All About Glass

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F.& C. Osler

All About Glass

F.& C. Osler was probably the largest European company that supplied glass objects to India. Its products sold there included both table wares and lighting devices. During the last quarter of the 1800s and the early years of the following century, Osler also made glass fountains and furniture for the Indian market.

The Osler firm was founded in Birmingham, England, in 1807. Thomas Osler and a partner produced small ornaments, followed by glass prisms and parts for chandeliers. In 1831, Osler's sons, Follett and Clarkson, assumed control of the business, which was eventually reorganized as F. & C. Osler. They moved to new premises in Birmingham, and in 1852 they opened their own glass factory so that they no longer had to rely on others for their glass. As early as 1840, the Oslers associated themselves with a silver and jewelry house in Calcutta and began to display their chandeliers and wall brackets there. By November 1843, they had hired their own agent in Calcutta, and shortly thereafter, they opened a store at Dalhousie Square, which eventually sold glassware of all kinds as well as lighting devices. In 1845, they opened a London showroom at 44 Oxford Street, and they maintained both of these facilities into the 20th century. It seems somewhat surprising that the Oslers had a showroom in India before they had one in London, but this underscores the fact that they were targeting the market in India before any of the other English glass companies.

In the late 1840s, the Oslers capitalized on visits to Birmingham of several heads of state to advertise their ability to make lighting devices on a scale that had not previously been attempted. This effort began with a pair of “colossal candelabra”1 that were ordered in 1847 for the tomb of Muhammad at Medina by Ibrahim Pasha (1789-1848), an Egyptian general and heir to the throne. Standing 17 feet tall, the candelabra were probably the largest such lighting devices ever produced, and there was a considerable amount of publicity about them. “The pillars are constructed to carry twenty­-four lights each, and as we have intimated, are composed entirely of pure crystal glass, cut in a style the richest and most chaste, …” The Art-Union reported. “The column itself is composed of three cylinders, of cut glass prisms … The total weight of one candelabrum is nearly 2,000 lbs.”2 This order, and subsequent ones for Queen Victoria and the palace of the ruler of Nepal, prompted Follett Osler to propose a “Central Fountain of Crystal Glass and of proportional size” to the committee that was then organizing London's Great Exhibition of 1851, and the offer was accepted.3

Fig. 1: Print showing Osler's Crystal Fountain in the center of the Crystal Palace, 1851. From M. Digby Wyatt, The Industrial Arts of the Nineteenth Century, London: Day and Son, 1851-1853, v. 1, pl. 23. Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York.Osler's Crystal Fountain was probably the most spectacular display at this exhibition, the first world's fair (Fig. 1). It stood in the center of the Crystal Palace, was 27 feet tall, and is said to have required four tons of glass to construct it. It was destroyed when the glass building burned in the 1930s, but there are several prints showing how it was installed. The Art-Journal's reporter described it as “perhaps the most striking object in the Exhibition; the lightness and beauty, as well as the perfect novelty of its design, have rendered it the theme of admiration with all visitors. The ingenuity with which this has been effected is very perfect; it is supported by bars of iron, which are so completely embedded in the glass shafts, as to be invisible, and in no degree interfering with the purity and crystalline effect of the whole object.”4 The iron piping and supports were cleverly hidden by molded and cut glass pieces, and the effect was truly dazzling. The fountain was characterized as “an object which, of all others, is calculated to disarm criticism, and put an end to cavilling upon matters aesthetic. The purity of the material, the brilliancy of the cutting, the tasteful arrangement, the appropriate selection of form, all indicate the presence of correct taste and cunning hands ... its gem-like surface and cuttings turning everything by its prismatic influence into purple and emerald and gold ...”5 This was the first (and probably the largest) of several cut and molded glass fountains that Osler and other glasshouses created in the second half of the 19th century.

Fig. 2: Eight-foot candelabrum, one of a pair ordered from Osler by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria in 1848. From Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue [chapter 1, note 19], fig. 416. Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York.Osler's other notable display at the Crystal Palace exhibition was a pair of eight­-foot candelabra that had been purchased by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria in 1848 (Fig. 2). These objects held 15 candles each, and they can still be seen today at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Osler registered a similar design on November 22, 1849, but, as noted above, it had been creating such large lighting devices since 1847. A 20-foot fixture was ordered for the royal palace of Nepal in 1849.6

Because of its reflective qualities, the colorless cut glass for which the English glass industry was famous was particularly suitable for large lighting devices. During the next several decades, Osler's basic design was repeated, with variations and in ever increasing sizes, for many customers. It is probably not surprising that the firm's most important early customers were from Asia, since the English taste in interior decoration favored simpler products in the 1840s. The extensive publicity engendered by these orders, which were featured in such magazines as The Art-Union, must have greatly increased the demand for such fixtures. It also helped to make these products a specialty for the Birmingham company, which had focused on the production of chandeliers before that time.

