This article focuses on the history of the Sandwich Glass Company, established in 1825, and describes the wide variety of patterns that the company produced and their movement from clear flint glass to the production of as many colors as possible. It originally appeared in the November 1940 issue of American Collector magazine, a publication which ran from 1933-1948 and served antique collectors and dealers.
Lacy Sandwich glass was one of the earliest, if not the first, of the industrial arts produced in the United States. Essentially, it was highly decorated ware for the dining table produced in quantity from carefully cut molds and sold at popular prices.
The genius behind it was Deming Jarves, who started his own venture in glassmaking at Sandwich on Cape Cod in 1825, fifty-three miles from Boston. In the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company, with its factory located in a heavily wooded area, hitherto known to sportsmen for its excellent hunting and fishing, he founded an enterprise far ahead of its time in products made, methods of operation, and social obligations assumed towards employees.
Within three years after its start, the company had a new product, a cast glass tableware with an ornate pattern in relief and a background of fine pin-point stippling. The high point of the period when this company made Lacy Sandwich glass was from 1828 to 1842, and during it a great number of patterns were produced. Many of them represented but slight changes of design motif. Some were combinations of elements of design taken from two or more earlier ones; all had decoratively the same characteristics — a design either Early Victorian or French rococo, executed in relief and a background of fine stippling that caught the light in a silver sheen.
Lacking contemporary accounts by Deming Jarves or men closely associated with him as his chief employees, we must assume that the first Lacy Sandwich glass was in clear flint glass. Certainly clear Lacy Sandwich continued to be the major production though within a short time other and relatively fewer pieces were produced in shades and tints of about five distinct colors.
To anyone who knows Boston & Sandwich history, this use of color for Lacy Sandwich is very simple. Deming Jarves, although he was never trained to the glassworker’s trade but became one of the dominant figures in American glass-making rather from the sales and financial angles, had a keen interest in colored glass. Added to it was a shrewd commercial sense of the advantage it would give him in marketing the wares, particularly Lacy Sandwich, made at his factory.
From a very early date, 1828, he kept a notebook of the formulae of mixes that would result in desired colors. Also, he encouraged his men to carry on numerous rule-of-thumb experiments, both at the factory and in their homes, to discover just what metallic oxides added in certain proportions would result in a glass of a new but desired color, shade, or tint.
But except for business letters, Deming Jarves was not prone to write much concerning what transpired at the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company. In 1854 he did write a small pamphlet on glass manufacture for private circulation. This was enlarged and given wider circulation four years later when he relinquished direction and control of the company. However, neither the pamphlet nor its later enlarged edition has anything specific to say regarding the making of Lacy Sandwich in colors. So for accurate information, one must turn to such specialized collections as that of Mrs. Charles W. Green of New York and of Mrs. Helen Hutchinson of Worcester, Massachusetts, and to the recently published book Sandwich Glass by Ruth Webb Lee, which is a comprehensive history of the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company from its founding to that night in 1888 when the fires in the furnaces were drawn, never to be relighted, because of a labor union impasse.
Unfortunately, no color chart and nomenclatures has yet been published for the various colors or varying shades of basic tones in which Lacy Sandwich was produced. So the naming of tones and shades vary with the opinion of the individual possessor of a piece. But inspection of a hundred or more pieces and comparing one with another in a clear north light leaves the distinct impression that colored glass-making at Sandwich during the era of Lacy glass production had progressed to such a point that there were few variants of any shade and that the majority were surprisingly uniform as to color and true to type.
Six colors seem to have been all that were used, although with any one of the pieces made a color might vary from a deep shade to one of pastel delicacy. These colors were green, yellow, blue, purple, opalescent, and a red approximating blood orange, as distinguished from the ruby, found only in salt dishes. This list does not in any way intend to assume that pieces of Lacy Sandwich may not be found tomorrow or a year hence in other colors or may not already be in some closely guarded and little-seen collection. It is merely a statement regarding the colors of this ware that I have seen in private collections, museums, and in the hands of dealers.
Of the pieces of Lacy Sandwich in color, I consider the footed compotes the most impressive. Here the design is a combination of prince’s feather and baskets of fruit. There are some variants. The design of the foot or pedestal is made up of conventional reeding. Structurally, this compote is the lower half of an oblong vegetable dish with the foot applied. It never comes with a cover, since attaching the foot so warped the dish part that it would be impossible for a cover to fit properly. This compote has been found in deep blue, a lighter blue, canary, and amethyst.
Next in importance are three designs of covered sugar bowls. The most elaborate is six-sided with an acanthus-and-shield motif on the bowl part and ornately decorated lid. The bowl part also has a deep leaf pattern rim to retain the lid and a circular scalloped low foot. The lid is surmounted by an open rosette knob of floral motif. This sugar bowl has been found in deep emerald green and a brilliant blue.
The second sugar bowl is of much the same design but plainer. The lid lacks the ornate decoration and the floral knob is not so elaborate. The foot is circular but minus the scalloping and other differences exist. Its colors are deep emerald green, opalescent, and a clear glass with a steel tint.
