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Glasses with American Views

All About Glass

Glasses engraved with scenic views or important buildings are part of a Germanic tradition dating to the eighteenth century. Similar commemorative glasses are noted in England, e.g., the well-known Sunderland Bridge rummers, but they are less common in English glass. Germanic glasses with this type of engraving are numerous and range in type from the elaborate productions of Anton Kothgasser's school1 to mid-nineteenth-century spa glasses made as inexpensive souvenirs.2

Part I. Glasses with Views of Philadelphia

Glasses with American views are comparatively rare and are of several distinct types. The earliest of these in date are five very similar engraved tumblers with identical cut decoration, each having a different view of a Philadelphia building. The first of these to be discovered was published by Helen and George McKearin3 in 1941. It shows the WIDOWS AND ORPHANS ASYLUM in Philadelphia (Fig. 1 [55.4.59]). The McKearins also describe a glass with the BANK OF PENNSYLVANIA in Philadelphia which was then in a private collection.4 This glass, or an identical one, was recently acquired by Robert Trump of Philadelphia from the collection of Titus Geesey. Another collector has a tumbler with a view of the PENNSYLVANIA ACADEMY OF THE FINE ARTS in Philadelphia; a third collector owns one with a view of the BANK OF THE UNITED STATES in Philadelphia.5 The fifth glass in this series is engraved with a view of the UNIVERSITY in Philadelphia (Fig. 2).

Fig. 1: Tumbler, H. 11.1 cm. The Corning Museum of Glass (No. 55.4.59)

Fig. 2: Tumbler, H. 10.8 cm, Courtesy of The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum (76.7).

These five cylindrical cut and engraved glasses are stylistically related to German forms of the 1810–1830 period, but they must fall after 1827 since all of the views are apparently copied from George Strickland's plates in C.G. Child's Views in Philadelphia and Its Environs from Original Drawings Taken in 1827–1830. The drawings were first printed separately (the Asylum and Bank of Pennsylvania in 1827, the other three in 1828) and then published in book form in 1830. Each glass is remarkably faithful to the print in depicting the buildings, but all of Strickland's people are omitted. It is likely that these glasses were originally part of the same set, made for the Philadelphia market. Three of them have appeared in the Philadelphia area, two were found at dealers in New York City. All are non-lead when tested with long and short ray ultraviolet light.

The glasses were certainly made to be sold in Philadelphia; whether they were also made in Philadelphia is open to question. If the glasses were made in Philadelphia, the probable manufacturer was the Union Flint Glass Works, also known as the Union Glass Works, established in 1826 in the Kensington section. It was organized by several men who had previously worked at various factories, including the New England Glass Company in Cambridge, John Gilliland's South Ferry Glass Works in Brooklyn, and at the South Boston Flint Glass Works in Boston. During the first year of operation Charles Baldwin Austin became a member of the firm, which was then called Charles B. Austin & Company. Austin, an Englishman who came to New York City in 1819, was a glass cutter and is listed as such in the New York City Directory for 1821–1824. In the Brooklyn Directory for 1825–1826 he is listed as operating a glass factory in Brooklyn.6 The Union Flint Glass Works exhibited cut glass at the fourth exhibition of the Franklin Institute in 1827 and again in 1831. In 1840 and in 1842 the company received special mention for their work. It was the only tableware factory known to be in business in Philadelphia in the 1830s and was noted for its cut and engraved glass. However, it is supposed to have produced "flint" glass, which these tumblers are not. Since there are no glasses which can be positively attributed to the factory, no comparisons are possible. The Corning Museum of Glass has a group of glasses acquired from a descendant of Richard Synar, one of the partners in the Union Flint Glass Company who had formerly worked in Brooklyn. All of these are extremely heavy lead glasses. However, Union could have made non-lead glass as well, and the Synar glass could have come from his earlier venture in Brooklyn.

