This article focuses on skilled glassblowers who created flasks in small and local glass houses in the Mid-West in the 1800s and discusses some of the rarest and most desirable flasks at the time of publishing. It originally appeared in the October 1937 issue of American Collector magazine, a publication which ran from 1933-1948 and served antique collectors and dealers.
Stiegel – Wistar – Amelung – are all names associated with romance and glamour in the early development of glassmaking in America. Many others, whose achievements were just as outstanding but who have not been so well publicized, followed these “immortals” in the early and mid-years of the 19th Century. To this latter generation of glassmakers the collector owes a major portion of the finest examples of the glassmaker’s craft which grace his cabinets and delight his eyes.
To the Middle-West, or more specifically, to Western Pennsylvania and Ohio, traveled skilled blowers, trained in the Stiegel technique. Employed for the most part in relatively small and local glass houses, whose principal commercial products were window glass and bottles, they produced, principally as a side-line, limited to local consumption, or in many cases, as individual pieces, some of the finest glass in form, color, and decorative technique ever blown in the early years of glassmaking in this country. A very large percentage was blown from bottle molds and expanded.
These small Mid-Western glass houses produced many of the rarest and finest historical flasks now eagerly sought by discriminating collectors. In Mrs. Knittle’s book, Early American Glass, published 1927, brief mention is made of one Benedick Kimber. According to Mrs. Knittle, Kimber is said to have been one of the expert glass workers who came to America from Germany with Amelung when he established his New Bremen Glass Works in Maryland.
Kimber migrated westward and built the Bridgeport Glass Works on the Monongahela some time between 1810 and 1820; “was later associated with certain Pittsburgh glass interests, leaving for Brownsville, Pennsylvania, around the forties when he purchased the Hogg Glass Works. He died soon after from cholera. At the little Bridgeport settlement, Kimber is said to have made window glass, bottles of all sizes and a small amount of hollow ware, the output being valued at $16,000 in 1826.” The Hogg glass works, founded in 1828 by George Hogg, an Englishman, was principally a bottle factory. He leased it, in 1829, to John Taylor & Co. and it was here that many fine historical flasks (some marked J. T & Co.) were produced in that early period. The glass works passed through various ownerships before it was taken over by Benedick Kimber in the 1840’s.
Not long after publication, in 1926, of Stephen Van Rensselaer’s Early American Bottles and Flasks, I heard, from a Mid-Western source, rumors of a very rare and unlisted Washington flask, said to present a portrait of the Father of his Country quite different from that on any other Washington flask; also an entirely different delineation of the American eagle; and, a still more important distinction, it bore the initials B. K. in an oval frame beneath the eagle. Rumor was finally reduced to fact and the name of the owner divulged, but the flask could not be had at any price. Time changed things, however, and one day the flask became an outstanding item in my collection. Since then, I think some four or five additional specimens have come to light, but the number is so few as to make it still one of the outstanding rarities in Early American historical flasks.
We can, I think, definitely attribute it to Benedick Kimber; but whether made at his first glass house, the Bridgeport Glass Works, or at Brownsville, I am not prepared to state positively. Mrs. Knittle says “while it may have been made at Brownsville it is more possibly a Bridgeport output.” I am inclined to agree, as I think the flask is earlier than Kimber’s connection with the works at Brownsville.
There is a very decided similarity between this flask and the very rare Washington flask with bust of Washington and above, inscription G. G. Washington; reverse, eagle with word Pittsburgh and beneath, oval frame with letters F. L. – Frederick Lorenz. The two flasks are similar in shape and in having smooth edges with central rib; whereas other early flasks from the Pittsburgh and Monongahela districts characteristically have horizontally corrugated or beaded edges. The bust of Washington and the eagle face the same way and are also very similar on the two flasks and quite different from other early Washington and eagle flasks from that section. The Benedick Kimber flask is illustrated, No. 1, Plates I and I-A.
