In 1901, J. N. Vance founded the New Crystal Glass Company in Bellaire, Ohio, with the help of Edward Muhleman. By December of that year, the new company’s name had changed to Imperial Glass Company, and Imperial’s new furnace produced its first glass in January 1904. From 1904 to 1909, Imperial targeted mass consumers with glassware items like tumblers, as well as jelly jars and lamp shades. Many of these items were imitations of cut glass, known as near-cut.
The company grew quickly. In 1905, new Sales Manager Victor G. Wicke sealed a wholesale deal with F. W. Woolworth Co. By 1907, its two furnaces were producing nearly at capacity. Imperial took its next step toward success in 1909 when it introduced its first lines of carnival glass, prompted in part by similar moves by Fenton, a nearby glass firm. Its first color of carnival glass was Rubigold (known today as marigold), and the line became Imperial’s most popular thus far, selling well both in the U.S. and abroad, until it was discontinued in the late 1920s.
In 1911 and 1912, Imperial introduced its Nucut and Nuart lines, respectively. Nucut was a line of imitation cut glassware, which was popular at the time; the Nuart line imitated Tiffany glass and was produced at first as lamp shades and later as vases.
Always attempting to respond to market trends, Imperial took a leap of faith into the growing art glass market in the 1920s. In 1923, Imperial released its Free Hand line, which was designed by art glass experts from the Netherlands. These pieces came in multiple colors and were extremely expensive, which contributed to their poor sales. Imperial released its Lead Lustre and Satin Iridescent Colors art glass lines in 1924 to help drive its art-glass sales, but Imperial never found success in this market, and Free Hand was discontinued in 1928. Today, however, these pieces are extremely collectible.
With the coming of the Depression, Imperial took a huge economic blow, as did many of its competitors. In February 1931, the company filed for bankruptcy and was reorganized in August as the Imperial Glass Corporation, with Earl W. Newton as its first president.
Under the leadership of Newton—with the help of designer Carl W. Gustkey—Imperial rebounded. In 1936, responding to the increasing popularity of elegant glass, Imperial released what would become its most successful line: Candlewick. The name was inspired by a Colonial-style needlework technique called candlewicking, and the design featured colorless pieces with small decorative glass beads around the top of each piece. By the 1950s, Imperial was producing more than 200 items in the Candlewick line, which was competing with Fostoria’s American line and Cambridge’s Rosepoint.
Around the same time as the introduction of Candlewick, Imperial began producing a line that would become almost as successful—Cape Cod. Newton secured a deal with Quaker Oats to...
The 1950s brought increasing scarcity of resources and stiff competition from cheap foreign glassware. As it moved into the 1960s, Imperial hoped to maintain its footing by reissuing some of its old lines, including some of its carnival glass. These new lines included New Carnival and Collectors Crystal.
But a sour economy and continued competition ultimately got the best of Imperial. In 1973, it became a subsidiary of New Jersey’s Lenox, Inc. Eight years later, New York investor Arthur Lorch bought Imperial from Lenox, but his inexperience in glass did not help the company’s fortunes. In 1982, Imperial was sold again to investor Robert Stahl and finally went out of business in 1984.
In its long life, Imperial created a vast array of products—more than 700 decorative and table pieces, including vases, bowls, candlesticks, dishes, jars, and baskets, along with 15 full lines of tableware. Many of its vases featured its signature heart-and-vine motif. In addition to Cape Cod and Candlewick, Star Holly (introduced in 1951) and Imperial Jewels (introduced 1916) were also quite successful.
Imperial created a handful of trademarks for its pieces over the decades, but two are more common and distinctive than the rest. The first was the Imperial Iron Cross, which appeared in 1913 on the No. 582 Fancy Colonial pattern. This mark is the intersection of two arrows at 90-degree angles, with the word IMPERIAL divided into four parts—“IM,” “PE,” “RI,” and “AL”—spaced around the two arrows. The second mark was introduced in 1951: an “I” superimposed over a “G.” Still, not all pieces are marked, so collectors should take other factors into consideration when trying to identify Imperial.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
Imperial Art Glass
Pattern Glass School
Cloud Glass Reference Site
Antique Glass Salt and Sugar Shaker Club
Clubs & Associations
- National Imperial Glass Collectors Society
- Antique Glass Salt and Sugar Shaker Club
- Early American Pattern Glass Society
- The Glass Art Society
- National Cambridge Collectors, Inc.
- Stained Glass Association of America
- The Glass Association
- Yahoo 2Glassies2 Discussion Group
- Yahoo Glass Lovers Glass Database Forum
- Yahoo Fenton Friendly Folks Discussion Group
- Yahoo Fenton Art Glass Discussion Group