Most other American engraved glass of this period is floral rather than pictorial with the exception of THE HORNET AND PEACOCK decanter engraved at the Ihmsen factory in 1815 and a group of glasses cut and engraved in Pittsburgh and decorated with greyhounds and birds.7 The only French cut glasses of this period in the Corning Museum’s collection are lead glass. There is no reason that the glasses could not be part of a set made in Germany or Bohemia as a special order for a wealthy Philadelphian. They are more skillfully done than the common American engraved glass of the period. Although the design is the same on all of them, the cutting varies in quality from glass to glass, but the engraving is uniformly good. Since these glasses are European in style, are of non-lead glass, but have a Philadelphia history, it is impossible to state definitely whether they are Continental in origin or from the Union Glass Company.

Part II. Glasses of "America-Bohemian" Type (Group I)

Stylistically quite different are a group of eleven glasses, engraved with American views and buildings in the Bohemian style, which probably date from just before the Civil War. In collecting circles in New England, these are usually attributed to the New England Glass Company, although no actual proof exists for or against this theory.

The best-known of these glasses are the pair in the collection of The Henry Ford. They were also illustrated by the McKearins,8 who acquired them from the granddaughter of James S. Barnes, who, with his father, left the New England Glass Company in 1845 to go to Wheeling, West Virginia, to found Hobbs, Barnes & Company. It is possible that these goblets antedate the 1845 move, but the possibility of their being made in Wheeling must be considered. The glasses are colorless, ruby-stained, cut in flat vertical panels, and finely engraved, one with a view of the STATE HOUSE, BOSTON and the other with THE PRESIDENT'S HOUSE, WASHINGTON. The probable source for the view of the President's House is a print first published in 1831 by the English firm, Fenner, Sears & Company, and later widely copied. The exact source for the view of the Boston State House is unknown, for there are several from the 1830s which are similar. The chimneys were removed from the State House in 1859, and since they appear on the tumbler, they provide us with a terminus post quem. The sides of both of these glasses have elaborate scroll-like decorations engraved through the ruby stain; the reverse is blank.

A very similar goblet is in a private collection. This is a yellow-green glass with the same form, eight vertical panels cut around sides and foot, and an engraved view of the Chapel to Our Lady, The Blessed Virgin Mary at Cold Spring. This seems to have been copied from the view by William Bartlett in Nathaniel Willis's American Scenery, published in London in 1839. The owner recalls that when he bought this glass at a shop in upstate New York it was one of a pair, although he does not now recall what view was on the other. The reverse of this glass is blank.

Two other glasses in this series are done on a blank with a taller stem but are clearly related to the glasses in the Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum. Both of these are colorless glass, ruby-stained, and engraved. The engraving of THE PRESIDENT'S HOUSE, WASHINGTON is similar to that on the Ford goblet. The view of NEW ORLEANS is from "New Orleans/Taken from the Opposite Side/a Short Distance Above the Middle on Picayune Ferry." It was published around 1841 in New York. The reverse of these glasses is similar only in being divided into spaces, but the vine ornamentation on the President's House glass resembles those of several others in the group. A second New Orleans glass is engraved with the same view although the boat in the foreground has been much simplified. The vine running around the view is identical with that on the President's House glass, complete with corner ornaments. This goblet is also ruby-stained, but the shape of the bowl is less slender and the foot has been elaborately scalloped.

Fig. 3: Goblet, H. 15.7 cm. The Corning Museum of Glass (No. 55.4.60)Another goblet in this series has the same shape as the second New Orleans glass with a view of THE PRESIDENT'S HOUSE/ WASHINGTON and a scroll design on the reverse which is similar to the treatment on the glasses at the Ford Museum. The foot of this glass, however, has been less elaborately cut. The glass itself seems to have been trimmed slightly on the top edge at some time in the past (perhaps to remove chips), thereby detracting from the design around the top, which is the only such decoration on the glasses in this series. A third goblet of this shape shows the ONTARIO FEMALE SEMINARY, CANANDAIGUA. The only known view of this building was engraved by Richard H. Pease and was used from 1851 to 1875 to illustrate the cover of the seminary catalogue. It also appeared in French's Gazetteer of New York State in the 1860 edition. Pease was an Albany engraver of printing plates who worked from 1836 to 1862, so it is possible that the view was originally engraved somewhat earlier than 1851. The seminary was founded in 1825 and closed in 1875; it was well-known in New York State and in New England.