One of the finest and most interesting groups among historical flasks is composed of some 40 to 50 distinct varieties and variants in Masonic flasks. By far the greater number of these were produced in New England glass houses, principally in Connecticut and New Hampshire. The Kensington Glass Works in Philadelphia, Pa., contributed several specimens, quite different from the New England types, not only in shape but in that the “Farmer’s Arms,” an arrangement of sheaf of rye, scythe, ax, rake, spade, pitch fork and sickle, is portrayed within the Masonic arch.
The Ohio and Mid-Western glass houses produced only a few Masonic flasks and in the main they followed the Kensington type in shape and in showing the “Farmer’s Arms” within the arch. The well-known J. Shepard & Co. and Murdock & Cassell flasks (Van Rensselaer’s No. 4 and No. 5, Division II, Group IV) made at Zanesville, Ohio, are typical examples. Several years ago another Mid-Western Masonic flask, not listed by Van Rensselaer, came to light. It is beautiful and of extreme rarity. From its characteristics I judge it to be quite early and probably produced in one of the glass houses in the Pittsburgh or Monongahela district. In all, I know of some six or eight specimens of it. I have seen it only in light green and a deeper shade of green with yellowish tone. The flask is here illustrated-No. 2, Plates I and I-A.
Taken as a group, the Washington, Jackson, and eagle flasks produced in the early glass houses of the Pittsburgh and Monongahela districts are outstanding in their appeal to the collector. Well-shaped, with the attractive horizontally corrugated or beaded edges, clean-cut design of historical import and comparative rarity, they possess every quality desired by the discriminating collector.
However, in the matter of color, as compared with some other groups, they lack variety, as they rarely occur in other than light greens and aquamarines. Some of them do come in brilliant amber and olive amber shades, occasionally in very dark olive amber (black glass), also deep green and yellow green; but these are all very rare. I have, however, seen one early Washington flask from this district in clear light blue. I have never seen any of this group in amethyst, puce, sapphire blue and other colors in which many of the flasks from the Eastern glass houses of the same or slightly later period frequently occur.
There were numerous glass houses producing these bottles and flasks in the early period from 1820 to the 1840’s in the Pittsburgh and Monongahela districts and there were frequent changes in the ownership or operation. The flasks in this particular group above referred to comprise roughly about 20 to 25 varieties in which the bust of Washington or Jackson in combination with the American eagle, or the eagle alone, on each side, is the decorative theme. Other distinguishing features are the horizontally corrugated or beaded edges and uniformity in shape and size, that is, they are all pint flasks, with the particular design occurring only in the one size.
With the exception of a few varieties which bear initials, it is, I believe, practically impossible to assign any of these flasks definitely to any particular glass house.
These exceptions are – The Jackson Eagle flask, with initials J. T & Co. – John Taylor & Co. (Van Rensselaer No. 50, Group I); the G. Geo. Washington-Eagle flask with initials F. L. – Frederick Lorenz (Van Rensselaer No. 8, Div. II, Group V ); the Washington-Eagle flask with initials J. R. in oval frame beneath eagle and, below, inscription “LAIRD. SC. PITT,” (Van Rensselaer No. 10, Div. I, Group V ); and a similar flask, but with bust of Jackson instead of Washington. The initials J. R. probably stand for John Robinson.
According to Mrs. Knittle, Robinson was an English glass worker who came to Pittsburgh from England in 1823 and built a flint glass factory. According to Van Rensselaer, this was known as the Stourbridge Glass Works, probably named after the famous one in England.
Another of these flasks with initials is the rare Jackson Eagle flask with initials “B & M” in the oval frame beneath the eagle. I do not know the significance of these initials.
