The Cambridge Swans - Part I

by Les Hansen
Issue 314 - June 1999

Swans are one of the most collected of all items produced by the Cambridge Glass Company. We know that Cambridge introduced the swans in 1928, and swans remained in production until the final plant closing in 1958. Based on the popularity of Cambridge swans among collectors, it is remarkable that so few articles about them have appeared in the Crystal Ball. I've been asked to furnish a series of articles in response to many inquires about the Cambridge swans.

Issue No. 36 (April 1976) of the Crystal Ball contains an article by Frank Wollenhaupt that discusses how the sizes of swans are measured, which is from the front of the breast to the back of the tail. It also touches on the various sizes and colors that were produced, the different "types" of swans, and the intended uses for the various sizes of swans. Although numerous reprints of advertisements and references to swans appeared in the Crystal Ball during the ensuing 14 years, the next feature article didn't appear until Issue No. 192 (February 1990), when Clyde Ingersoll explained the evolution of the Camhridge swan molds. Also, I must point out that two "Circular Letters," #31 and #41) ot the Cambridge Glass Company dated 1937) were shared by Carl Beynon in Issue 192 (April 1989) of the Crystal Ball. These circular letters, in addition to company catalogs, price lists, and records, have been extremely helpful in dating the probable production periods of specific swans.

Before proceeding further, I would like to give special thanks to Clyde Ingersoll for the depth of his research and documentation on the production of Cambridge swans, and to Lynn Welker, who is a wealth of knowledge on any topic related to glass produced by Cambridge. Lynn is particularly knowledgeable on special treatments applied to Cambridge swans and has been steadfast and patient in answering my many questions about Cambridge swans through the years.

Let's start with the sizes of swans. There are seven sizes -- 3 in., 4 ½ in., 6 ½ in., 8 ½ in., 10 in., 13 in. and 16 in., -- all measured roughly from the front of the breast to the tip of the tail. The 3 in. swan was intended to be used as an individual mint/nut or ash tray, the 4 ½ in. as a candy dish, the 6 ½ in. as a mayonnaise or candy dish, the 8 ½ in. as a celery holder or bonbon, the 10 in. as a table decoration, the 13 in. as a table centerpiece, and the 16 in. as a punch bowl. In some cases, to be discussed later, the 4 ½ in. served as a candleholder, the 8 ½ in. as a candy box, and the 10 in. as a flower pot.

Next, we will discuss the "types" (some collectors prefer to use the term "styles") of swans. I think there is pretty good agreement among swan collectors regarding the numbering of "types." All that is necessary for a numbering system is general agreement among swan collectors, because a system to number "types" of swans was not needed or used by the Cambridge Glass Company. Usually, the different "types" result from mold alterations, so although the shape of swans changed somewhat following the alteration of a mold, the numbering system for sizes of swans did not change within the company during the production years. For example a 10 in. swan was a 10 in. swan to the company, regardless of "type."

The 3 in. swans were produced in three types -- 1, 2, and 3 (or I, II, and III, as labeled by Ingersoll). Type I swans in the 3 in. size were made from 1928 to 1933, when a completely new mold was made to make the 3 in. swan. The new 3 in. mold was used to make Type II swans from 1933 to 1939, when that mold was then altered. The altered mold was used to make 3 in. swans of Type III from 1939 to 1958. So, what's the differences in types I, II, and III? For starters: Type I swans of all sizes have a great amount of feather "detail," that is, there are many diagonal lines to provide detail within a single feather in the mold and, therefore, the glass. Type I swans in the 3 in. size could be described as short and stubby in length compared to the types II and III. Also, the Type I has a continuous ovoid opening on the top edge, whereas the types II and III in the 3 in. size have "notches" on either side of the tail feathers. The type II and III swans in the 3 in. size have longer wing feathers that are more swept back than the Type I, resulting in the notches on either side of the tail. Furthermore, the Type II swan in the 3 in. size has a "dimple" into the body on each side of the swan.

Clyde Ingersoll refers to types 3A and 3B, but actually there are at least five subtle, but unique, variations of the Type III swan in the 3 in. size. These all involved slight modifications (reworking) of the mold, possibly due to wear of the mold. Most collectors don't differentiate among these slight differences of the Type III swans. All of the type I and II swans in the 3 in. size were signed (unless the "C" in a triangle was polished off during the finishing process, so a swan would sit level). Very few of the Type II swans in the 3 in. size were signed, and the ones that I have seen have all been in Crystal. Furthermore, the dimples found in the Type II no longer existed in the Type III and the neck was smoothed. Some of the Type III swans completely lack head detail. Also, all detail on the large wing feathers was removed (smoothed) in the Type III. For a short period of time (probably only 1939 and 1940), all sizes of Type III swans were made without the use of a flaring tool, which was used to spread the wings after the swans were removed from the molds. I have seen the Type III swans without the spread wlngs in only Crystal, except for the 3 in. size in both Crystal and Crown Tuscan. All of the other colors of 3 in. swans of Type III have the spread to the wings (the 3 in. reproductions by Mosser, which have been produced in many colors, don't have this spreading of the wings).

Now, on we go to the other sizes. No Type II swans exist for the 4 ½ in., 8 ½in., 10 in., and 13 in. swans. The types jump from Type I (produced 1928 to 1939) directly to Type III (produced 1939 to 1958) for these four sizes. For each size, the same mold was used to produce types I and III, but the molds were altered to remove the feather detail. Within each and every feather, the surface is smooth on the Type 3 swans.

Like the 3 in. swan, there are types I, II, and III for the 8 ½ in. swan. The circular letters from 1937 in Issue No. 192 of the Crystal Ball provide the documentation that Cambridge "changed the design" of the 8 ½ in. swan shortly before January 6, 1937. Also, Clyde Ingersoll noted (in his Crystal Ball article in Issue No. 202) an entry in the mold order book that was dated January 23, 1939, and gave instructions to "change all swans to be like" the 8 ½ in. swan with details removed (which probably refers to the changed design from 1937). Therefore, the Type I was probably made from 1928 to 1936 or 1937, the Type II from 1937 to 1939, and the Type III from 1939 to 1958. Apparently, Type II swans in the 8 ½ in. size were made only in Crystal and Moonlight. You might ask how the types II and III in the 8 ½ in. size differ. The differences are quite noticeable on close inspection. The Type II swans have only partial removal of the feather detail, they are all signed and their heads are of the same general shape and style as the Type I swans. The Type III swans in the 8 ½ in. size have dramatically smoothed feathers, which is characteristic of Type 3 swans of all sizes, and have much more pointed beaks.

Circular letter #41, dated 1937, and reprinted in issue #192, provides a listing of the 16 in. swan punch bowl, the swan punch bowl base, and the 5 oz. swan punch cup. As far as I am aware, this is the first reference to the 16 in. swan punch bowl. A few of the Crystal swan punch bowls seen today have some degree of feather detail, and these 16 in. swans almost certainly date to the 1937 tot 1939 period, before the 1939 mold change order to remove feather detail from all sizes of swans. Thus, the 16 in. swan punch bowl came in two types -- types II and III.

To review the type and size combinations:

  • Type I: All sizes, except the 16 in. punch bowl
  • Type II: Only the 3 in., 8 ½ in., and 16 in. punch bowl
  • Type III: All seven sizes

In future articles of this series, we will discuss the colors of production of each of the types and sizes, special treatments, the inserts used with the swans, and reproductions. Please contact me if you have additional information related to the topics discussed in this and future articles in the series.