It was undoubtedly the success of the Crystal Fountain and other large pieces that led the Osler brothers to open their own glasshouse in Birmingham in 1852. The use of gas for lighting was gradually increasing in England at that time, especially in public buildings and among the wealthy. Osler, like Defries, made fixtures for gas, candle, colza oil, and, after 1860, kerosene devices.7

The Osler firm continued to display its large and impressive designs at subsequent world's fairs. A 30-foot gas candelabrum shown at the Paris exposition of 1855 was praised by Georges Bontemps, a glass expert. “Mess’rs. Osler seem to have attained perfection: general beauty of form, boldness of adjustment, purity, whiteness, and brilliancy,” he wrote.8 The design of this candelabrum was somewhat different from that of earlier examples, especially at the base, which displayed more decoration than fixtures made in the 1840s.

Fig. 3: Twenty-foot glass fixture exhibited by Osler at the 1862 world's fair in London. From The Illustrated Catalogue of the Industrial Department [chapter 4, note 3], v. 2, p. 85. Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York.At the second London world’s fair, held in 1862, Osler erected a tall, narrow glass case to hold its exhibit. Designed by the noted architect Owen Jones, the case featured engraved glass panels at the top and a radiating star gasolier by which it was lighted. Osler also displayed a pair of 20-foot gas fixtures (Fig. 3), which, judging from the illustration in the exhibition catalog, were virtually identical to the taller fixture that had previously been shown in Paris.

Fortunately for researchers, some Osler archival materials are housed in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Birmingham City Library, and they provide information about the firm's customers and the Indian trade. In addition, there are two large pattern books with hand-drawn and colored designs that are numbered and usually dated, although customers are rarely named. The Osler company certainly had plenty of customers in England, but it also managed a very large export business. As early as October 5, 1862, it supplied a 24-light green chandelier, with two tiers of candles, to J.G. Garrett & Company, and in February and September 1863, one of the design books shows 40-light purple and 24-light “ruby plated” chandeliers made for the same customer. As previously noted (see chapter 1), one critic at the 1862 world's fair in London had written that colored chandeliers were a design mistake, so it is likely that Garrett shipped these chandeliers to the East. The pattern book records a number of designs for colored chandeliers and candelabra in the 1860s and 1870s (Fig. 4), as well as for some fixtures with colorless parts. There were also designs with “colored furniture” (Fig. 5), which refers to beads and prisms. Some of the fixtures were plated, or made with two layers of glass (Fig. 6). The top layer, which was often white, was cut through to reveal the colored glass beneath it. White on ruby was the most popular combination, although alabaster on green was also frequently employed. These plated fixtures were often gilded (Fig. 7). In the design books, most of them are shown with tulip shades, although the shades were usually purchased separately.

Fig. 4: Design for candelabrum, 1860s, from Osler pattern book, v. 1, p. 60. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.
Fig. 5: Design for "colored furniture" for chandeliers, 1860s, from Osler pattern book, v. 1, p. 58. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.
Fig. 6: Design for candelabrum, 1860s, from Osler pattern book, v. 1, p. 55. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.
Fig. 7: Design for plated and gilded candelabrum, 1870s, from Osler pattern book, v. 1, p. 89. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.

Such a variety of offerings was not always received enthusiastically. A letter from the manager of the Calcutta store to the head office, dated September 24, 1857, maintains that “fancy and colored chandeliers are bad stock … It will be always well to keep a few coloured ones but let them be of one plain colour and all glass, say red and green as the colours … But I think we can never expect a quick sale for any coloured chandeliers our experience proves the force of this.”9 Despite this pessimistic outlook, colored chandeliers sold very well for the next half-century, as is demonstrated in letters sent from the Calcutta office to Birmingham.

The surviving letters describing Osler's business in India date from the 1840s to the 1870s, so they do not include the later furniture orders. Nevertheless, it is evident that this trade was both active and profitable, and that the firm's customers included several royal families. A letter of May 29, 1858, states that “the Rajah of Serampore has sent his salaam10 with an intimation that he purposed visiting us tomorrow ... Our old friend the Puttiala [i.e., Patiala] Rajah has been a strong and valuable ally to us ... He is a noble fellow ... We shall write him when the road is open as a reminder that we are still here and no doubt something will come of it.”11 At that time, the “Puttiala Rajah” was Nerindera Singh (r. 1845-1862), who rebuilt the Qila Mubarak and the Motibagh Palace, located in Patiala in the Punjab, northwestern India, in the 1840s and 1850s. Both of these buildings include quantities of colored and colorless chandeliers, most of which were made by Osler (Figs. 8 and 9). Nerindera Singh had fought for the British during the Indian Mutiny (1857-1859), which is why the letter refers to him as a “noble fellow.”

