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Early American Pattern Glass

An historical narrative of Victorian America told in glass.

Lot 12832 is an example of a "Polar Bear" pattern water pitcher.

Early American Pattern Glass:

Pressed Glass revolutionized the glass manufacturing industry between 1850 and 1910. The process was thus: molten glass was gathered into a mold, and then pressed. When the glass cooled, the mold was removed, and an object both beautiful and useful was revealed. Wood molds could only be used for so many pressings as each pressing scorched the wood. The first pressing was the crispest, while subsequent pressings suffered a loss to detail-- the fine lines of the eyelashes, feathers, and fur being the first to soften. For this reason, wood molds were eventually replaced by metal. Such is progress.

Although many early American pattern glass pieces were produced in mass, each was crafted by human hands. Artisans carved the wooden molds used for pressing and, after the unmolding, seams and sharp points were ground down and smoothed by hand.

Patterned glass was designed to be both durable and attractive. Families used the glassware as part of their table setting and for entertaining guests. Companies created a variety of patented patterns to meet the demand. Over 3,000 known patterns exist. With such an array of patterns and forms to choose from, pressed glass has always held collectible appeal. Victorian ladies collected favorite patterns, traded with one another, and gave pressed glass pieces as hostess gifts. Modern day collectors are attracted to the historical and social significance of the pieces that managed to survive the daily household use of so long ago.

The "Actress" Pattern:

One of the more socially appealing patterns was that of the "Actress" pattern. The "Actress" pattern was made by the La Belle Glass Co during the 1880’s and featured cameo portraits of the favorite stage actresses of the time. Everything from water goblets, to milk pitchers, sugar bowls, pickle dishes, and celery holders were created to immortalize these female actors. The distinguishing feature of all the "Actress" glassware was the stippled shell. It is thought that this symbol was chosen for the thespians because of its association with crusaders. Crusaders made a point to return home with a souvenir of a scallop shell as evidence that they had truly been to the Holy land. For that reason it became the badge of the wayfarer. As travelers, actors assumed this wayfarer badge too.

This Marmalade from lot 12856 venerates Maud Granger and Lotta Crabtree.

A different angle of this piece shows the cleverly disguised seam and distinctive scallop shell pattern.

The detail of an actress pattern bread tray included in lot 12856 shows the stippled cameo of Lillian Adelaide Nelson, a Shakespearean actress made famous for her role as Juliet. The script surrounding her portrait reads: “our daily bread”.

The rarest variation of the "Actress" Pattern is a covered cheese dish that depicts male stage actors. Cheese dishes served the very practical purpose of keeping cheese from drying out on the counter or being nibbled on by bugs in the days before refrigeration and window screens.

The domed lid of Lot 12826 honors the actor Sanderson Moffat for his acclaimed role in the "The Lone Fisherman".

Shakespearean actors Stuart Robson and William H. Crane are venerated on the base of this cheese dish as "The Two Drominos" from "Comedy of Errors".

The "Owl and The Pussycat" Pattern:

Considering the similarity in design to the "Actress" cheese dish-- a domed lid with a decorative base-- this rare "Owl and The Pussycat" piece was most likely a singleton pattern manufactured by Adams & Co. of Pittsburgh, PA.

Lot 12825.

lot 12825 detail of the base of the cheese dish.

The "Polar Bear" Pattern:

Another rare pattern in Early American Pattern Glass is the “Polar Bear” pattern from the 1883. This pAttern commemorates the Alaska Purchase-- the acquisition of Alaska from the Russian Empire in 1867.


An arctic scene fills the center of the tray. Seals and a polar bear rest on an iceberg, and gulls circle above as a ship approaches. The ship is named “C. G. Co.” for the tray's manufacturer, Crystal Glass Company of Pittsburgh, PA. The border bears the company's trade mark 'egg and dart' border.

Lot 12834 features a "Polar Bear" pattern tray.

Polar bear detail.

Detail of ship with Company's initials.

In this detail of seals, the craftsmanship of hand carved wooden molds clearly shows.

This water goblet from lot 12834 depicts seals and polar bears in a cavern of ice.

