Books

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Angela and Allan Port talk about Pirelli-Lassman

In April I was in Norfok, Virginia, US for the bi-annual Convention of the Paperweight Collectors' Association. Allan Port and I gave a talk about the glass paperweight-related objects made by the two companies Pirelli and Lassman using paperweights made by Vasart in Scotland. The most striking of these were the bar sets, three of which are pictured here. Each consisted of a satin lined case containing several barware items such as a corkscrew, bottle opener, jigger (two-sided measuring cup), can opener, bottle pourer-stopper. The one on the far right is gold plated, the other two chrome plated. The picture below shows Allan and I preparing to give our talk.

Sunday, 4 December 2016





 This is the most beautiful vase I have ever seen. Isn't it wonderful!

I couldn't afford to buy it, but when Jonathan Harris showed it to me at the National Glass Collectors' Fair some years ago, I took this photograph.

It was made by Jonathan at his glass studio in Shropshire, combining graal and cameo carving techniques. The procedure involves layers of hot coloured glass coated in clear crystal, rolled in coloured glass powders, and allowed to cool then carved, reheated, and more layers and more carving added, including layers of silver and gold leaf. When he worked with Richard Golding at Okra Glass (before his current studio) Jonathan's vases consisted of as many as eight layers, and since those days his work sometimes has even more layers.The result is totally stunning.

I can't afford a Jonathan Harris vase, but I do have a small collection of Mdina Glass and Isle of Wight Glass, made by Jonathan's family. Michael Harris who founded Mdina Glass on the Island of Malta and later founded Isle of Wight glass in the south of England, was Jonathan's father. Here's my little Isle of Wight Glass vase in their "Victorian" range.




 And here's the little label on its base.

I know, I know, it doesn't compare to the vase by Jonathan (above). But it is pretty and I believe the Victorian range was designed by Jonathan before he left Isle of Wight glass.

I have continued updating the Glass Encyclopedia this week, Maybe you have time to take a look - www.glassencyclopedia.com   

Sunday, 27 November 2016


This is a paperweight by Maude and Bob St. Clair of Elwood, Indiana.




 Last week’s Blog was about Badge Paperweights and I’m delighted with the result. Alan Thornton and I are setting off on a research investigation of badge paperweights, so you will hear more about that in time. I am on the hunt for damaged badge paperweights so if you hear of one that’s for sale please let me know.

Meantime I have been working to update the many pages of the Glass Encyclopedia (www.glassencyclopedia.com) and my colleague Anne Yobunny has updated the Glass Links page (www.theglassmuseum.com/links.htm). Its fascinating work, leading me to up-date my knowledge of a wide range of glass. This week I’m writing my blog about St Clair glass. I hope you find it as interesting as I do. 


The St Clair family and their glass




I’m going to start this story at the time of the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71), a time of great turmoil in the glass industry. Alsace and Lorraine had been two independent states North East of France which were claimed by both France and the German Empire. Through roads, railways and trade they were closely linked with France. In 1870 Prussia (North Germany) provoked France into declaring war and the Germans resoundingly defeated the French in less than two years. They imposed heavy penalties on France. They annexed the whole of Alsace and part of Lorraine so over the next few years many of the glassworks in that area became part of Germany and many glassworkers who thought of themselves as French found themselves in a new country. There was an exodus of French glassworkers to towns in Lorraine like Nancy and emigration overseas.  Both the Galle family and the Daum family were caught up in these changes, but that’s another story. 

Amongst all this turmoil was the skilled French glass artisan John St. Clair and his wife Rosalie, their young son John and baby daughter Rosa. The ambitious plans of French refugees to build a huge French glassworks in Nancy were proving too expensive (they went bankrupt and were rescued by their principal creditor, Jean Daum, - I know,  that’s another story). John St Clair and his little family left for the United States where there was work for skilled glass blowers and they knew friends in the industry who had left France before them. 

That brings us to late 19th century USA, where the glass industry was thriving thanks to the growth in population and to separation from Britain. The St Clair family settled in Crystal City, Missouri in the mid 1880s but a few years later moved to Elwood in Indiana  where a free supply of natural gas was causing a boom in the glass industry. Industrialists would lease or buy a patch of land where the gas was found, build a well and set up pipes to transport the gas to their factories. Excellent quality local sand contributed to the boom, and five major glass factories set up in Elwood by the turn of the century. One of these was McBeth-Evans, which opened in 1890 and commissioned a special train to bring over 350 skilled glass workers from Pittsburgh to work there.

