Ask About Antiques/Early American Pressed Glass - A Long Pattern of Collecting

by Budd A. Moore, Ed.D.

Glass has always had a fascination for me as a collector. There are many types of glass objects to collect. I chose pattern glass because it was the reason I first became interested in antiques.

I became intrigued with pattern glass in the early 1970s and bought my first piece at an auction during that time. It was a Huber pattern compote, although I did not know that at the time. Shortly thereafter, I bought a pattern glass water pitcher. I found that it was really a milk pitcher of the fish-scale or Coral pattern. I was so enamored with this piece of glass I decided to adopt it as my pattern and collect as many pieces as I could. It has been 26 years since I bought that pitcher that cool fall day in Greencastle. I now have a considerable collection of this pattern.

Pattern glass was the first mass-produced fancy tableware in America and was much prized by our ancestors as it is by collectors today. Glass was first pressed by machine in 1825 and ushered in the first of three eras in the story of pattern glass. The first period is known as the Lacy Period (1825-1845). The general lines of glassware were ornate in order to hide the many manufacturing flaws caused by the pressing machine or its operator. The busy, delicate and attractive patterns featured geometrics, hearts, scrolls, flowers, and overall crisscross designs on a finely stippled background. Among the pieces made were heavy knobs, cup plates, and master salts. During the latter part of the Lacy Period, creamers, bowls, plates, and other large items were manufactured. The major manufacturers located in Boston and Pittsburgh. Lacy pattern had a high lead content and was generally called flint glass displaying the characteristic ring when tapped. Sets of dishes were not produced in quantity during this period.

The Flint Era (1845-1865) witnessed great improvements in the pressing machines and techniques of glass craftsmen. Patterns became more simple and elegant. Specific patterns containing a wide range of pieces all in the same pattern were available from glass factories as far west as Ohio and West Virginia. Glass formulas that added color became the guarded secrets of each company. Most colored glass produced during this period was milk glass, originally called opal by the artisans. Glass was also made in amethyst, shade of blue, canary, and red. All colored glass of this period is very scarce and extremely valuable.

The Victorian Era (1865-1910) became the golden age of pattern glass. By 1865 the manufacturing techniques were perfected and the mold craftsmen were designing some incredible patterns. By 1870 color became common at most companies. Soda and lime replaced scarce lead in the glass-making process. Hundreds of patterns were issued each year with as many as 100 different pieces in each line.

In 1891 two giant glass manufacturers were formed. The National Glass Company lasted only four years, but the giant U.S. Glass Company was in business until 1984. In the 1890s patterns that copied cut glass patterns were very popular. Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Wards sold tones of pattern glass through their catalogs. Pattern glass was produced in huge quantities, thousand of patterns and many colors. Many new colors were added and many techniques for applying color after the glass hardened were used to add red, amber, and gold flashing to some patterns. Today the highest prices are paid for these examples.

The A.H. Heisey Company was founded in 1896. This company along with others decided that their niche in the market centered on improving the quality of the glass. Spectacular patterns were produced by the Heisey, Greentown, and the Northwood companies and became highly prized and very collectable in later years. However, by 1910 the Victorian Era was over.

Collecting antique pattern and pressed glass is a fantastic and fascinating hobby. My original purchase of the fish-scale or Coral pattern pitcher has grown into a collection of 41 pieces. I am still looking for pieces today, especially dinner plates. This search makes any vacation or day trip an adventure that may yield a certain piece that fills a void in my collection. It is a great learning escape as well. I have found that my pattern was produced by the Bryce Brothers Glass Company of Pittsburgh, PA and came in 35 different pieces and was among the assortments of glassware that was made available in 5 and 10 cent stores around 1890; therefore, the pieces are true antiques. Get out there and start collecting the pattern of your choice.

Moore, Ed.D., is a specialist in the valuation of antique and collectable objects of the last 100 years. He is an educator, counselor, and avid antique enthusiast as well as a candidate member of the American Society of Appraisers. He has been a collector of antique American Art Pottery and has been a dealer for over 20 years. He is familiar with nearly all lines of American Art Pottery, twentieth century glassware, Art Deco, and Art Nouveau categories. If you have a question about antiques or collectibles, you can e-mail him at