All About Glass

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Coalbourne Hill Glass Works

All About Glass

The third English Company that made furniture for the Indian market was located in the Stourbridge area. This factory had been built early in the 19th century, and it was purchased by Joseph Webb in 1850. He was a cousin of Thomas Webb, owner of the famous glass firm of Thomas Webb & Sons, and he had worked there for a time before joining with another cousin to start his own company. At Coalbourne Hill, Joseph Webb made both colorless and colored glass tableware, and he registered a number of designs for pressed glass in the 1850s. Following his death in 1869, his factory was operated by his executors: his widow, Jane Webb, and her brother, Joseph Hammond. During that time, the firm produced mostly pressed glass tableware. When Hammond left the company at the end of 1880, Mrs. Webb and her son, Henry Fitzroy Webb, assumed control of the factory.1

Fig. 1: Full-page advertisement for glass furniture. From Golden Guide to London, 1884. Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York.In the early 1880s, the Coalbourne Hill works also made cut glass furniture for the Eastern market. Several years ago, photographs of an armchair and a chaise longue were discovered in the files of another Stourbridge glasshouse, Stuart & Sons, along with a costing sheet dated August 30, 1880, and a note stating that the chair was delivered on January 7, 1881. Accompanying this material were some sketches of whatnots.2 Although there is nothing in these documents that identifies them as belonging to the Webb company, the photographs match pieces shown in a full-page advertisement from the Golden Guide to London of 1884 (Fig. 1). An 1883 article in an American trade journal reports that “this firm ... also makes a specialty of glass furniture. These are beautifully upholstered suites, and what is usually woodwork is substituted by elaborately cut crystal.”3 Fortunately, several examples that match the photographs and advertisement are in the Jai Vilas Palace in Gwalior: chairs (Fig. 2), two chaise longues (Fig. 3), and a borne (a French circular sofa); (Fig. 4).4 The footstool in Figure 2 is not shown in the Golden Guide advertisement, but it clearly matches the other Webb furniture at Gwalior. In these pieces, glass parts were added to what is primarily wooden furniture, and aside from the legs, they do not support the objects structurally, but instead serve a purely decorative function.

Fig. 2: Glass armchairs and footstool. Coalbourne Hill Glass Works, about 1880-1886. Jai Vilas Palace, Gwalior.


Fig. 3: Glass chaise longue. Coalbourne Hill Glass Works, about 1880-1886. Jai Vilas Palace, Gwalior.

A large order for this furniture is described in an article that was written the following year:

On a visit to Stourbridge during the past month, we had the pleasure of seeing, in an advanced state of completion, a magnificent glass cheffonier [sic] made by the Executors of the late Joseph Webb, of Coalbourn [sic] Hill, Glass Works. But to adequately describe the beautiful suite of cut crystal glass furniture, upholstered in crimson satin, that we also saw, would be extremely difficult. The design is of a medieval kind, and what, under ordinary circumstances, would be a display of artistically carved woodwork is here represented in chastefully-cut crystal glass. The harmony in the colours employed for decoration, leaves nothing to be desired, and the whole reflects the highest credit on the firm producing it, while at the same time, it is another proof of the rapid strides that are being made in the development of the glass-making industry. We understand that the suite referred to is intended for an Oriental court.5

Later that year, another article in the same publication made it clear that the production of cut glass furniture at the firm was an ongoing enterprise:

We have recently had the pleasure of inspecting a magnificent billiard table, the entire frame work of which is made of richly cut crystal glass. It has been manufactured by the executors of the late Joseph Webb, of Stourbridge, for a wealthy East India merchant. The work is very finely executed, and the effect when lit up by a brilliant light, is truly beautiful. This enterprising firm has been very successful lately in obtaining orders from India for crystal glass furniture, and they have now, we understand, another billiard table in hand, in addition to a suite of chairs, settees, sofas, &c. We are pleased to see Stourbridge coming to the front with this class of work, which we believe has hitherto had its home in Birmingham, and wi[s]h the Executors of the late Joseph Webb every success in the new branch of trade they have taken up. Drawings of the billiard table and other furniture may be seen at their London showrooms, 30, Holborn, E.C.6

Unfortunately, the drawings mentioned in the article have not survived. Because the company closed only two years later, it is unlikely that very much glass furniture was made, and none of the billiard tables has been located. If such furniture was in production for six years, as seems to be suggested by the trade paper accounts, more of it may turn up in other locations in India. At least one of the chaise longues and a side chair were at auction at Sotheby's in London on June 12, 2002. Therefore, the Jai Vilas Palace could not have been the only customer.

Fig. 4: Suite of glass furniture including a borne (circular sofa). Coalbourne Hill Glass Works, about 1880-1886. The étagères, chair, and mirror shown on the right were made by F. & C. Osler about 1880-1900. Jai Vilas Palace, Gwalior.

What prompted Mrs. Webb and her son to enter this branch of the business remains a mystery, but she may have been attracted by Osler's success, or perhaps her company's pressed glassware was selling well in India. There is no evidence that the Webb firm ever had a showroom in India. Moreover, its principal product, pressed glass tableware, was inexpensive and designed for a completely different market. For these reasons, it would be interesting to know how the company's glass furniture was sold. It may be that the attempt to make and market this furniture led to the closing of the firm in 1886.

Jane Shadel Spillman, Curator of American Glass
This article was published in European Glass Furnishings for Eastern Palaces, 2006, pp. 110–115.

1. Jason Ellis, Glassmakers of Stourbridge and Dudley, 1612-2002: A Biographical History of a Once Great Industry, Harrogate, England: the author, 2002, pp. 202-207.

2. John Smith, "Glass Furniture in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries," The Journal of the Glass Association, v. 4, 1992, pp. 21-24.

3. American Pottery & Glassware Reporter, v. 9, May 17, 1883. From the J. Stanley Brothers archives in the collection of the Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library, The Corning Museum of Glass.

4. For more information about the bourne, see Siegfried Giedion, Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous History, New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1948, pp. 371 (illus) and 374-375.

5. The Pottery Gazette, v. 8, no. 84, June 2, 1884, p. 643.

6. Ibid., v. 8, no. 90, December 1, 1884, p. 1366.

Published on March 14, 2018