Edwin E. Griffith Discusses Glass Cutting

by Peg Gotschall
Issue #116, December 1982

Speaker at the November Quarterly meeting was Edwin E. Griffith of Cambridge. Mr. Griffith, a new member of NCC, is owner of La-Flo Cut Glass Co. in Cambridge, an establishment specializing in the art of cutting and polishing glass. Mr. Griffith, a master glass cutter, began his career at Cambridge Glass Company in 1935 in an apprenticeship which lasted five years. He then worked as a journeyman in the Cutting Department which was owned by Mr. Herschel Hancock, his father-in-law, and stayed there until 1954 when the Cambridge Glass Company closed. At that time La-Flo Glass Company was opened.

He explained that the Cutting Department was located in the Cambridge Glass Plant but it was owned by Mr. Hancock, who contracted with Cambridge Glass Company to cut glass made there. It was a busy shop, at one time employing 40 cutters, 25 by day and 15 at night. Today there are only 28 registered journeyman glass cutters in all of the United States.

Mr. Hancock came to Cambridge Glass in 1919 and designed most of his own patterns. His shop could also match patterns brought in by salesmen. The cuttings were numbered and cutters worked by numbers rather than pattern names. Pattern names came from the Company or their salesmen.

When talking about his apprenticeship, Mr. Griffith said apprentices often started by marking glass off into the number and height of parts, and that they could be asked to do most anything at first. Later they might finish a piece after most of the detail had been done - such as putting leaves on. After about three years they might start to do simple patterns themselves. After their five years, they had just begun. According to Mr. Griffith, it takes half a lifetime to become a good glass cutter - if you live long enough.

Other interesting comments were that a glass cutter puts a pattern onto the glass by setting up, looking at it, and then transferring it into the piece he is cutting. Patterns can be made by taking rubbings from other cuttings. Six men might cut the same pattern and later each could pick our his own piece, yet they all had to match to meet the high standards of the Company. Certain patterns were cut in great abundance as special orders for companies who purchased them as gifts for employees or customers. Cuttings were generally put on crystal glass because it is important for the cutter to be able to see what he is doing. The pattern is actually cut in reverse.

Mr. Griffith observed that cut glass had its own fashion trends, going from the heavy deep cut glass to the modern cuttings such as lines, swirls or spot-cut flowers and stems. He said people have always wanted something showing workmanship and skill. They also hunt for something to look good for less money.

He brought samples of the stones used for cutting. They vary in size from ¼ inch to 2 inches thick and come in coarse, medium and fine grains. Each stone is turned to the particular lathe it is used on. He pointed out the importance of anchoring a lathe properly, stating that any vibrations will transfer into the stone and the work, and that if properly treated, a lathe will last for years.

All cuttings are gray to start with but can be polished with cork, brush or acid. Acid was used in divided vats containing acid and water. The acid was heated to make it work better. For his protection an acid polisher had to wear rubber boots, plastic sleeves and thin rubber gloves under heavy gloves. The lead and copper vats and drain tile used with acid deteriorate very quickly - in four to five years. Today Lucite vats and pipes are available and last much longer - fifteen to twenty years.

Mr. Griffith also displayed a number of beautiful pieces of cut glass - some one-of-a-kind and was assisted by his wife, Floetta, daughter of Mr. Hancock. She also answered some questions and shared her knowledge. Their daughter, Loretta Moss and her daughter, Jill Cherry also were present.