Fig. 8: Red cased chandelier in durbar hall at Qila Mubarak, Patiala. F. & C. Osler, probably 1870s.
Fig. 9: Green chandelier in durbar hall at Qila Mubarak, Patiala. F. & C. Osler, probably 1870s.

On February 9, 1869, the Calcutta store reported, “The Temple is set up in the back room and is now being touched up a little to make it look fresh, but it does not require so much doing as was thought necessary.”12 Unfortunately, there is no picture of this structure, so unlike the example made by Defries that is discussed on page 100, we can only guess at its appearance and size. Later communications that year reported that “I hear the Gwalior Rajah has a new palace to furnish. If so, we will no doubt come in for a share — at present it is only rumor ...” (June 25) and “it is cheer­ing to be able to report sales of ... chandeliers. We have opened and set up some of the new coloured chandeliers, red, blue, green, opal and gilt. They are very handsome indeed, but I would not recommend too much of that sort of stock. I shall be anxious to get rid of it as soon as possible for more than the usual reasons. There seems a great opening for chandeliers at Puttiala and I shall not neglect to keep my eye on that bright spot ...” (October 20). The Osler store in Calcutta was also trying to attract more customers from the Indian middle class. The opportunities at Patiala resulted from the presence there of a new ruler, Mohinder Singh (r. 1862-1876), who had inherited the title and was refurbishing the palace.

A price list dated October 6, 1868, shows the prices and sizes of lighting devices that were ordered by Mohinder Singh for Patiala. These were probably candelabra, rather than chandeliers.

Pair 7 Lt. Green cased 01102 34£
7 Lt. Ruby cased 01102 36
6 Lt. Ruby 2396 21
6 Lt. Ruby cased 2527 19
8 Lt. Ruby cased 2527 24
12 Lt. Ruby cased 2527 37
5 plain green shades   @ 3/ 2£ 5'
22 plain ruby shades   @ 7/ £7/12
28 Gilt line ruby shades   @ 8/ £11/4
9 Lge flint shades     £2-/-6
Duty     16/12/1113

The goods plus the tax cost £211, and the Patiala government apparently paid for this shipment. Some of the lighting fixtures that can be seen in the palace today were probably part of this order (Figs. 10 and 11).

Fig. 10: Table lamp in the Sheesh Mahal at Motibagh Palace, Patiala. Probably F. & C. Osler, 1870s.
Fig. 11: Candelabrum, one of a pair, in the Sheesh Mahal at Motibagh Palace, Patiala. Probably F. & C. Osler, 1870s.

A letter of November 3, 1868, mentions "a considerable demand for ornamental lighting" and says that the writer wants to install gas for lighting in the shop. He also mentions a very large Osler chandelier that had just been installed in the Calcutta opera house, adding that “Calcutta has never seen anything like it.”14

On November 16, 1868, the writer reported a second trip to Patiala and sales of £311 on October 31, stating that these were “not as profitable as the first sale but it has led to the Raja promising us a good order so soon as the new palace is finished. We sent up a large candelabrum for his inspection.”

In January and February 1869, the store reported good sales, but the manager was doubtful about future sales of colored pieces. However, on February 23, he stated that “4 of the Blue & gold 8 Lt. Chandeliers are gone off. I would not advocate their being replaced as they are too costly ...” On July 1, he wrote: “Regarding the chandelier of 24 Lights, No. 2546 in Oxford St ..., it appears to me to be the very thing required for the Puttiala Raja, but a few changes are necessary ... The pattern is very rich indeed. Have you been able to give any attention to the design for the fountain?”

Subsequent letters mention that “the Maharaja of Scindia arrived yesterday” (December 27, 1869) and “the Scindia Raja who purchased the [illegible] temple, 2 candelabra of 50 Lt and 40 Lt.” This is probably a reference to the maharajah of Gwalior, a member of the Scindia family. The Gwalior palace has a number of Osler chandeliers, as well as a fountain, and Gwalior and Patiala are the two palaces that seem to be most often mentioned in these letters. Another notable visitor to the Osler shop in India was Prince Alfred, duke of Edinburgh and a son of Queen Victoria, who arrived on December 29, 1869. A letter of January 4, 1870, says that sales during the last month of 1869 were “the best we ever had.”

On March 8, 1870, the writer reported that he had “received your letter about the large fountain, 8,000 rupees delivered in Puttiala. Price so large makes it doubtful we will get the order ... All the chandeliers are suspended at Puttiala and the candelabrum placed in the receptions room ...” This letter also mentions inexpensive imported chandeliers at Patiala, but it adds that the maharajah had promised to buy only from Osler in the future. “The Puttiala Raja has been a minor until recently ... now that he has come of age, he is spending prodigiously,” the writer added. The invoice for the Patiala chandelier order includes four ruby, two green, two amber, and eight flint examples, the colored ones in two sizes and the flint ones in several sizes, with all of them including shades, for a total price of £1,345/10/6 or 30,340 rupees.