The third sugar bowl was probably made from the early days to some time after the others. It is decorated with the well-known Gothic motif and is octagon in shape. Both rim and foot are simple in design. It was made in electric blue, peacock blue, opaque blue, canary yellow, light and dark amethyst, a deep green, opalescent, and possibly other colors.
Cream pitchers do not seem to have been made in designs and other colors to match the sugar bowls. With them, two designs were used — the peacock’s eye and the chain with arch. These invariably have a round scalloped foot, a conventionally decorated handle that seems almost too heavy for the piece. They are found in opalescent, a dark sapphire blue, and a light shade of opaque blue.
There were many plates made in colored Lacy Sandwich. Some were small and deep and intended for sauce dishes; others were toddy plates, such as the harp design found in a peacock blue; and there were still others ranging from five to nine inches in diameter. These were made in practically all of the colors, including an amber shade. To record all of them would require a check list several pages long.
The best known designs included the crossed swords, the Roman rosette, the peacock feather, bull scroll, modified bull scroll, rayed pinwheel center, checkerboard or block center with Gothic border, interlaced hearts with heart and sheaf of wheat border, sunflower center with horn-of-plenty border, and a variant of the Washington George design. Rarest among them is the soup plate with quatrefoil central design and saw-tooth motif in the border. It is nine and a half inches in diameter and is found only in a deep blue, although the same soup plate in clear glass is relatively common.
In the miniature pieces that undoubtedly were made as toys, rather than salesmen’s samples as some have suggested, the objects made and colors in which they are found are: cups and saucers — blue canary and opalescent; washbowl and pitcher — blue and green, opalescent, and canary; plates — blue, canary, and possibly other colors; cream pitchers — opalescent; open vegetable dish — green, amber, and opalescent; smaller open vegetable dish — blue and opalescent; tumblers — blue; tureen with tray — canary, blue, green, and opalescent; and larger tureen with tray — a light opaque blue somewhat streaked with white. Very few miniatures were made in amethyst.
Likewise, there were many designs of salt dishes made in Lacy Sandwich glass. Of these, the rarest as to color are those in the blood-orange tint of red. After this in point of rarity are the salt dishes in canary yellow, green, amber, blue, and opalescent. More frequently found are Lacy salt dishes in opaque blue, and opaque white. These salt dishes are also found in colors that are only different tints of standard colors as, for example, from aquamarine to a deep bottle green.
In the rum cups or night nips, as they were sometimes called, one finds practically the entire range of colors used in making other pieces of Lacy Sandwich. They range from amethyst to canary, green, blue, amber, and opalescent. The latter sometimes with little fire and hence almost a plain opaque-white glass.
There is no question but what making glass in as many colors and tints as possible was one of the great interests of Jarves and the men under him in the day-to-day management of the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company. This was particularly true of the years when Lacy Sandwich was one of the company’s chief products. As a result, one occasionally finds delicate tints of glass that were only used in a very few pieces of Lacy Sandwich. They explain the variants of the colors in which such pieces of glass were made and today make for some of the distinct rarities in this type of glass.
For instance, it is hard to explain why red glass of the blood-orange type was not employed for making any other pieces of Lacy Sandwich except for two or three designs of salt dishes. Again, full-sized sugar bowls with covers of the plainer-type decoration are sometimes found made of a clear glass that has a distinctly steely cast or tint and yet no other pieces of Lacy Sandwich have been found in which this off-shade of clear glass was used.
Lacy Sandwich was made when the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company was in the full vigor of early years and initial commercial success. Therefore, it is well to bear in mind the account of the Town of Sandwich that was included in The New England Gazetteer, published in 1839 at Boston of which John Hayward was both editor and publisher. This one-volume reference book has a brief description of each of the cities and towns of the five New England states. Concerning Sandwich, Massachusetts, the Gazetteer records that in 1837 it had a population of 3,579 and that its industries, besides the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company, were a leather tannery, a shipyard, a blacksmith’s forge where wrought-iron nails were made and an iron foundry that made stoves and other types of castings.
As the total value of the goods manufactured in Sandwich for the year ending April 1, 1837, is given as $382,248 and of this $300,000 was for the glass made there, it is clearly evident that the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company was the town’s big enterprise and “afforded employment” for most of the men. Thus, this brief mention of Sandwich becomes, over a hundred years later, a contemporary account of the industries in operation at the time when Lacy Sandwich in color was being made there.
Why colored Lacy Sandwich is so rare is one of the unsolved problems. The Boston & Sandwich Glass Company was certainly adept in producing colored glass, and during its period Lacy was one of the important commodities made there. Yet hundreds of pieces appear to have been made in clear glass to one in color. Why? Perhaps the public taste ran that way. In which case a successful business enterprise would naturally concede that the customer was right and not struggle overmuch to educate him to an appreciation of color.
This article originally appeared in American Collector magazine, a publication which ran from 1933-1948 and served antique collectors and dealers.