John Frederick Amelung and 65 glass workers, financed by foreign capital, came to America and established a glass-house and village in Frederick County, Maryland, in 1785. He called the town New Bremen, after his home in Germany. Amelung is probably the only 18th century glass maker who left dated and inscribed pieces of his wares. His use of soda and lime produced very clear glass with no rign in it. It is considered that his greatest contribution to American glass making was his brass wheel-cut engravings.

Mr Bevan has four Amelung wine glasses which are identical with one in the Metropolitan Museum owns. The bowl shows a faint lavender tinge, the stem is slightly coffee colored and it has the letter U engraved on it.

Beginning about 1787 and extending into the years Thomas Jefferson was President (1801-9), foreign competition caused many glass works to close down. The first tariff act passed by the Congress, placed a duty on imported glass. As a result of this advantage glass factories sprang up in the east and as far west as Pittsburgh and Ohio. Some of the beautiful glass of the times was made by the New England Glass Company of Cambridge, Mass., which was established in 1818. The Sandwich Manufacturing Co., later on called Boston and Sandwich Glass Co., was started in 1825 by Deming Jarves, a Huguenot, who had helped found the New England Glass Co. He established the factory at Sandwich on Cape Cod, Mass. because of the abundance of wood to stoke the furnaces and the excellent quality of the raw material found there, essential in making glass. As general manager, Jarves perfected the method of pressing glass by means of a plunger in a metal mold. This method he learned in the Netherlands and in England, but he improved the process so he could mold any article made of glass. He imported skilled glass blowers, engravers and cutters from England, Ireland, France and Belgium. The first products of the Sandwich factories were lamps, inkwells, tumblers, vials and lamp stems. Later they made objects of colored, striped and fancy glass, threaded and mold glass. Demand for the fine products Jaraves produced led the company to expand and to mae mugs, creamers, pitchers, draw pulls, door handles, newel post finials, decanters, stoppers, candle sticks, paper weights, compotes, cup plates and commemorative dishes of many kinds and many others. Deming Jarves left the company in 1858. It is said that the quality of the products deteriorated after he left and competition from the cheaper wares made by many newer glass works probably were big factors leading to the closing of the Sandwich plant on Jan. 1, 1888.

Some of the pieces Mr. Bevan showed us were: …A beautiful cobalt blue lamp, Lincoln drape made at the time of his assassination. Blown clear gin bottle made about 1800. The number of rings around the top denotes the strength of spirits inside and helped to locate it in a dark wine cellar…”