Although the writer of the letters was consistently pessimistic about costs and future orders, Mohinder Singh did purchase the fountain, which was in­stalled outside the palace. It had been displayed in Osier's London showroom, where it was described as follows:

A platform of richly-cut glass rests upon a white marble-base, from which rises a massive central shaft, surrounded by six smaller columns composed of prisms, also richly cut. ... An elegant foliated neckpiece ... serves to support a capacious basin of crystal, eight feet in diameter. This basin is deeply escalloped, and cut on the under side to represent the ripple and play of water, which it does very effectively. ... The total height of this magnificent fountain is twenty-three feet six inches, and its weight, exclusive of the marble base, is two and a quarter tons. Its elegant proportions, originality, and beauty of design, combined with perfection of workmanship ... have certainly not been surpassed, even if equalled, by anything of the kind we remember to have seen. The fountain has been sent to India for the palace of his Highness the Maharajah of Puttiala, ... who purchased it.”15

Today, the fountain is installed inside the Motibagh Palace, where it can be viewed by the public, but without water. The “basin” mentioned by the writer is a design feature that is also found in many of the Osler chandeliers. In the fountain that was later purchased for Gwalior, the basin was reversed and used to protect the electric lights from the water.

Correspondence from Osler's Calcutta store to the Birmingham home office also includes entries stating that

  • The writer is “glad to know about Mr. Nell. We hear about him from Puttiala and are satisfied he has bought largely from Defries” (June 11, 1870). Apparently, Nell had tried unsuccessfully to sell wares to Patiala.
  • “The Puttiala Raja is desirous of having some glass mantel pieces and asks for a design. Please send 2 or 3 suitable for large rooms” (March 21, 1873). Although the Osler pattern book contains drawings of these objects, they do not seem to have been purchased.
  • “Mr. Elsworth has gone to Cashmere [Kashmir] to try the temper of the Maharajah who is much more wealthy than any Ruler in that part of the world and is said to have a great weakness for glass” (September 3, 1870). The writer also noted that the Patiala ruler was annoyed that he had been waiting for two years to take delivery of a 112-light chandelier. On September 28, 1870, Elsworth was respectfully received at Gwalior and promised an order of a fountain that had originally been suggested by the Defries firm, which offered to make two of them. The following November, the writer was going to Baroda, a city in Rajasthan, northwestern India, to see the gaekwar (ruler) there. In January 1871, Elsworth reported that Defries had an agent in Bombay, the firm of J. Watson & Sons, but added that “there is not much business in Bombay.”

A letter of January 20, 1875, reports an order totaling £10,000 or £20,000 from an agent of a “native prince” who requested drawings of chandeliers and candelabra. Enclosed with this correspondence were two other letters, one of which was an estimate, dated July 28, 1874, that Defries apparently gave the maharajah; the other was signed by A.S. Nash, a London glassmaker. The “native prince” was identified as the maharajah of Gwalior, and the proposals were for the fittings of the durbar hall, part of the Jai Vilas Palace, which was then under construction. Defries's proposal included several huge gas or candle fixtures for a sum of £2,403, as well as wooden furniture and an iron stair railing. However, the order was eventually placed with Osler, although there are few details in the surviving correspondence.

Fig. 12: Chandelier in the foyer of the durbar hall at Jai Vilas Palace, Gwalior. F. & C. Osler, 1875.
Fig. 13: Glass balustrade in foyer of the durbar hall at Jai Vilas Palace, Gwalior. F. & C. Osler, 1875.
Fig. 14: Design for balustrade shown in Fig. 13, 1870s, from Osler pattern book, v. 1, p. 221. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.
Fig. 15: Design for candelabrum, 1870s, from Osler pattern book, v. 1, p. 62. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.

The durbar hall, which was constructed in 1872-1874 for a visit from the Prince of Wales that occurred in 1875-1876, holds two huge Osler chandeliers. The foyer contains a chandelier (Fig. 12), a glass balustrade (Fig. 13), and two multi-branched candelabra. The Osler pattern book includes designs for the balustrade and the candelabra (Figs. 14 and 15). The palace was built in Western style with classical and Italianate features, and its chandeliers are also European in style. They weigh several tons apiece.