The "Old Abe" Pattern:

Another pattern glass animal motif to embody the American spirit in tableware was "Old Abe", the beloved battle eagle. As the story goes, an Indian Chief of the Chippewa nation cut down a tree containing an eagle’s nest with two eaglets. One died in the fall, but the other survived. The chief raised the eagle to become tame.

During the Civil War when many regiments were choosing mascos for good luck, the tame eagle was secured by Company C, 8th Wisconsin Regiment which would later become known as the Eagle Regiment. The men christened him "Old Abe" in honor of President Abraham Lincoln. They carried him into battle atop a flagstaff perch. With "Old Abe" in their company, the regiment never lost a battle.

Old Abe himself with his regiment: via

This butter dish (lot 12828) features a plain bowl with a frosted eagle on lid. Old Abe wore a leather cord on his leg which was tethered to his perch. This aspect is echoed in the base of the compote were the design resembles a wrapped cord.

This detail of the Old Abe finial shows the frosted eagle perched atop flowers, foliage, and berries. He is surrounded by the Crystal Glass Company's characteristic egg and dart pattern.

The "Jumbo" Pattern:

The "Jumbo" pattern commemorates the death of Jumbo the Elephant, the star of Phineas T. Barnum’s “Greatest Show on Earth". Jumbo was the largest elephant in captivity at the time. He captured the hearts of children and adult circus goers alike. His name would eventually become synonymous with all things enormous. The public was deeply saddened by his tragic passing in a railway accident-- the "Jumbo" pattern glass pattern was a product of that grief.

Photo taken shortly after Jumbo's death: via

Lot 12837 in our upcoming auction features a Jumbo pattern covered sugar dish.

detail of lot 12837.Barnum's visage adorns the handles of all Jumbo glassware.

Detail of Jumbo himself.

This covered butter dish is unique in design and the only form in the "Jumbo" Pattern line with which the name "JUMBO" is inscribed. As in other "Jumbo" pattern forms, Jumbo the elephant knobs the lid, but the base of this dish is uniquely appointed with a knife rest decorated with an attractive "grant star" pattern. All "Jumbo" Pattern glass was made by Canton Glass Company or Canton, Ohio.

Lot 12837 in our upcoming auction.

"Westward Ho" Pattern:

The "Westward Ho" pattern tells the story of westward expansion- a pioneer's log cabin in the woods, Bison, buck, and doe. A frosted Indian surmounts the lid as finial. He is adorned with a feathered headdress and tomahawk in hand.

Lot 12831, detail of bison decoration on compote bowl. Compotes were made to serve foods that had a liquid such as fruit salad or stewed peaches.

Lot 12831 detail of leaping buck decoration on compote bowl.

"Westward Ho" is the most reproduced of all the Early American Pattern Glass (EAPG for short), with reproductions dated back to the 1930's. Collectors should look for imperfections along the bleed-line from when the piece was dipped in muriatic acid for etching. The wax for the acid resit was hand applied and in original pieces it should look hand done. Newer reproductions will appear too perfect.

Lid detail of lot 12831 shows what an original "Westward Ho" etched lid should look like.

Collectors should also note the crispness of the pressing. Orginals should be fine in detail, especially around the eyes and hair.

Detail of lot 12831.

Another view of Indian Finial of lot 12831.

A Note on Sun Purple:

Side by side Comparison of two "Actress" pattern water goblets from lot 12847.

A comparison of two goblets from this lot show a distinct difference in coloration. The soda lime glass on the left has been affected by a chemical reaction caused by exposure to sunlight.

Pieces of old glass displayed in windows, commonly experience a phenomenon called sun-purple. Ultraviolet light from the sun reacts with the manganese in the glass over time, resulting in irreversible color change of the piece. Affected glassware is often tinged a lovely pale gray or lavender and is preferred by some collectors to clear glass. Purists consider sun-purple a defect that devalues, if not ruins, historical EAPG pieces. But that does not dissuade the many collectors who specifically seek out sun-purple patterned glass.

Collectors of such glass should be wary of unscrupulous dealers who might artificially color it through exposure to ultraviolet light. Any Early American Pattern Glass in deep purple or amethyst tones should be avoided as it may have been tampered with to make it more desirable to this market.

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