The Question is: WHAT RETAILS? Part I

by Mark Nye
Issue No. 262 - February, 1995

Author's note: The following article originally appeared in the June 1931 issue of China, Glass & Lamps. It is a general article, touching on all the major glass houses, including Cambridge, in operation at the time. The question is as pertinent today as it was then. Ask any retail merchant, including glass and antique dealers, how important the answer to the question is to his or her business. Since many of those who belong to NCC collect or have knowledge of glass other than Cambridge, the article will be presented in its entirety.

"Even limited to one commodity - glassware - any attempt to make a decisive answer to <the question stated in the title of this article> would be halted on every side by the apparently contradictory reports one hears. There is a rather evident reason for these varying replies, of course. Each store attracts to itself a class of customers whose tastes are satisfied, to a greater or lesser degree, by the type of merchandise they find there. Consequently, in deciding just "what is retailing," each store's findings are colored by the obvious fact that the customers' choice is limited to the wares which the buyer has selected from the entire market.

"But without trying to delve into merchandising problems, it might be interesting to make a short survey of style trends, as they appear to be "trending" in the metropolitan stores, as well as those being brought forward in the showrooms in accordance with the manufacturers efforts to develop further these styles.

"Certainly there has never been a time when so many different tastes could be gratified in so many different price ranges. Colors have been brought out in medium priced glassware which were out of the question heretofore, excepting in very expensive wares. The cost of manufacturing them, which hindered their development, has proved to be a problem capable of solution. And so we find richly-colored glass in the stores, bearing tags that give pleasant surprises to admiring customers who cannot afford to pay high prices.

"This has, of course, a great deal to do with one of the most outstanding of the style trends in glassware at this time. Ordinarily, during the warm months, the most popular colors are the delicate pinks and pale greens. Both manufacturers and retailers have for a long time thought of these as "summer colors," with the various lovely shades of yellow joining the group a year or so ago.

"These pastel tints are still immensely popular, to be sure, with the topaz hues heading the list. This golden ware met with such instant response when it was brought out that its continued popularity is simply taken for granted.

"Nevertheless, the pale colors definitely face a formidable rival this summer. The coming of warm weather has seen no falling off in the public's liking for the deeper colors placed before them during the past season. Instead, the stores, and, of course, the showrooms, report them to be very much in demand.

"Red for example, which has always been thought of as a "winter color," is enjoying a volume of sales that, like rainy weather in California, is "most unusual," at least at this time of year. It is a most gratifying volume, too, both to the manufacturers who, after much effort, were finally able to get a "good" color and bring it out at a medium price, but to the retailers who had foresight enough to stock it. Customers who have grown accustomed to see these rich colors offered at a very high price, are delighted to find that they can, after all, afford to possess glass in cobalt or ruby, dark green, or the shades of orchid and amethyst.

"One thing that has been a force in selling these colors is their appeal to the discriminating customer when she learns that they cannot be produced in low-priced glassware. Expensive wares yes -- and now, medium-priced glassware too! But it is not a cheap process, and such glass is not to be found in the five and ten cent stores. This has contributed a generous share to the growing popularity of the deep-colored glass, and the stores, are, quite naturally, taking full advantage of it.

"In line with this trend, the Cambridge Glass Co.'s dinnerware and stemware in ruby color -- which they call "Carmen" -- is among their best sellers. It has been used effectively in many table settings in the stores, either in its entirety or just the stemware, combined with appropriately decorated china, and since ruby dinnerware is so strikingly different, it has attracted a great deal of favorable attention.

"This same company is making short dinner lines, as well as stemware, in two rich colors, royal blue and amethyst, and of course, there are pieces of flatware in each of these colors. The jug ..... is in peach and is decorated with the Gloria etching, but it is equally lovely in royal blue and crystal, one of the several colors in which it is produced. And it will be noticed, by the way, what a smart appearance this ball-shaped jug possesses. The Cambridge company has patented the shape, and it is proving to be one of their most successful items.

"The Morgantown Glass Works was one of the pioneers in the United States in making deep colored stemware, and their ruby has maintained its popularity ever since it was first brought out, just as their "Ritz Blue" is a constant good seller. <Ed. Note: Morgantown's Ritz Blue is the equivalent of Cambridge's Royal Blue.>

At the present time, however, the Stiegel green which the Morgantown works introduced at the Pittsburgh show in January is outstandingly in demand. The stores find that their customers are attracted to it at first because of its utter novelty. It is green and yet it has a depth and richness that sets it apart from the light crystalline quality of most shades of green glass. It is, moreover, a color that "wears well," losing none of its charm through association.

"In this Steigel green, with its blue-ish cast, which is an exact reproduction of the original color produced by Steigel, there is further evidence of the desirability of deep-toned ware. This, too is a color that cannot be duplicated in inexpensive glass, which is a selling point that is not be overlooked."

To be continued next month