Friday, January 22, 2016

Heart(land) of Glass

 Over the last several years I've collected various history-related trinkets and ephemera. I think they gain an insight into the culture of the time and what folks in the past thought was important to emphasize. Sometimes they just look nice on a shelf.

I have three glass tumblers that were part of several series of US State drinking glass sets in the 1950s. Naturally, I am drawn to the ones that depict Ohio. I found these at Ohio Valley Antique Mall. Let me say that despite my interest in Ohio history, I never thought I'd be writing a blog post about drinking glasses. I've since discovered that these have a bigger connection to the Buckeye State than just the name on the tumbler. Did you know that Ohio was once a leader in the US glass industry and several museums are devoted to that fact? Before plastic was invented and in widespread use, glass was used for many items. Over 70 glass companies operated in Ohio between 1880 and 1920.

Hazel-Atlas marking
The first two glasses are from a major glass manufacturer called Hazel-Atlas based in Wheeling WV since 1885. The company operated under that name until 1964. Hazel-Atlas made everything from medicine bottles to food jars and lamps to dinnerware, and of course drinking glasses. By the 1920s most American homes had something made by Hazel-Atlas. By the 1930s they had 15 plants, one of which was in Zanesville OH. They were most famous for so-called Depression Glass items. This was low-cost Depression-era glassware, much of which was made in the Ohio River Valley and is highly collectible now.

The blue and mostly clear Ohio glass pictured on the left is 5 1/4" tall. A map of Ohio depicts the Columbus State House, Fort Meigs near Toledo, and the Cleveland Terminal Tower. The music and lyrics of "Down By The Ohio", composed in 1920 and popularized in 1940 by the Andrew Sisters are on the reverse.
These glasses sold as promotional items by Big Top Peanut Butter of Lexington KY. They were originally filled with delicious peanut butter and sold in grocery stores. Not a bad deal. Buy peanut butter for the kids, get a free highball glass for Dad! Big Top Peanut Butter was bought out by Proctor & Gamble of Cincinnati OH in 1955 and re-sold as Jif Peanut Butter. I am uncertain if the glass painting was outsourced or done by the glass company itself. I do know that a lot of Hazel-Atlas glassware was painted by Gay Fad Studios of Lancaster OH like the next item.

The yellow painted and frosted "Ohio The Buckeye State" glass tumbler was also made by Hazel-Atlas. This glass measures 5 inches tall. A large map depicts 20+ Ohio cities, the State Flag, and a compass.
This was sold in roadside souvenir shops. During the post-WWII boom, the turnpikes and Interstate Highways developed. The middle class grew and more Americans were now driving around the country on vacations. Collecting the glasses was a way to show your friends back home were you've been. Think of it like t-shirts, refrigerator magnets, and bumper stickers today.
The glass decorating itself was sometimes done by another company, which was the case here. Fran Taylor’s Gay Fad Studios in Lancaster OH was the most famous of the glass decorating companies.

The red painted and frosted "OHIO Buckeye State" glass tumbler was made by The Federal Glass Company of Columbus OH and operated between 1900 and 1979.  The glass stands at 4 3/4" tall. Supposedly Federal Glass Co. items were faked over the years. In this case, the Federal Glass Co logo, a capital F inside a shield is on the bottom so it's the real deal. This was likely painted by an in-house decorating department.
This glass illustrates cities along an Ohio Turnpike map at the top. Also represented are Terminal Tower in Cleveland, Perry's Monument, Schoenbrunn Village, the State Bird, the State Flower, the Ohio River, the State Capitol, and Fountain Square/Carew Tower in Cincinnati.
The Federal Glass Co state glasses were also sold at souvenir shops across the nation during the 1940's through 1960's.

Federal Glass marking
All of these tumblers depict important Ohio connections to the past. Pioneer villages, War of 1812 sites, monuments and such. They also feature state symbols, maps, and city landmarks. Aside from the song, after 50 years, these references remain relevant. I wonder what song a modern glass-maker would choose? Several prominent "Ohio" songs in the rock era exist but highlight unfortunate turns in Ohio history such as "Ohio" by Crosby Stills and Nash or "My City Was Gone" by The Pretenders. Otherwise both fine songs, but I nominate O-H-I-O by the Ohio Players. The lyrics are also easy to remember if you can spell Ohio.

Now if this were Antiques Roadshow, here is where I would reveal my estimate at auction. If this were Pawn Stars maybe Rick would call an Ohio glass buddy he knows. The truth is, they aren't worth much money. On eBay, I've seen people try to sell these for inflated prices. Someone listed the yellow one for nearly $70 and described the paint as a decal. Needless to say, it didn't sell.  The reality is, I don't think I've ever seen any of these types of glasses sell for more than $10. With shipping.
I only paid five bucks.

other sources:
Santa Fe Trading Post
- Hazel-Atlas Glass Database
- Federal Glass Company Database