There are three additional glasses which seem to be related to the previous one, although they have entirely different shapes. The first was acquired from George S. McKearin and has a view of TRENTON FALLS, NEW YORK (Fig. 3 [55.4.60]). This view seems to have been copied from another plate in Willis's American Scenery, and the engraved details edging the view are very similar to others in the group. Recently, the Corning Museum acquired another goblet with a view of the BATTLE MONUMENT, BALTIMORE (Fig. 4 [73.4.121]) and similar ornamental engraving. The monument was erected in 1825 to commemorate the defense of Baltimore during the War of 1812 and was the subject of more than one engraving. However, all of the prints found so far show the monument with the square on the right.

Fig.4: Goblet (view a), H. 14.6 cm. The Corning Museum of Glass (No. 73.4.121)

Fig.4: Goblet (view b), H. 14.6 cm. The Corning Museum of Glass (No. 73.4.121)

Another popular subject for engravers was Niagara Falls, and the last goblet which falls into this group is engraved with a view of Niagara apparently related to the view NIAGARA FALLS. (FROM THE TOP OF THE LADDER ON THE AMERICAN SIDE) in American Scenery. The engraved cartouche is related to that on the TRENTON FALLS goblet and the floral decoration is similar to that on several in the group.

Two additional goblets which may be associated with this group are in a private collection in Baltimore and have views of the PRESIDENT'S HOUSE and the BATTLE MONUMENT, BALTIMORE. They were acquired from a descendant of Henry and Robert Bayley who are said to have operated a glass factory in Baltimore for several years after 1831. They have a history of having been made by Henry Bayley before 1832. These glasses are stylistically later than 1832 in date. They are larger and more ornate than the glasses previously discussed. Unfortunately, their illustration for this article was unobtainable.

The eleven glasses described may have been made in the same glasshouse although not necessarily by the same hand. The question of their origin is still unresolved. On stylistic grounds, they date from 1840-1860, and it is arguable that they were all engraved within a few years of each other. The earliest known print source is the 1831 view of the President's House; the latest is probably the seminary print. Only the first two of the group have any known previous history of ownership. The Ontario Female Seminary glass was found in New England, the Cold Spring Harbor glass in New York State, and the history of the others is unrecorded. The subject matter ranges from the areas of Boston to New Orleans, a considerable geographical spread, although four show scenes from upstate New York and four record scenes from the Baltimore-Washington area. All of the glasses so far tested are non-lead. All were tested by ultraviolet except the Cold Spring Harbor glass, Mrs. Smith's New Orleans glass, and the Tingleys' President's House glass.

These glasses certainly fall into a tradition of European glasses. A number of similar glasses from the second half of the nineteenth century are known with city and spa views from Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire. The inscription on the Cold Spring Harbor glass is different from that on its source print. Bartlett merely called it "The Chapel of Our Lady" while the unknown engraver put an umlaut over the "Y" and added "of the Blessed Virgin Mary," suggesting perhaps that he came from a Roman Catholic or European background. Most of the engravers who worked in this country had been trained in Europe, however, so that is not surprising. There are two known mugs with a similar view of the Ontario Female Seminary, obviously copied from the same print source. They are said to have been ordered by Professor Gustaf Blessner (the music teacher at the seminary, ca. 1858–1868) for his favorite pupils during a visit to Germany. The two are alike; the view has been foreshortened from the print and is not as well done as that on the goblet. There are two other mugs with American views which are probably European. These show UNION HALL, SARATOGA SPA and the LAKE HOUSE, SARATOGA LAKE. Their sources have not been determined. They seem European in style, of non-lead glass, and like the seminary mugs have ground and polished rims, a characteristically Continental method of finishing which is not found in the goblets. More typically German are a beaker and a goblet, both engraved with a view titled "Rheinstein." The goblet, in a private collection, has been in this country for a number of years but is known to be German. It is colorless, non-lead glass, ruby-stained, with a ground and polished rim. The footed beaker is also colorless, ruby-stained non-lead glass. It is in a German museum and is decorated with much the same floral decoration as is found on the glasses discussed earlier, as well as engraved views of Burg Stolzenfels, Burg Rheinstein and Schloss Johannisberg. These are obvious German prototypes for the group of glasses just described.

