Development of Etched Glass in the United States (continued)

Intro by Mark Nye
Issue No. 275 - March 1996

This is the continuation of a reprint of an article that first appeared in the July 20, 1905 issue of China, Glass and Lamps. Previous portions of the article appeared in the December 1995 and February 1996 issues of the Cambridge Crystal Ball.

Etching of Glass and its Development in the United States
(continued from February 1996 issue)

The Phoenix Glass Co. entered this branch (etched globes for gas lamps) in 1888. The long experience of Alexander Patterson in the gas fixtures line, combined with the practical knowledge of the men at the head of the etching department, soon enabled the company to become a factor in the trade. The high quality of its goods brought increased business, and this high standard has been maintained to the present day. The Phoenix Co. brought out many novel shapes blown in iron molds, and the melon, ribbed and other conceptions in artistically etched designs made by this company met with a large sale. It was the first to utilize blanks made by the paste mold process, which on account of the smooth finish of the glass is so desirable in globes for etching. In Welsbach and incandescent goods in delicate tinted etchings it has produced much that is attractive.

In 1900 the E. A. Gillinder Co. was founded and established at Tacony, near Philadelphia.

This company began the manufacture of a line similar to that of Gillinder & Sons. It was, however, a year later absorbed by the older house, which continues to operate the plant and produces a complete line of etched globes.

In February 1902 the Gleason-Tiebout Glass Co. took over the glass business of the E.P. Gleason Mfg. Co. and in 1904 erected additional works at Metropolitan, New York City.

By manufacturing the bulk of its plain ware at the new plant it has been able to devote more space and attention to high class goods at the old works. Its etching department has been considerably enlarged and the output of all kinds of etched globes greatly increased. In addition to its many styles of globes it has produced a very attractive line in etched gold decorations.

Within the past few years other concerns have taken up etching. The Macbeth-Evans Co, the Pittsburgh Lamp, Brass and Glass Co. and the Consolidated Lamp and Glass Co. have produced a variety of attractive shapes and patterns for the incandescent lamp trade.

Most of the etched globes of today are what is termed satin or silver etched, the pattern being in ground glass on translucent background. This style of work has almost wholly superseded the old bright etched ware.

From an insignificant beginning in 1871 the etched globe and shade business in this country has become a thriving industry. Modern labor-saving methods have been adopted. Plates which in the early days took from two to three weeks to complete are now made in the same number of days. The sand blast process of grinding long ago supplanted the old style of lathe roughing. The process of printing and the printing ink have been greatly improved, as has also the method for the removal of the printing paper. The price of acid has been cheapened eighty per cent, and the cost of washing and handling the product reduced to a minimum. While there has been a continued depreciation in the selling prices, the quality of the goods has not suffered, it being an undisputed fact that better goods are sold today then ever before. We lead the world in design, quality and finish.

The technical development in etching glass has not reached its end. Attempts are being made to apply the etching agent in the form of a printed pattern direct, without the aid of a resisting substance. A patent was recently issued in Hungaria for such a process, but practical results are still lacking. (Ed. Note: To my knowledge such a process was not developed, at least commercially. Companies such as Cambridge continued to use a wax resist in the etching process and immersing the articles into the acid.)

As the technical side of this branch has advanced through different changes and improvement, so the art side has advanced, and we look forward to further development. From the beginning of the art of designing in this country it has been more or less the custom to draw upon foreign works, altering and interchanging them as suited the purpose of the artist. A great many of them are beautiful, especially the antique Greek and Roman, but such general resort to these old styles--though it is certainly the easier way--gives the designer little opportunity to use his own ingenuity and originality.

There has in the past few years sprung up a new form of ornament, "I'art nouveau." Of course everything that is "I'art nouveau" is not good, but the change is one in the right direction--to break away from copying and giving the artist free action. The old styles are still with us, and always will be, more or less, but it is hoped that the new movement will gain more and more influence and that the trade will be gradually worked up to it.

In other decorative lines the designer has the advantage in the use of colors for producing lights and shades, where as in etching only the clear and ground effects are to be obtained. In devising new patterns all realize the difficulty in producing shapes and etchings designs distinctively new; yet with successive seasons samples are produced which show improvement over all previous efforts.

There is another style of etching known as "needle etching," which is done on a machine by scratching with a needle through a coating of wax and etching the tracery. The inventive genius of Guillot was essential in bringing this branch to great industrial importance through the machine named after him. France and Germany took up this work almost simultaneously.