John St Clair Snr and his son John were both recruited to McBeth-Evans . John Junior married in 1903 and in the first twenty years of his marriage to Ellen Carroll they had eleven children, five boys and six girls. John became known as Pop St Clair. All five of his sons trained and worked at McBeth-Evans when they were old enough. 

Meanwhile the free natural glass was beginning to run out. Pipes had been laid to take the gas to factories as far away as Chicago and Indianapolis, and the pressure began to fall. Water got into the pipes and in cold weather when the water froze the supply of gas was unreliable. The effects of the Depression were also being felt and by 1936 the boom time in Elwood ended as suddenly as it had begun. Macbeth-Evans closed along with other factories and glassworks. There was no more free gas.
Pop St Clair and three of his sons accepted jobs at Dunbar Glass in West Virginia in 1938. Joe St Clair stayed behind to build a modest glassworks of their own and three years later the family returned to work together at St Clair Glass. 

This factory operated in Elwood between 1938 and 1987, and since then the family tradition of glass-making has been continued by their nephew Joe Rice at the nearby “House of Glass”.
There were many ups and downs during those years. Joe St Clair himself retired in 1971 at which time he sold the glassworks but he was not long in retirement. After three years he returned to form another glassworks which he called "Joe St Clair's Art Glass" and continued there until near his death in 1987.

At the earlier date when Joe had retired and sold the St Clair glassworks (1971), his brother Bob St Clair set up another glass factory near Elwood, which he called "St Clair House of Glass". Bob and his wife Maude marked their glass "Maude and Bob St Clair" and the paperweight above is an example of their work. Their output continued the same St Clair traditions. When Bob died, his nephew Joe Rice took over this factory in 1987 and renamed it "Joe Rice's House of Glass".





St Clair glass is usually clearly marked and easy to identify. They specialised in small art glass items like paperweights and paperweight-related products with internal floral decoration. They also made carnival glass and slag glass trinkets, goblets, tumblers, toothpick holders, and novelties. The green slag glass toothpick holder above is marked "JOE ST. CLAIR". And Joe Rice St Clair continues these traditions at the House of Glass (http://www.thehouseofglassinc.com/index.htm).  


This information will now go into the Glass Encyclopedia. I hope, by the way, that you do find that website interesting too. (www.glassencyclopedia.com)

 

Monday, 21 November 2016

Today I'm going to write to you as if we were sitting down having a conversation. I've made my cup of tea, the room is warm and sunny and we're both sitting in comfy chairs. I'll wait while you get a cup of coffee/tea and get settled down.

Right. Here we go. I have decided, after a long life (lets face it) of jumping from one ambition to another, that I am basically a researcher and a writer. All those years as an academic followed by thirty years of collecting and writing about glass have ingrained into my soul the desire to find things out and share them with others. So today its Paul Ysart and my recent forays into his badge paperweights. Shall I wait while you have a think about that - or even a little rant on the subject.


OK. So I saw this badge paperweight (above) on eBay a couple of weeks ago and decided that since I don't have one in my collection, indeed I've never really examined one, so I should buy it. And while waiting for it to arrive I went off into my study to read up about these kinds of weights. Well, I can tell you there wasn't much there. Robert Hall's book "Scottish Paperweights" had only one example that I could find, a pedestal weight with an encased military cap badge and a paragraph about it. John Simmonds book "Paperweights from Great Britain" had four examples with their descriptions.


Both of these writers referred in their books to Dave Webber's article in the Paperweight Collector's Association Annual Bulletin for 1998 but my collection of PCA Bulletins doesn't go back that far. So, apart from confirming that Paul Ysart and maybe other members of the Ysart family had made these kinds of paperweights probably in the late 1930s, I was not much wiser.


Next I tried the Glass Message Board (www.glassmessages.com) where there have been a series of posts on this subject going back at least to 2005. Dave Webber wrote about one paperweight that had the badge floating above the frit base rather than lying flat on the pieces of coloured glass (November 2014). Several of the discussions on the GMB referred to paperweights of this kind being made in Belgium as well as in Scotland. But so far as I could see there were no references to where this information about Belgian frit weights is published. So what to do? I'm quite sure you are just now telling me lots of things I should do.