Because the Bartlett engravings were printed with German and French subtitles, they must have enjoyed a European market, and the non-Bartlett sources are of locations prominent enough to be known abroad. There is much which favors a Bohemian or German origin for these glasses. However, at least two factories in the United States were making this kind of glass in the early 1850s. An article published in the Boston Transcript, June 16, 1852, about the New England Glass Company, says, "We were repeatedly struck with the fact new to us that most of the exquisite, richly colored and decorated glassware which is so much admired under the name of 'Bohemian Glass' is manufactured at these works."9 And in the Brooklyn Evening Star of May 28, 1851, referring to the Brooklyn Flint Glass Works, a reporter writes, “Every description of staple and fancy Flint Glass Ware is made in this establishment. Plated or Bohemia Glass Ware is manufactured here in great perfection." In this case, "Plated" may refer to the ruby-stain (a mineral stain) on these glasses.

If these glasses came from the same factory in Europe, it seems likely that one or more exact copies of the blanks might be found with European views, but this has not been the case so far. The two "Rheinstein" glasses are the closest parallels found by this author. It is possible but hardly probable that the glass came from Europe and was engraved by an independent craftsman in America, which would have been an unnecessarily complicated process because suitable blanks were obtainable in both Boston and Brooklyn.

The New England Glass Company is the only company in this period for which we have firmly attributed scenic engraving in addition to the usual fruits and flowers. Henry B. Leighton and Louis Vaupel did this style of work at Cambridge, and other engravers there also may have done scenic work. The Corning Museum of Glass has a number of examples of Leighton's work (the gift of his niece, Marion Pike) and most of them are executed on lead glass. However, two small cased and engraved plaques with romantic views are done on non-lead glass.

The Sandwich Glass Museum has several engraved figural pieces, but their 1870s catalogue from the Sandwich factory shows no such engraving. Their presence in the museum collection may indicate that such pieces could be ordered or that Sandwich had engravers capable of doing such work when necessary. No pieces with such scenic engraving are attributed to Brooklyn or, specifically, to any of the Pennsylvania factories as far as we know. If we accept the hypothesis that this group of glasses comes from the same factory, it would seem logical to assume, if they are Bohemian, that they were all ordered at once by the same American importer who probably sent the prints to the Bohemian factory and had the engraver copy them. The flaw in this theory is that no importer in any one city could be certain he would sell souvenir glasses showing New Orleans, Boston, and points in between. Also, since all of the prints are not from the same source, it would take much initiative on the part of an importer to collect them and send them abroad.

But the same argument applies to the theory of American manufacture unless one assumes that the New England Glass Company or the Brooklyn Flint Glass Works offered these glasses for sale wholesale around the country—offering a selection of blanks and letting a retailer choose the combinations of subject matter and blank—or letting the retailer in New Orleans or Baltimore supply his own print for the engraving.

In this case, the Bohemian style of glasses is not surprising; it was a much admired style and a good many of the engravers at work here were trained abroad. The fact that the glasses seem to be non-lead, however, is troublesome. According to Benjamin Silliman, who reported on the New York Exhibition of 1853, the New England Glass Company made nothing but lead glass at that time.10 It seems a striking coincidence that the majority of glasses engraved with American historical scenes or famous views are all done in European style on non-lead glass. There is no reason that the goblets described above could not have been made at the New England Glass Company or in Brooklyn or even in Baltimore, but no evidence has been found to link them to any one place. Regrettably, it is simply not possible to say where they were made, although the odds seem to favor an American origin for these eleven glasses simply because the glasses are so closely related and they were all found in this country. In the case of these glasses we can say, as we could not with the Philadelphia group described earlier, that at least two factories existed where they might have been made.

