The First 20 Years of NCC: The Cambridge "Wonder Years"

by Phyllis D. Smith
Issue No. 240 - April 1993

[Bill Smith served as the third President of National Cambridge Collectors, Inc. Phyllis served as Crystal Ball Editor for almost 15 years.]

What? Twenty years! It can't be! And yet it has been! It was twenty years ago that National Cambridge Collectors, Inc., was organized. Beginning with a total of 53 members, reported in the very first issue of the Cambridge Crystal Ball, May 1973, membership has grown to a total of 1,503 as reported during the February 1993 Quarterly meeting.

These past twenty years have been truly "Wonder"-ful years for this organization and for those of us who have been involved. As I think back over these years and realize that we (my late husband Bill and I) were there through it all, I have to smile as I recall all the happy, and also sad, times we have shared with so many of you. Yes, it's true a great many of you were there then and continue to be there now!

I could easily fill a page or more by mentioning the names and contributions made over the years by so many of you. But that is not what your editor asked me to do. Instead, she asked that I write and article that will highlight the happenings at NCC during the years that we served this club as: vice-president, president and treasurer(Bill); and my years as Crystal Ball editor and membership chairman.

Bill and I became members of NCC in early May 1973, and we were members #66 & #67. Our interest in collecting Cambridge glass was high because both Bill and his father had been employed at the glass plant. His father, Ed Smith, was a full-time employee in the mixing department for many years, and Bill was a carry-in boy during summer vacations from school. By the time we joined NCC, we were already involved in a Cambridge friendship with Frank and Vicki Wollenhaupt and Dave and Sue Rankin, and we were holding monthly study meetings that eventually became NCC Study Group #1, "The Hokey-Pokey's".

Bill was asked to run for a position on the Board of Directors in 1974. He was elected to that Board and served continually until his death in September 1991. During our first Convention in 1974, he was elected vice-president; and then president from 1975 to 1980; and treasurer from 1980 through June 1991.

With Bill's election to president in 1975, he asked if I would take over the duties of editor of the Crystal Ball. This was a real challenge for me, as I had no qualifications other than secretarial training in high school.

I tackled the job from 1975 until I retired (the first time) in 1981; and again, starting in September 1983 until I retired for the last time with the July 1992 issue. My stint as membership chairman began in 1981 and continued through June 1992.

For the first two years, our newsletter was edited by Dick and Fran Pavlov. We owe them a debt of gratitude for establishing the guidelines (nameplate, masthead, format, etc.) that we continue to follow today. Their efforts made it relatively easy for me and those who follow, to follow their lead.

As I look back through the CB issues I edited during those first few years, I can only cringe at my primitive efforts. But, I can't say I regret any of my time spent, as I enjoyed every minute; and I especially enjoyed working with so many others over the years.

The one rule that was established and every effort made to follow, without exception, was that there be no information printed in the Crystal Ball that could not be proven to be factual. If we thought we were correct, but could not point to a catalog, price list, etc., to prove our point or that of a contributor, then we always included the phrase "felt to be", "believed to be", "possibly", "perhaps", "reported by", etc. During the first two years of publication there were several errors printed as truth that still haunt Cambridge collectors today. Back then, there was very little information available to prove or disprove what was accepted as truth, so several statements were made innocently that have since been disproved.

As with any organization or business, the first few years were difficult. By the beginning of the third year, we were experiencing major financial difficulties. At the Quarterly Meeting, held in February 1975, it was reported by the treasurer that there was a balance of $425.50 in the checkbook. Outwstanding bills would show a deficit of $84.04. There was $699.80 in the museum fund. Later, during the meeting, the Board and members were asked to pay their dues in advance to help with this financial problem. Many members did just that!

It was apparent at this low point in our history that something had to be done quickly to turn things around, erase the deficit, and proceed onward toward our goal of one day establishing our Museum. The November 1975 issue of the Crystal Ball contained "Thoughts from our President" in which Bill Smith explained just what would be involved in accomplishing these goals.

The short version of these changes included: a new bookkeeping system; transmittals were introduced to handle the flow of mail more efficiently; methods implemented to increase membership and retain them; money making projects introduced; and methods of balancing the budget by cutting corners at every turn were discussed and put into effect.

From this point, your president and Board of Directors were determined to move this organization onward and upward, making sure that the museum would become a reality as quickly as possible, and that our members would reap the benefits originally projected, in the form of information concerning Cambridge glass, presented monthly through the pages of our newsletter, the Crystal Ball. To this day, I believe this determination still exists.

So many measures were undertaken, to not only increase our museum fund income but also to decrease club spending over the next few years, that I am not sure I will be able to relate all of them to you, without leaving something out.

The annual All-Cambridge Glass Auction had been established in August 1974. Over the years, the date and location have changed. The past several years have found it at Shenandoah Inn on the last weekend in February or the first weekend in March. This event has proved to be a good source of income, usually adding several thousand dollars annually to our museum fund.