The first English machine was made in 1855 in a very primitive way by one James Smith, an engineer in the employ of W.H. Richardson, of Wordsley, being constructed out of an old lathe which had been used for turning gun butts, and by it circles were put upon duplex globes and other articles. The St. Louis Co., of France, started with one machine in the fall of 1873. In November 1874, it had three machines in operation, and in 1890 fourteen machines were running day and night.

In the early seventies (1870s Ed.) Wm. L. Libbey of the New England Glass Co. sent his son, Edward D. Libbey, now of the Toledo Glass Co., to Wordsley, England, to learn the process of needle-etching, and on his return that branch of decorative glassware was introduced in the New England Glass Works, resulting in a very successful business in etched tableware.

In 1877 Geo. Duncan & Sons, of Pittsburgh, and the Central Glass Co., of Wheeling, started in this line of work. The first named company abandoned etching after a short time, but the Central Glass Co. has continued it up to the present date.

There are now eight factories in the United States engaged in needle-etching, and it is estimated that between five and six million glass articles, principally tumblers and stemware, are turned out annually. Great improvements have been made in the machines in later years, and a large variety of designs are produced by this process, which does not vary much from other processes of etching. The article to be etched is first immersed in wax, then the design is put on by needles mechanically tracing the required design on the wax, after which it is ready for the acid. The work is turned out more rapidly here than in the old country. In the factories on the Continent the wax or paint is applied in a cold state with brushes. This takes a day to dry. The second day it can be marked on the machine and gotten ready to be etched on the third day. In our home factories the paint or wax is put on hot, the articles being dipped in it. In one hour after dipping it can be worked on the machine and etched. Very often the plain ware sent to the workrooms in the morning is finished and in the cars on the way to the customer in the afternoon. The mixing of acid requires considerable care, particularly where lime glass is used. The foreign made goods in needle-etching, being of lead glass, show up well, as the articles can be left in acid bath for longer period.

There is another style of etching known as "pantagraph," which is also done by needles. The firm of Bryce Bros., Mt. Pleasant, Pa., is the only one in this country using this process. As the name would signify, it duplicates the same design on a number of similar articles all at one time. The machine is of British origin.

The business in needle etching is in a flourishing condition, the prices being very much better now than in former years, and the outlook for 1905 better than ever before.

Many highly artistic productions, of the etcher are obtained in co-operation with the engraver. Bohemia, the old stronghold of the glass decorator, was not slow in adopting this process of etching though varicolored casings of glass. The United States, while it continues to be the best market for the highest grades of glass, is only beginning now to produce it. The Locke Art Glassware Co. of Mt. Oliver, Pa., has evolved a process by which the most delicate designs are reproduced in crystal and decorative tints. This ware, comprising original designs in vases, loving cups, punch sets, etc., is made of the finest lead glass, upon which elaborate designs in flowers, fruits, figures, scenes, etc., are traced by chemical processes. At the Locke Studio are to be seen many of these beautiful masterpieces in glassware. There are vases and tankards with Greek and Egyptian scenes, others with figures from Shakespeare and Wagner, elaborate designs in monograms, etc. Each individual piece is a work of art equalling, if not surpassing the best results obtained in the Bohemian and French glassmakers.

The Honesdale Decorating Co., of Honesdale, Pa., has taken up the etching of glass where the best men in Bohemia and France have left off, having devised many new effects and creditable variations of etched art glass, and is still progressing. Unlike many of the foremost etchers, who aid their efforts considerably by the engraver's needle, the productions of this company are etched only, depending on the flat tints of the vari-colored layers of glass laid bare by the acid for their effects.

Etching must be recognized, besides cutting and engraving, as the most appropriate means of embellishing glass. Like the former two processes, but unlike enamel painting and gilding, it adds no foreign material to the glass. Its product is noble, whether simple or elaborate, moderate in price or costly. And this is the strong point or advantage of etching over its associates among the noble arts of glass decorating; it makes a mechanical reproduction of pattern possible, bring an article of high artistic merit to a democratic plane of wide distribution, without confining itself to cheap goods. A low-priced etched pattern may be, for instance, of infinitely higher artistic merit than a cheap hand-engraved one.

Many of the members of this association take just pride in having made a world-wide reputation for American pressed glass; others in having popularized American cut glass. We of the etching fraternity are equally proud of the high standard attained in American etched glass."

M. W. Gleason, Gleason-Tiebout Co., July 14, 1905

This concludes this reprint of a paper presented at the 29th annual meeting of the Association of Flint and Lime Glass Manufacturers, held on July 14, 1905. The first portion appeared in the December 1995 issue and the second in the February 1996 edition of the Crystal Ball.