Stems Making

by Phyllis Hayes
Issue No. 96 - April 1981

Our study group recently covered the many different ways Cambridge etched, cut and decorated its beautiful glassware. The craftsmanship that went into each piece made us appreciate those items we all have.

A few months ago, I discovered a book at one of our local antique shows entitled "STEMS" by Concetta Emanuele. She covered several methods used in making stemware. Most of us have at one time or another seen how some fine pieces of glass were shaped and have a pretty good idea of the process that goes into getting the glass into a drinking vessel. The application of the various stems is what I found especially interesting.

After the gather of molten glass has been partially shaped by the gatherer, the blower then places it into a paste mold and continues to blow air through the blow pipe. This air forces the soft glass to conform to the shape of the mold and thus a bowl is formed. The mold is opened and the bowl, while still attached to the end of the blowpipe, is removed.

A knob of molten glass is added to the bottom of the bowl and it is then pulled into a stem. When this type of stem is formed, another piece of pliant glass is added to the bottom of the stem section and shaped into the foot. A foot added in this manner is called a cast foot. The section connected to the blowpipe is then cracked off.

After each glass is sent through the lehr for annealing (slow cooling), the cap from where the blowpipe was attached is scored and cut off. The piece is then polished and heated to form a smooth and open rim suitable for drinking.

About 1895 The Bryce Glass Co. developed the Hokey-Pokey method of adding a pressed stem to a blown bowl. Other glass companies soon used similar methods. The completed bowl, while still attached to the blowpipe is placed on top of the stem mold. The stem mold is closed, shaping the stem and at the same time welding the stem and bowl together. When this is removed from the mold, the end of the stem is kept soft while a small gather of hot glass is attached to it. Once this has been rolled into shape and flattened by a cherry wood clapper, the cast foot has been formed.

The stems of glasses made in this fashion most often contain all shapes - knobs, floral forms, twists, loops, columns, etc. Items made in this way are among the easiest to identify and attribute. Thank goodness for this process, for I am sure the beautiful stems Cambridge applied to their stemware is one of the many reasons those of us who have them, treasure them so highly.