I am not certain whether “J. T & Co.” stands for John Taylor and Co. or James Taylor & Co. Mrs. Knittle refers to John Taylor & Co. as having leased George Hogg’s bottle works in Brownsville, Pa., in 1829; but later on, in her list of initials found on pieces of American Glass, she lists “J. T. & Co.” as James Taylor & Co. I find no other reference to James Taylor & Co. in her book. Van Rensselaer in his book, under “Symbols – Used to denote names of Glass Works and Glass Manufacturers,” lists “J T” as James Taylor & Co. As far as the Jackson-Eagle flask with initials “J. T & Co” is concerned, I think it was un-unquestionably produced by the Taylor who leased Hogg’s glass house.
Which name, John or James, is correct, I do not know at this writing, but I think the correct name can be ascertained. Ward McAllister Lloyd, who about 16 years ago made a thorough canvass of the Monongahela district and was the first to bring to light many of the flasks made in the early glass houses in that section, at that time found several of the “J. T & Co.” Jackson flasks. He was told by old residents in Brownsville that Taylor leased the glass works about a year after it was built and that the “Company” was his daughter.
On the basis of such information as we now have, definite attribution of other flasks in this group, in my opinion, is impossible. By comparison with the flasks having initials, as listed above, we can from certain similarity in details of the bust or eagle tentatively assign certain flasks to the same glass houses; but I do not consider such attribution definite or final, nor have I attempted it.
Among the attractive flasks in this group are the double eagle flasks, that is, eagle on each side (Van Rensselaer No. 9 and No. 10, Div. I, Group II); also the eagle-cornucopia flask (Van Rensselaer No. 12, Group III). He attributes the two eagle flasks to J. T & Co.; the eagle-cornucopia he lists unknown as to maker. There is a similarity between the eagle on the Jackson “J. T & Co.” flask and that on the double eagle flask (Van Rensselaer No. 10), but there is just as much similarity to the eagle on several other flasks of this group. Therefore, I am not making any attribution as to maker with respect to the five varieties of these eagle flasks which I am illustrating and describing in detail.
It is interesting to note I have encountered more color varieties in these eagle flasks than in any of the Washington and Jackson flasks in this Pittsburgh-Monongahela group. Also, I have encountered only one type of Washington flask and none of the Jackson, with the short diagonal ribbing to left and right at the bottom on each side, which is characteristic of both these eagle and eagle-cornucopia flasks.
In a forthcoming article I will illustrate and describe the Washington-Eagle and Jackson-Eagle flasks produced in the early glass houses of the Pittsburgh-Monongahela Districts.
PLATE I: Pint, sheared neck, scarred base. Smooth edges with central rib. Three-quarter, almost full face, bust of George Washington in uniform, facing right. Above, in semi-circular formation, “WASHINGTON.” Reverse, eagle, head facing left; very long beak; wings partly raised and left foreshortened; long pointed shield with six vertical bars on breast; olive branch in right talons; thunderbolts in left. Eagle is standing on oval frame, with fine beading around inner edge and containing letters “B K.” Above eagle, large sunburst, with stars above. Nearly all of these flasks which I have seen are rather faint impressions. On the one flask illustrated, the stars above the sun-rays are so faint as to be hardly discernible and impossible to count. However, I have a very distinct recollection of having been advised of another specimen and better impression of this flask, in which the stars, 13 in number, were clearly shown. Color: Light green, yellowish tone. Maker: Benedick Kimber, probably at his Bridgeport, Pa., Glass Works. Circa, 1820-1830. Not listed by Van Rensselaer.
PLATE I-A: Pint flask, sheared neck, scarred base. Edges with large oval beading divided by pronounced central rib. Rather crude American eagle; head with abnormally large beak, facing to left; wings and feet spread; shield with fine bars on breast; olive branch grasped in left talons; thunderbolts in right; tail feathers extended fan-like below shield. Beneath, a small oval frame containing a large four-petalled ornament. The eagle has the appearance of standing on his tail feathers. Above eagle are 13 large five-pointed stars. Reverse, Masonic arch, pillars and pavement, with 18 bricks. Within the arch, “Farmer’s Arms,” consisting of arrangement of sheaf of rye, scythe, ax, rake, spade, pitch fork and sickle. Beneath the pavement, a scroll-like ornament. Color: Light green. This flask also occurs with the sides slightly contracted at the bottom to form a perceptible base or foot. Color: Clear brilliant green with yellowish tone. Not listed by Van Rensselaer.