In February 1976 the Bylaws were amended to change our Annual Meeting date from May to June. This change was made in the hope that more members would be able to attend the annual meeting and Convention. The third annual Convention and first annual Antique Show & Sale sponsored by NCC was held June 25-27, 1976. That first show contained a club booth in which our members could sell their glass on consignment. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but was dropped (as I recall) after that first year. It proved to be too much work for the few who volunteered their time, with too little profit for the club.

Also, during that year's Convention, we received the first 500 copies of our 1930-34 Catalog Reprint. This event was made all the more special because our publisher, Bill Schroeder of Collector Books delivered these books personally. True to his word that we would have the books in time for our Convention, he and his printer drove all night and delivered them as our Antique Show was opening - as promised. As expected, sales were hot and heavy. This book continues to sell well and is a constant money maker for our club.

Beginning with the February 1976 issue of the CB, and continuing through January 1977, the printing process was changed to Xerox. That entire year was a money saving effort put forth for NCC by the members of the Hokey-Pokey study group in Dayton, Ohio. Through the efforts of Dave Rankin, we were allowed to use the new Xerox and collator owned by his employer. One evening each month, we met in Dave's office and proceeded to print, collate, staple and fold the newsletter. The club was charged for the paper we used and a small charge was made for the toner and whatever else we needed. At any rate, the charge was many, many dollars less than we had been paying for printing and it proved to be a tremendous saving to the club. These issues did not look quite as nice as the printed issues, but they have held up remarkably well. An added bonus for us was that we had a great time doing it and we always considered it an evening well spent.

By March 31, 1976, it was happily reported by our treasurer that we had indeed balanced our budget. It was reported by Bill Smith in his July 1976 president's messge that "we have completely ereased our operating fund deficit. Our financial condition is IN THE BLACK."

By Convention 1977 things were continuing to look up for NCC. Our membership was reported to be 511; the Crystal Ball ws running 12 to 16 pages in length; it was announced that we would be printing the 1949-53 Catalog as soon as a price guide could be formulated; and our Museum chairman stated that over 4,000 copies of the 1930-34 Catalog Reprints had been sold. Of course, as editor of the newsletter, I was still asking for advertising and articles; even though both had greatly improved during the past two years.

November 12, 1977, was the date of our first Commemorative dinner and Quarterly meeting. The first in a series of commemorative bookends made their first appearance at this dinner meeting. Reproduced in the original Cambridge mold, the Lady Leg bookends were well received and were all sold. It was reported that the club realized a profit of approximately $4,300 from their sale. In later years, the Lion, Eagle and Scotty dog were also reissued, however they were not as successful as the Lady Legs. There were problems in having them made and too much time lapsed between issues to hold the interest of our collectors. There was money made and all but the Scotties sold out, but it cannot be said that the project was a complete success.

Over the years, there has been much confusion as to what name should be used in discussing the various figure flower frogs. In the April 1978 issue of the CB, we ran a Ballot so all members could vote on the name they would prefer NCC to use when referring to these ladies. Draped Lady was preferred over Bashful Charlotte for the #513 and #518. Bashful Charlotte won out over September Morn for #1114 and #1115, and Rose Lady was most preferred over Flower Lady for #572. In case you have wondered why we use these names -- now you know.

1978 was the year when we were finally in a position to begin the process of finding a suitable property to house our museum. Of course, it was 1982 before our dream became a reality and our museum was opened during Convention. But between 1978 and 1982 much work was carried out to make this become a reality. In November 1978, Bill and I were invited to be guests at a Glass Show in Cleveland. That show marked the beginning of many shows we attended over the next twelve or so years. At every show we represented NCC, selling books, taking memberships and talking glass to all who stopped by our table. We enjoyed doing this and, at no expense to NCC, we added many thousands of dollars in book sales, memberships, etc., to the club treasury.

The December 1978 issue of the CB carried the first pages of the 1956-58 Catalog reprint. This Catalog continued to be printed in sequence each month, ending in the May 1982 issue. In November 1979 the entire Catalog was also printed in a complete paperback edition by the NCC. It should be noted here that the 1949-53 Catalog Reprint was completed and ready for sale by the 1978 Convention.

During Convention 1980, Bill stepped down from being president after five years. He did accept the position of treasurer and held that position for the following eleven years. I continued one more year as CB editor, and when I resigned I accepted the job of membership chairman. Our new editor, Peg Gotschall took over and did an excellent job for two years, then knee surgery forced her to resign and I accepted the job of editor again, in 1983.

As most of you know, I continued as editor until this past July, when I resigned for the final time. During the 15 years I spent as CB editor, I've seen a lot change in this organization and, almost without exception, it has been for the good. As I used the Crystal Ball for reference in preparing this article, I marvel at all the different and informative articles that have appeared. All the back issues are still available and I highly recommend that every serious Cambridge glass collector avail themselves of the opportunity to purchase these issues.

Bill and I enjoyed our nearly twenty year association with NCC, and I look forward to many more good times. The personal friendships we have formed with so many of you over the years are so very important. Thanks to you all for the wonderful memories.