Heads of State
Since ancient times, monarchs and statesmen have been immortalized in portraits in all sorts of materials, including glass. In the days when few people could read, portraits were created to familiarize citizens with their rulers and, later, with political candidates. In 17th-century Europe, the likenesses of emperors and kings were engraved and enameled on glass to emphasize their importance.
Sixteenth- and 17th-century glass objects bearing the portraits of monarchs were usually expensive and made for the upper classes. Late 19th- and 20th-century objects, in contrast, were often mass-produced to commemorate a coronation or an anniversary.
In the United States, where heads of state are elected, glass objects were frequently pressed or mold-blown as inexpensive items. George Washington, the “Father of His Country,” was the first president to be memorialized in this manner. Objects showing his face have been made from 1789 to the present day. Whiskey flasks from the early 1820s bear his portrait (with the American eagle) or those of such future presidents as Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor. Commemorative objects were also made to honor presidents who were assassinated (Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley), as well as those who were military heroes (Jackson, Taylor, and Grant).
Up to a point, the popularity of a particular monarch or president can be accurately assessed by the number of extant portraits. By that reckoning, George Washington remains the most beloved figure in American history.