In 1878, the production of large glass objects took another leap forward when the Osler, Baccarat, and Pantin firms displayed glass furniture at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. One reporter, commenting on the artistry and beauty of Osler's mammoth chandeliers, noted: “The prismatic colours blended like rainbow hues from every point of this enormous structure, and made it a point of predominant attraction to visitors. It was more fitted for the throne-room of some magnificent Eastern despot than for anything else.”16 Another writer stated that “considerable amusement is experienced by French [v]isitors and foreigners at finding crystal used for chairs and sofas — probably furniture intended for the proverbial glass house.”17 A later issue of the same publication described these pieces more fully:

There is a splendid crystal chair of state and footstool. The framework is of cut glass, arranged in skilfully devised patterns, glittering like a mass of gems, which will attract the notice of many of the Eastern potentates who visit the Exhibition. At the back of the court is a cabinet, which is a truly magnificent piece of workmanship of pure Gothic design. The back, which is formed by a large pier glass [mirror], is without spot or blemish. The body of the cabinet, composed of cut glass pillars and panels, is one mass of engraving and cutting. Although a very large number of pieces have been used, the nicety with which they are joined is such that the keenest eye is unable to detect the points of union; while the refined taste with which this cabinet is executed is worthy of the old masters … The combination of the darkened woodwork, ormolu work, and gilt carvings make up a whole, which for beauty of design and boldness of execution is unsurpassed, and will do not a little to enhance the reputation already gained by Messrs. Osler for their manufacture of glass.18

Another critic offered the following observations:

The glass chair, too, with its rich silk velvet seat and its marvelous prismatic colours, suggested powerfully the idea of the old Moorish Alhambra; ideas of Persian splendour were more than realized in these gorgeous objects. Glass chiffonier, glass chairs, glass tables, and, above all, glass pillars, on which stood glass candelabra of the purest lustre and the most severe simplicity, combined to make this part of the British Section as attractive as any in the building. Whether chairs and tables are a proper direction for glass manufacture I leave others to decide. However much sound judgement may condemn such a course, I confess to having been really dazzled by this display; all was so simple, pure, chaste, and elegant that misapplication of material was atoned for by the rich full colour of the mass ...19

These objects were shown in the Furniture Court, rather than with the rest of the glass. One writer reported that “this cabinet and an arm chair and stool ... are not likely to find purchasers in England, but are more suited, and I hear are intended, to adorn the palace of some Eastern Potentate.”20 An American publication described the chair as covered with rich crimson velvet and glittering like a mass of gems.”21 Osler also exhibited a number of large chandeliers and candelabra at the Paris exposition. They represented a technical breakthrough in that, although the cabinet, chair, and stool, like the chandeliers, were assembled from many smaller pieces of glass, they were very thick pieces, and the ability to anneal something such as a chair leg was relatively new. Not all of the critics admired these objects, however. One writer stated: “It may be a triumph of mechanical skill to produce a throne or a buffet in solid glass, but surely utterly inconsistent with the real use of the material; and while it is legitimate to employ the highest talent, ... surely it is utterly out of keeping with the real purpose of the material, which is at once brittle and risky to move without extreme care, to employ it for furniture stands and other works of the kind.”22

Fig. 16: Gothic-style glass cabinet exhibited by Osler at the 1878 world's fair in Paris. From The Illustrated Catalogue of the Paris International Exhibition, 1878 [note 23]. Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York.Although Osler's glass furniture was admired by the public, it did not win any awards, and this was to be the last world's fair that featured glass made by the firm. The cabinet was illustrated in the catalog of the exposition (Fig. 16),23 but there was very little description, and the piece has since disappeared. The chair and stool were not illustrated, although the catalog contained pictures of a chandelier and a relatively simple candelabrum, both made of colorless glass.24 Osler made another cabinet, which was subsequently sold to an Eastern buyer. This object is now in a private American collection. Its design in the company's pattern books is dated May 1887, and it is unlikely that more than one example was made. However, those books contain more than one design for chairs, and several of them seem to have been produced.

A lengthy article on the Osler firm and its showrooms in Dalhousie Square, Calcutta, appeared in an Indian publication in late 1883. It mentioned the Great Central Fountain, which stood in a pool of water 12 feet across and was surrounded by a glass balustrade 11 feet tall. “When the fountain is working, the eye is agreeably deceived, and it is difficult to tell where the water ends and the glass begins,” the article noted, adding:

Let me speak of the bedsteads, the Ottoman, the sofa and chairs of glass. Here they are. Let the world come and see them. They show us the possibilities of glass manufacture in a way that no treatise and no illustration could. Let me speak of the bedsteads, the Ottoman, the sofa and chairs of glass. Here they are. Let the world come and see them. They show us the possibili­ties of glass manufacture in a way that no treatise and no illustration could. The bedstead is 7 feet 6 inches by 4 feet 6 inches. The framework of it is of brass, and malleable iron, but neither brass nor iron are visible. Except the upholstery of crimson velvet, nothing is seen but massive cut glass … The Ottoman and sofas are very similar to the glass construction, and exactly similar to the bed in upholstery. Indeed, I am informed that they have been disposed of to a native prince; and therefore, I apprehend, will form the furniture en suite of an apartment … The coolness of appearance will certainly be a great recommendation in a climate like that of India.25

The article also described “corner whatnots,” tables, mirrors with glass frames, a clock in a crystal case, tables of blue glass (“which though of itself less beautiful to the eye, is certainly a relief to the large amount of crystal around it”), chandeliers for kerosene and for candles, and a model of a Moorish temple in which fish bowls and a small crystal fountain were placed. Glass hookahs (Fig. 17 )26 and dinner services consisting of a thala (rice dish) and cups for chutney27 and ghee (clarified butter) were also a specialty of Osier's Indian shop.