Part III. Miscellaneous Glasses

Fig. 5: Beaker, H. 12 cm. The Corning Museum of Glass (No. 68.3.15)Three more glasses properly fit into this study, all of Germanic shapes with American views. The first of these is a colorless tumbler engraved with a view of Andrew Jackson's THE HERMITAGE (Fig. 5 [68.3.15]) which came from the collection of Samuel Hawkes, proprietor of a glass cutting firm in Corning. Family tradition ascribes it to the Brooklyn Flint Glass Works11 (Hawkes' father worked in Brooklyn for another firm until 1873), but it is a non-lead glass. The view on the glass is reproduced from one drawn by Thomas Birch from the description of a friend and published in the Jackson Wreath in 1829 by Jacob Maas of Philadelphia. This book had wide circulation and the print, although erroneous, was much copied.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a tumbler of similar shape with a view of the harbor of "Philadelphia" which is based on an engraving by Cone after a wash drawing by Thomas Birch of "Shipping on the Delaware" done around 1830 for Mease and Porter's Picture of Philadelphia. This tumbler was attributed by Dorothy Daniel to Dummer's Jersey Glass Factory.12 The Philadelphia Museum has no attribution for this tumbler. It is non-lead also.

Mr. Jerome Strauss has a goblet considerably larger than the first two and engraved with a view of the "United States Bank." It is a dark amber glass and the engraving, although of the same subject as one of the glasses in the Philadelphia series, is based on an entirely different print, probably another print from American Scenery, called UNITED STATES BANK, PHILADELPHIA.

These three glasses all have European prototypes in shape, but none of the views is one likely to have been popular in Europe. The "Hermitage" glass especially is heavily cut and presumably was expensive. All three of the glasses are likely to have been one of a kind items, unlike the first group which seems to have included stock views available on several shapes.

Exactly the same hypothesis might be drawn about these glasses. They could be the "Bohemia Glass Ware" mentioned in the two mid-century newspaper articles quoted above, or they could be imported.

One of the most important facts to keep in mind when studying nineteenth-century glassware is how competitive a period it was. American and English glassmakers copied each other, especially in the second half of the century. The following quotation does not specifically refer to Bohemian wares but does explain why it is so difficult to decide where any of these glasses was made.

Cut Glass. The subscribers have made arrangements to furnish sets ... of American Glass Ware made to order ... to match any pattern desired, whether of foreign or domestic manufacture. They have on hand also English Glass of the most recent patterns, and copies of the same in American Glass ... Boston Daily Journal, February 26, 1850.

Perhaps the publication of these groups of glasses will bring to light some more evidence about their manufacture.

This article was published in the Journal of Glass Studies, Vol. 19 (1977), 134–146.

1. Gustave E. Pazaurek, Gläser der Empire- und Biedermeierzeit, Leipzig: Klinkhardt & Biermann, 1923, p. 352, Abb. 297–298.

2. Bela Borsos, "Hungarian Spa Glasses," Journal of Glass Studies, XI, 1969, Fig. 7, p. 107.

3. George S. and Helen McKearin, American Glass, New York: Crown Publishers, 1948, Pl. 49–9.

4. Ibid., p. 153.

5. Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art, Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1976, No. 252b, p. 296.

6. Ibid.

7. Lowell Innes, Pittsburgh Glass 1797–1891—A History and Guide for Collectors, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1976, pp. 118–130.

8. McKearin, op. cit., p. 162, Pl. 58A, Nos. 6, 10.

9. Kenneth M. Wilson, New England Glass and Glassmaking, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1972, p. 331.

10. Benjamin Silliman and C.R. Goodrich, The World of Science, Art, and Industry Illustrated from Examples in the New-York Exhibition, 1851–54, New York: G.P. Putnam, 1854, p. 154.

11. Dorothy Daniel, Cut and Engraved Glass, 1771–1905, New York: M. Barrows and Co., 1950, Pl. 160.

12. Ibid., Pl. 56.

Published on July 15, 2013

Jane Shadel Spillman
Jane Shadel Spillman joined the Museum in 1965 and in 1978 became the Museum’s curator of American glass. She retired from this position in April 2013. Spillman has published numerous articles and books, including European Glass Furnishings for...