PLATE II: Pint, sheared neck, scarred base. Edges horizontally corrugated or beaded with narrow central rib between. American eagle, head to right; wings partly spread, with right wing foreshortened; large shield with six bars on breast; three arrows or thunderbolts grasped in talons of right foot; tail feathers show below shield at right; and eagle is perched on oval frame with inner band of very small pearl beading. Above eagle, ten small five-pointed stars in semi-circular formation and one faint star just beneath, making eleven in all. At bottom of flask, beneath oval frame, short diagonal ribbing to left and right. Reverse same. The number of stars on each side is usually given as ten, the additional star being very faint. The stars appear slightly larger on one side. The number of tiny pearls in the inner band of small beading is very difficult to count, but as near as I can determine there are 28 in the oval frame on one side and 27 in the other. Van Rensselaer’s No. 9, Div. I, G. II. Colors: Aquamarine; pale yellowish green, clear yellowish olive green, dark olive green-black glass.
PLATE II-A: Pint, sheared neck, scarred base. Similar design to No. 1 but tail feathers do not show below shield at right. Oval frame with inner band, of large pearl beading, 16 in number. Nine stars in semi-circular formation above eagle. Reverse same, but ten stars in semi-circular formation above eagle. Van Rensselaer’s No. 10, Div. I, G. II. Colors: Aquamarine, bluish tone; yellow green.
PLATE III: Pint, sheared neck, scarred base. Design same as No. 2 except nine stars in semi-circular formation and one faint star beneath, making ten in all on one side. On reverse, nine stars in semi-circular formation and faint appearance of three additional stars beneath, making 12 over the eagle on that side. The impression of the additional stars is faint, so it is difficult to tell whether stars are actually intended in the mold. In the oval frame beneath eagle on one side is a small vertical ornament on bar which may be an accidental mark in the mold. There are 17 fairly large pearls in the inner band of pearl beading in oval frame beneath the eagle. Not listed in Van Rensselaer’s book. Color: Aquamarine, bluish tone; clear golden amber.
PLATE IV: Pint, sheared neck, scarred base. Same design as No. 2 but ten stars over eagle on each side and eagle is perched on very narrow oval frame with inner band of 14 large beads instead of 16. Not listed in Van Rensselaer’s book. Color: Pale yellowish green.
PLATE IV-A: Pint, sheared neck, scarred base. Design same as No. 1 except instead of stars there are 11 large pearls above eagle on obverse and ten on reverse. Again it is rather difficult to count exactly the number of pearls in inner band of oval frame beneath the eagle, but as nearly as I can determine it is 28 on one side and 27 on the other.
PLATE V: Pint, sheared neck, scarred base. Edges horizontally corrugated or beaded, with narrow central rib. American eagle, head to right; wings partly spread, with right wing foreshortened; large shield with six bars on breast; three arrows or thunderbolts grasped in talons of right foot; tail feathers show below shield at right. Eagle is perched on oval frame with inner band of small pearl beading, 28 in number. Above eagle, nine medium-sized pearls in semi-circular formation and a single pearl beneath, which is faint, making ten in all. (Probably intended to represent stars but they do not have any points.) Reverse, large cornucopia filled with fruit. Bottom curled over to left. At bottom of flask on each side, short diagonal ribbing to left and right. Van Rensselaer’s No. 12, Group III. (He describes “pearls” as nine stars. However, there are ten; the tenth, as stated, being faint.)
This article originally appeared in American Collector magazine, a publication which ran from 1933-1948 and served antique collectors and dealers.