Fig. 17: Hookah and bajot (small table) in crystal gallery of City Palace, Udaipur. F. & C. Osler, probably 1880s.
Fig. 18: Blue glass table, blown, cut; assembled on metal shaft marked "F. and C. Osler," 1880-1885. OH. 75.0 cm, Diam. (max.) 43.6 cm. The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York (2005.2.11).

The furniture described in this chapter was quite popular with the Indian public, and it was especially favored by princely families. An example of a blue glass table (Fig. 18) has been found, and although the design does not appear in either of the pattern books, the metal fittings of the object are marked “F. & C. Osler.” Several identical tables are known in colorless glass, so the design was apparently well received. As far as we are aware, this is the first colored glass table to come to light.

Osler published several catalogs that are useful for documenting the company's production, but furniture appears only in the catalogs distributed in India. An armchair and a side chair are shown in a catalog published about 1880, and another catalog, dated three years later, has red and white (Fig. 19), green and white, blue and white, and gold-colored chandeliers, as well as several fountains (Fig. 20), table lamps, and centerpieces. The 1894 catalog, which shows the firm's new address at 12 Old Courthouse Street, Calcutta, includes mainly tableware and smaller chandeliers, and it has no furniture. However, furniture could still be ordered at that time, judging from the dates in the design books.

Fig. 19: Design (no. 2537) for red and white chandelier, from Osler catalog, 1883. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.
Fig. 20: Three fountains shown in Osler catalog, 1883. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.
Fig. 21: Design for green chandelier, dated November 1896, from Osler pattern book, v. 1, p. 251. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.
Fig. 22: Chandelier with eight arms, blown, cut, gilded; brass fittings. F. & C. Osler, about 1860-1880. H. 162.8 cm. The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York (95.2.13).

The first of the two Osler pattern books, now in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, is dated 1874 on the second page, but it contains some colored chandelier designs that are dated 1862 and 1863 on pages 41-43. A green chandelier (Fig. 21) on page 251, near the end of the book, is dated November 1896.28 Most of the earliest designs, which are from the 1860s and 1870s, are for colored chandeliers and candelabra. These are clearly candle fixtures, and most of them are illustrated with matching colored tulip shades with gilded decoration (Fig. 22). Another standing fixture, dated July 1884, is also shown, and two examples are found in the durbar hall of the Jai Vilas Palace in Gwalior (see Fig. 15). The design for Gwalior's glass stair­case was made in that same year (see Figs. 13 and 14), but the piece was ordered again in October 1891.

A 12-foot-tall fountain with a downward-arching basin bears the pencil notation “Bahawalpur, 1878,” and it was reordered with electric lights in October 1899. A similar fountain with the basin inverted is dated May 1883 in the design book. It seems that only some of the fountains that Osler supplied have survived.

There are several designs for chairs, settees, beds, and tables, and each of them appears to have been manufactured and sent to India for a particular buyer, even though it may have been reordered by someone else. Therefore, the designs are not necessarily unique, and a few of them may have been made on speculation.

Fig. 23: Design for glass chair and footstool, 1875-1876, from Osler pattern book, v. 1, p. 145. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.
Fig. 24: Second drawing of glass chair and footstool, 1875-1876, from Osler pattern book, v. 1, p. 146. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.
Fig. 25: Design for glass chair, dated December 1880, from Osler pattern book, v. 1, p. 163. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.
Fig. 26: Design for glass chair, dated April 1888, from Osler pattern book, v. 1, p. 178. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.

The first of the furniture designs is for a chair with a back of embossed (i.e., acid-etched) silvered glass and a matching footstool (Figs. 23 and 24), and it seems to date from 1875 or 1876. The next design (Fig. 25), which is dated December 13, 1880, is similar, but it lacks the mirrored back. An armchair design from April 1888 is only slightly different, but it has an optional crest in the shape of a sun with a face on the back (Fig. 26). There is also a “Crystal Throne Chair” with canopy from January 1884. An article on this object was published in a trade journal shortly thereafter. It men­tions that the throne chair was made for an Indian client, that it was nine feet six inches tall, and that it featured a dome-shaped canopy of Moorish design. “One of the most interesting features about the work,” the writer noted, “is the ingenuity with which the 176 pieces composing the throne have been fitted so as to give it a solidified appearance.”29 Unfortunately, the present location of this piece is unknown.

