The Westmoreland Glass Company grew out of the Specialty Glass Company of East Liverpool, Ohio, which, in 1889, relocated to Grapeville, Pennsylvania, to take advantage of the area’s abundant supply of natural gas. By 1890, production of pitchers, goblets, tumblers, and glass novelty items was underway, overseen by two brothers named George and Charles West. With the backing of Ira Brainard from nearby Pittsburgh, the brothers soon bought out the Ohio founders and changed the firm’s name to the Westmoreland Specialty Company.
Operation of the factory ran smoothly for nearly 30 years. During this period, Westmoreland produced virtually every type of glassware, from inexpensive pressed glass to pricier cut glass. Disagreements between the two brothers eventually resulted in George leaving the company, which Charles ran on his own. Around the same time, the name was changed to Westmoreland Glass Company to eliminate the confusion among consumers about what a “specialty” company might actually produce—“glass” made the company’s mission crystal clear.
Throughout World War I, the Westmoreland Glass Company manufactured and distributed intricately molded, candy-filled glass jars in the shapes of automobiles, trains, and even revolvers to newsstands and dime stores across the U.S. The jars were made of high-quality milk glass, or opal, a signature material that distinguished Westmoreland glass from its competitors...
In the 1920s, Charles added a large decorating department to the factory’s output, which allowed for the distribution of impressive crystal and decorated ware. But it was milk glass that kept the company in the black. Indeed, an estimated 90 percent of all Westmoreland glass produced between the 1920s and ’50s was made of milk glass.
Thanks to their high level of craftsmanship, Westmoreland milk glass pieces were considered some of the finest examples of the material in the country. This reputation for quality is one reason the factory was not forced to close its doors during the Great Depression, a fate that befell so many of Westmoreland’s competitors.
One of Westmoreland’s most enduring products was a covered dish called Hen on Nest, which was manufacturers in numerous sizes. The earliest Hens were pressed from a more fragile (and more collectible) type of milk glass than the versions that followed. Early Hens can be distinguished from later ones because they were a pure milk-white; it was only later that the hen’s comb was colored bright red.
Along with the changing composition of its milk glass, the Westmoreland Glass Company’s marks evolved through the years. From 1910 to 1929, a “W” within a keystone was used to indicate an authentic piece. In the late 1940s, a stacked “W” and “G” were introduced, and around 1982, initials were abandoned altogether in favor of a circled “Westmoreland.” Various insignia styles came and went between these main phases, but the insignias are difficult to pinpoint to just one time, and they were used too infrequently to date a piece with any certainty.
By the 1950s, milk glass seemed the best financial bet for the company. Many of the patterns produced during that decade were designed to capitalize on the material’s earlier popularity. Among the most successful patterns were Paneled Grape, Old Quilt, Quilted, English Hobnail, Beaded Fruit, and American Hobnail. Paneled Grape in particular has remained a staple of Westmoreland collectors, who know that all it takes to transform a milk glass punch bowl from plain to extraordinary is a cluster of grapes in high relief on its side.
As the 1950s drew to a close, though, the popularity of milk glass waned. Westmoreland struggled through the 1970s, and by the time the 1980s rolled around, the company needed a new owner to stay afloat. The enthusiastic David Grossman purchased Westmoreland in 1981, but despite a valiant effort to revive the business, interest in the milk glass pieces Westmoreland specialized in just wasn’t there. On January 8, 1984, almost 100 years after its founding, the factory shut down production.
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Clubs & Associations: Glassware
- National Westmoreland Glass Collectors Club
- Early American Pattern Glass Society
- National Cambridge Collectors, Inc.