Anyway, I decided to seek out a copy of the 1998 PCA Bulletin and read Dave Webber's article, and whilst making that search I came across the 2016 update of Colin Mahoney's book "Masterworks: The Paperweights of Paul Ysart". So I ordered both of those on line and sat back to wait. And a week or so later I had all three of my purchases - the paperweight, Dave Webber's article and Colin Mahoney's book. Now what do I know that I can share with you?

Dave Webber's interesting article refers to an interview with the late Colin Terris of Caithness Glass describing how Paul Ysart had told him they made these badge paperweights "out the door of the factory" whilst working at Moncreiff's glassworks during the 1930s. Colin concluded that it was either Salvador, Vincent or Paul who made all of them. There is no description of what the process was for encapsulating a metal badge into molten glass other than to point out that there would be a danger of the glass fracturing due to differing rates of expansion and contraction of the metal relative to the glass, and that clearly the Ysarts had solved this problem. The problem of encapsulating hollow metal tunic buttons is also discussed, with the information that these tended to rise because they were hollow and so an air bubble was created underneath the button.

We all know, from countless descriptions, that Paul Ysart was secretive about his paperweight making. Even his apprentices were not shown all the tricks of his trade, and he would destroy a nearly-finished paperweight sooner than let one of his "secrets" be discovered. So it is no great surprise that there is no account in any of the books or articles I have read of exactly what the steps were in encapsulating a metal cap badge into a paperweight. But somebody must know. Dave Moir or Willie Manson or Peter Holmes? And if you know where it is written I hope you are going to tell me.

Moving on to Colin Mahoney's book on Paul Ysart (which I think is great) there's a short chapter about "Medallion or Cap Badge" paperweights and another about "Sulphides" which set my mind pondering. Again most of the text describes the known examples of badge paperweights and their features, with a little more information than other texts. But there is no account of how they were made. Colin interviewed Paul Ysart's son Salvador and there is an excellent account of how Paul made the sulphides for some of his weights. Cheap brooches were used to make plaster-of-Paris molds from which a replica of the brooch was created using the kind of clay out of which clay pipes were made. This replica was then painted (heatproof paint) ready to be heated up and enclosed in molten glass to form a paperweight.

So here's my question. Are we sure that these badge paperweights contain the original badge, or a clay sulphide painted gold or silver? All of them or just some of them? Some people must have broken examples of these badge paperweights. I'd love to handle one, and see some photos showing the broken metal insert. My alternative explanation goes like this. A soldier comes to the glassworks with his cap badge having seen his mate's paperweight with a badge inside. He asks Paul to enclose his cap badge. Obviously this isn't an instant process and the soldier is told to come back in a couple of days to collect his paperweight. That would give Paul time to make and paint a sulphide of the badge and enclose it in a weight. And it would explain why Paul had a large box of military cap badges and medals which he brought home one night (interview by Colin Mahoney with Salvador Ysart).

Obviously where the metal has been distorted by the heat, we are talking about a metal insert. But some of these badge paperweights show no distortion of the badge, which could therefore have been a sulphide. Until somebody writes the detail of how to enclose a metal badge into a paperweight without distorting it or causing the glass to crack, and confirms that Paul Ysart did it that way, we just don't know.

That brings me to the references to these paperweights having been made in Belgium. Can someone tell me a reference where I can read about these Belgian paperweights? Or maybe there are some that have a Belgian label, which I'd love to see.

And the last word must come back to my badge paperweight in the picture above. Now I have the paperweight here in my hands, and I've read all I can find about badge paperweights, and guess what? This paperweight is actually pictured in John Simmonds' book "Paperweights from Great Britain". I didn't notice that until I had the paperweight in my hands and I was writing this blog.  The description in Simmonds' book reads: "... Army Service Corps badge set on a jasper ground. Pontil. Late 1930s. Paul Ysart. Dia. 3" Height 1.95", Mine is a little bigger but otherwise looks exactly the same.

I'll leave you for now. I hope I've made the case for some more research and a really good research-based article on badge paperweights. If Dave or Derek or Peter or Kevin want to volunteer for that, I'd be pleased to help.Thanks for your patience.

Angela