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Dating pressed glass can take some serious detective work

Auction ServiceTiffany & CompanyOhio RivereBay Inc.

Q: This candy dish has always been in my family. It was a gift to my great-grandmother and has been handed down for generations. At the top is written in white, "My wife 1909." I cannot determine origin and history. Can you tell me anything about it?

A: Frankly, I think this reader is very lucky that the dish has remained intact and, according to her, unblemished for more than 100 years!

Seen in an image sent, she has a covered and footed candy dish. We have no info on size, so based on the reader's say-so, we're assuming it is indeed a pressed glass candy bowl and not a sugar bowl with lid. We'll learn that the maker made both.

When the piece was made, the U.S. was the center of a booming glass industry clustered around the Ohio River. Factories there churned out everything from utility glass to decorative wares.

Sadly, most glass factories closed decades ago, but molds were sold (others were lost) and factory histories survive. Artisans still produce blown glass, but now in studio factories. Collectors still go for pressed glass produced during the good old days.

Two clues are an immediate giveaway on the reader's bowl. First, the "my wife" marking. Another is flashes of red color on the clear glass. Both indicate that she has a piece of souvenir glass from the turn of the last century.

Smart collectors know that that was a time of expansion in this country. A growing middle class was discovering travel beyond their immediate circle. It was a time of celebrations, of expos and fairs, events that drew many visitors.

Of course, the point of travel was telling people where you'd been. Travel demonstrated that you were urbane and had enough money to do so. Human nature impelled one to bring something back as a gift for loved ones, even if travel was only as far as a state fair.

At such gatherings, including church fairs, traveling pitchmen set up booths where they sold gold-decorated ruby and clear glass souvenirs in the form of small mugs, toothpick holders, pitchers, tumblers, jewel boxes, pin trays, and the like. Most were pressed (not cut) clear glass with red or another color of flashing applied in areas.

Painted, perhaps in gold, with a name, an event or site, pieces were fired on the spot and went home with the buyer. I suspect that here, the gold has worn off.

As a type, the glass was the most common souvenir item of the day. Many, including the reader's bowl, still survive.

One mystery solved: However, when dealing with pressed glass, the question is, what pattern is it? With hundreds of factories churning out scores of different patterns, identification can be a task.

A smart collector starts by IDing the design theme. In this case, the bowl has sprays of leaves, plus large pressed stars. Bingo! The pattern is Leaf and Star made up to 1910 by New Martinsville Glass. It is their pattern No. 711, also known as Tobin.

Value is primarily as a family piece. Buyers generally choose pieces with a name, site or event that appeals to them on a personal level. We saw the reader's pattern on eBay as a creamer/sugar bowl set that failed to sell at $3.99.

AUCTION ACTION: A new world record for natural pearls at auction was set this spring when a pendant said to have belonged to the Empress Eugenie of France brought $3.3 mill. at Doyle New York.

The set was bought by an anonymous telephone bidder.

Gemological certification describes the pearls as natural color. Selected to form a perfect pair in size and weight, they have perfectly matching color and very fine pearl luster.

Originally part of Empress Eugenie's black pearls necklace, the pendant was bought by Tiffany and Co. in 1887 when the French crown jewels sold in a 12-day event at the Louvre. Tiffany bought almost a third of the lots sold. The pearls have belonged to two important American families since that time.

COLLECTOR QUIZ

Q: In what year did American pressed glass get its start: 1890, 1900, 1865, 1821? Bonus points if you can add when its golden age ended.

A: Start was in 1821 with the Bakewell patent. By 1930, it was over.

(Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send e-mail to smartcollector@comcast.net.)

(c) 2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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