Fig. 27: Design for glass settee, dated October 1883, from Osler pattern book, v. 1, p. 184. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.The Osler pattern books contain three designs for a settee, one from October 1883 (Fig. 27) and two that are undated but seem to be from after the turn of the 20th century (Figs. 28, 29 and 30). Pieces based on both of these later designs can still be seen in India, and the palaces at Udaipur and Patiala have examples of the design shown in Figure 30 (Fig. 31). Osler's Indian customers were fond of color, so it is not surprising that all of the chair and settee designs are shown upholstered in crimson velvet. Two slightly different designs for couches, dated February 1883, are shown in blue (Fig. 32) and in red, and one of them is preserved in the palace at Baroda. There are three designs for beds from 1882 and 1883 (Figs. 33, 34 and 35) and two for bassinets from 1880 and 1882 (Fig. 36).

A newspaper account mentions a “suite of bedroom articles, including a bedstead ... made for a Spanish nobleman,”30 so not all of the Osler firm's furniture went to India. Indeed, like other 19th-century European factories, Osler sought orders from among the wealthy in Europe as well as in India.

Fig. 28: Design for glass settee, 1900-1910, from Osler pattern book, v. 2, p. 217. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.
Fig. 29: Design for glass settee, 1900-1910, from Osler pattern book, v. 2, p. 218. An original photograph of the settee is attached to the page. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.
Fig. 30: Design for glass settee, 1900-1910, from Osler pattern book, v. 2, p. 221. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.
Fig. 31: Osler glass settee in the Sheesh Mahal at Motibagh Palace, Patiala, made from design shown in Fig. 30.

Fig. 32: Design for blue glass couch, dated February 1883, from Osler pattern book, v. 1, p. 173. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.

Fig. 33: Design for glass bed, dated November 1882, from Osler pattern book, v. 1, p. 170. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.
Fig. 34: Design for glass bed, dated January 1883, from Osler pattern book, v. 1, p. 179. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.
Fig. 35: Detail of Osler glass bed in crystal gallery at City Palace, Udaipur.
Fig. 36: Design for glass bassinet, dated February 1882, from Osler pattern book, v. 1, p. 167. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.

Four designs for looking glasses (Fig. 37), ranging in date from 1881 to 1897, can still be seen in various Indian palaces today. The furniture that is not upholstered, such as washstands, large cabinets, and tables in various shapes (Fig. 38), is scattered throughout the catalogs, and several of the tables are dated from the first decade of the 20th century. Some of the designs, including library steps covered with glass (Fig. 39) and an elaborate overmantel, seem wildly impractical, and they may never have been produced. The tables, however, are in several Indian palaces, and some additional examples have turned up in salesrooms during the last 20 years.

Fig. 38: Design for glass table, 1897-1910, from Osler pattern book, v. 2, unpaged. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.

Fig. 37: Design for looking glasses, dated May 1881, from Osler pattern book, v. 1, p. 157. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.
Fig. 39: Design for glass library steps, dated November 1890, from Osler pattern book, v. 1, p. 219. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.

The whatnot with three shelves must have been a popular design because several of them are in the Jai Vilas Palace at Gwalior and at Udaipur, while others have been shown in salesrooms. The design for this object in Osler's pattern book is dated September 1882. The shelves are mirrored, as is a four-tiered corner whatnot that is now in a private collection. A smaller table in The Corning Museum of Glass (Fig. 40) is unmarked, but it was almost certainly made by Osler, although it is possible (but unlikely) that it was produced at the factory of Joseph Webb (see chapter 5). Other unmarked tables presumably made by Osler have also appeared on the market. The handle for a fly whisk (Fig. 41) is evidently glass produced in Europe for use in India and may also be an Osler product. Elaborately decorated whisks were used in both ceremonial and practical contexts, and are often illustrated in paintings of Indian nobility, being held by the ruler's servant who stands nearby.

Fig. 40: Table, blown, tooled, cut, assembled; silver-plated brass. Probably F. & C. Osler, about 1880-1920. H. 76.2 cm. The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York (2004.2.13).
Fig. 41: Fly whisk, cast, cut, polished; electroplated finial, horsehair. F. & C. Osler, about 1875. L. 47.5 cm. The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York (2000.2.3).

Another interesting item made for Osler's Calcutta showroom is a glass carpet (Fig. 42), one of a pair that are numbered 3168 in the company's pattern book. Although this design is undated, it must be from the 1880s. These carpets are thought to have been used in the Bhopal Mosque for a number of years.

One design that was made several times over two decades is the 18-light candelabrum shown in Figure 43. This was originally designed for kerosene in 1881, adapted for candles in 1883, and made for electricity in the 1890s.

