Novelty Items, Part I

by Mark A. Nye
Issue No. 227 - March 1992

Webmaster's Note: Pictures are provided on a separate page which may load slowly on a dial-up connection.

The word novelty is a noun and my dictionary defines it as:

  1. the quality of being novel (previously defined as strikingly new or unusual.)
  2. Something new and unusual; an innovation.
  3. Novelties, Small mass produced articles, as toys or trinkets."

Glass manufacturers used the term, sometimes rather loosely it would seem, to cover items that they apparently felt did not fit into standard categories such as tableware, vases, tumblers, etc. Often items, however, items found classified as novelties one year were not classified as such in the company's next catalog. Over the years, the various items Cambridge classified as novelties, often, but not always, met in a broad sense the definitions in the first paragraph. It is difficult to arrive at a simple definition of the term novelty as used by Cambridge, and the glass industry as a whole, that would cover all the included items.

This series of articles will present an overview of the items Cambridge sold as novelties during its fifty-six years in operation. In this way, the reader can formulate his own definition of what constitutes a glass novelty.

The first known Cambridge catalog, issued in 1903, had three pages of illustrations captioned with the term "Opal Novelties," as all of the items shown on these pages were available in an opal colored glass. The first two of these pages were devoted to various styles and sizes of pen, pin and gem trays or plates, round, round with lattice edge, rectangular and free form. The third page (and the one shown with this article) pictured various items, decanters, candlesticks and, as the reader can see, various other items as well.

It should be noted that the items on these three pages were possibly produced using molds from previously established (and possibly defunct) glass companies, and were probably not original Cambridge creations. When found today, it is virtually impossible to tell if the item was produced at Cambridge after 1902 or by some other company prior to that date. The distinguishing factor would be if the original company had not produced opal colored glass; then the item would most likely be of Cambridge origin. The basket and hat were to appear in the Cambridge line for many years to come; the other items were probably discontinued after a few years. The No. 1 Crucifix Candle Stick appeared later, in the 1910 catalog, in crystal on a page simply titled '"NEARCUT" CANDLESTICKS.'

On a page from the 1903 catalog captioned "MISCELLANEOUS" are several items that appear to meet the definition of novelty; items such as toy mugs, a toy tumbler and two hatchets numbered #2560 and #2561. (See accompanying pictures on separate page.)

The 1906 Cambridge "CATALOGUE of Table Glassware, Lamps, Barware and Novelties" had only a single page captioned Novelties. (See accompanying pictures) The decanters from 1903 are now on pages headed "Bar and Bitter Bottles, Decanter, etc." while the hatchets now appear on the novelties page. On another page, this time with the banner "Candy Mugs and Measures," are pictured the 1903 toy mugs and tumbler.

There was a single page in the 1910 Cambridge "Nearcut Catalog" dealing with novelties and it was captioned '"NEARCUT" NOVELTIES.' The items seen on this page, (see accompanying pictures) all of which were discontinued by the early 1920s, were most likely, original Cambridge designs. A separate page in this catalog pictured toy sets; however, instead of being captioned "Novelties" it carried the heading '"NEARCUT" TOY SETS.' These toy sets were designed and first made by Cambridge and were evidently quite popular as pieces can be readily found today.

The title page of a catalog issued circa 1911 read "CATALOG OF PRESSED TUMBLERS, BEER MUGS, PRESSED STEMWARE AND NOVELITES MANUFACTURED BY The Cambridge Glass Company." None of the pages in this catalog are captioned, but if one takes the catalog title literally, illustrated wares other than tumblers, beer mugs and pressed stemware were considered novelties. Thus, we have several styles and sizes of individual decanters, oyster cocktails and bottles being called novelties.

During these years the trade journals also made reference to novelties as seen in the following:

CJG-1908 "The Cambridge Glass Co. has sent William Dealing a very handsome new line of footed bowls, berry dishes, jugs and cake plates. A novelty punch bowl with miniature glasses that hold about a thimbleful is a recent product of the Cambridge factory." Note: this punch set is probably the #2660 or Wheat Sheaf Toy punch set seen in the 1910 catalog. The glasses are actually miniature punch cups.

CGL-1909 "... a novelty which appears in this display, as in many others, is the salt shaker with the glass top, metal bound to make it durable, but so arranged as to prevent the salt from touching the metal. ..."

CGL-1910 "... Another interesting feature is the one-hole shaker. It is a patented novelty and from the one hole in the top scatters the contents of the shaker as cheerfully as if there were a dozen. It cannot but be a good seller. Another novelty, which cannot be passed is the lemon squeezer, which retains the seeds of the lemon but permits the juice to flow ..."

CGL-1910 "notable among the novelties exhibited at the Ft. Pitt Hotel by the Cambridge Glass Co. is the famous lemon squeezer. It allows the juice to escape but retains the seeds. Housekeepers demand them. Buyers find no better sellers."

CGL-1910 "The novelties produced by the Cambridge Glass Co. are unequalled for the convenience of the housekeeper. Every buyer should see them." Note: More on this in a future article.

CGL-1910 "... Among the novelties may be found the large orange and grapefruit juice extractor, modeled after the Bennett lemon juice extractor, but larger, and the famous Bennett one-hole cellar ..."

To be continued ...

Editor's Note: CGL = China, Glass & Lamps
CGJ = Crockery and Glass Journal