Fig. 42: Glass carpet made for the Bhopal Mosque, cast, cut, engraved. F. & C. Osler, about 1885. L. 114 cm. The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York (2000.2.2).
Fig. 43: Candelabrum with 18 candle arms, blown, cut; white marble plinth. F. & C. Osler (design no. 2811), about 1883. H. 295 cm. The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York (96.2.10). The original design, dated June 1881, had six kerosene lamps, but Osler adapted it for candles in October 1883. It was later made for electricity as well.

On the basis of the design books, it is clear that these imposing pieces remained popular until World War I. Although no new designs are dated after that time, pieces were occasionally reordered. At least two grandfather clocks were made to the same design in 1910 and 1924, and two designs for chandeliers are dated 1923 and 1924.

A decline in sales forced Osler to close its glass factory in 1922. Although the company continued to make lighting devices from glass purchased elsewhere, as it had done in its early years, it no longer had the facilities to make furniture. The firm remained in business until the 1970s, but on a much smaller scale, and most of its designs after 1920 were for metal objects with glass fittings.

All of the Osler pieces illustrated in this chapter are designs that were well suited to the Western-style palaces constructed by Indian rulers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, their emphasis on color and the reflective quality of the glass ensured that they would never enjoy a similar popularity in English houses of that time, for English sensibilities continued to favor colorless glass with a high refractive index and simple designs.

Jane Shadel Spillman, Curator of American Glass
This article was published in European Glass Furnishings for Eastern Palaces, 2006, pp. 50–93.

1. John P. Smith, Osler’s Crystal for Royalty and Rajahs, London: Mallett 1991, p. 22, from The Art-Union.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid., p, 23

4. Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations (1851), The Crystal Palace Exhibition, Illustrated Catalogue, London, 1851: An Unabridged Republication of the Art-Journal, New York: Dover Publications Inc., 1970, p. 255.

5. The Pottery Gazette, v. 10, no. 106, April 1, 1886, p. 445, reprinted from the Birmingham Journal, May 1851.

6. Smith [note 1], p. 21.

7. At the same time that whale oil was used for lighting devices in the United States, the British employed colza oil. In the 1860s, they switched to kerosene, which they called lamp oil.

8. J.B. (John Burley) Waring, Masterpieces of Industrial Art & Sculpture at the International Exhibition, 1862, London: Day & Son, 1863, text for pl. 160.

9. Smith [note 1], p. 75.

10. The salaam is a salutation meaning “peace” that is employed especially in Islamic countries. It is performed by bowing very low and placing the right palm on the forehead.

11. Smith [note 1], p. 76

12. This communication, as well as the letters cited subsequently in this chapter, are thought to have been written by the manager of the Calcutta store. All of the letters appear to be in the same hand. This correspondence is preserved in the Birmingham City Library.

13. At that time, the currency was pounds, shillings, and pence. The amount noted as “16/12/11” represents 16 pounds, 12 shillings, and 11 pence. Twelve pence was equivalent to one shilling, while 20 shillings equaled one pound.

14. North American and European cities were gradually supplied with municipal gas plants (which produced gas from coal), beginning in the 1820s. By the 1860s, gas illumination in urban areas was widespread. However, outside the largest cities, only the wealthiest could afford this luxury. Several maharajahs constructed their own gas plants in the 1870s.

15. Smith [note 1], p. 34, from The Art Journal.

16. The Society of Arts, Artisan Reports on the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1878, London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1879, pp. 126-127

17. The Pottery and Glass Trades’ Journal, v. 1, no. 7, July 1878, p. 99.

18. Ibid., v. 1, no. 8, August 1878, p. 116.

19. Artisan Reports [note 16]

20. The Pottery and Glass Trades’ Journal, v. 1, no. 9, September 1878, p. 150.

21. Crockery and Glass Journal, v. 7, no. 8, May 2, 1878, p. 8

22. Robert W. Edis, Decoration & Furniture of Town Houses, New York: Scribner and Welford, 1881, pp. 262-263.

23. Paris Exposition Universelle (1878), The Illustrated Catalogue of the Paris International Exhibition, 1878, London: Virtue, 1878, p. 142.

24. Ibid., p. 170.

25. Smith [note 1], p. 77, citing the Indian Daily News (Calcutta) December 4, 1883.

26. The hookah is a tobacco pipe with a long, flexible tube by which the smoke is drawn through a jar of water and thus cooled.

27. Chutney is a sweet and sour sauce or relish of eastern Indian origin. It is made from fruits, herbs, and other ingredients, with spices and other seasoning.

28. The dated designs are not always in chronological order, so it is impossible to guess at the dates of most of the undated designs.

29. The Pottery Gazette, v. 8, no. 80, February 1, 1884, p. 188.

30. Court Journal, n.d., clipping in company scrapbook.

Published on January 16, 2018

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...