Our Museum Feature this month is a brilliant, ruby-colored Cape Cod decanter produced by the Imperial Glass Company. In addition to ruby, there were several color variations produced in Imperial’s Cape Cod pattern, for which production started in 1932 and continued until the company’s close in 1984. Widely popular, Cape Cod was one of the patterns that enabled the Imperial Glass Company to weather the Great Depression. The pattern was created when then-president Earl Newton secured a contract with the Quaker Oats company for Cape Cod items to be included as “premiums” in Quaker Oats products. (To stay competitive during the Great Depression, many companies began offering free items included with the purchase of a product. China and glassware were popular premium items offered by many companies.) There were more than 300 piece types produced in Cape Cod during the course of its run, in colors as diverse as fern green, black, purple slag, yellow, and many others.
The term “decanter” was coined around 1715, but decanters have been in use for more than 2,000 years. Decanters were designed as vessels used to separate wine from any sediment that was a by-product of the older bottle-aged wine process. Most modern wine-making processes don’t produce the amount of sediments that were present in older wines, and decanting now is done mostly to allow wines to breathe (although the effectiveness of this is a topic for debate), and also as a way to show off the color of the wine. The ancient Romans were the first to use glass decanters, but as the production of glass declined following the fall of the Roman Empire, decanters began to be made of gold, silver, and clay. Decanter shapes in the 1600s were largely based on wine bottles of the time: squat, with short necks. In the mid-eighteenth century, decanters started becoming narrower and taller, and were produced in a variety of shapes, featuring cut decorations and loose-fitting stoppers.The history of the Imperial Glass Company, spanning eight decades, begins in 1901, when Edward Muhleman, a riverboat captain and financier, ended his relationship with the National Glass Company of Pittsburgh, PA. National Glass Company, a conglomerate, had purchased Muhleman’s Crystal Glass Company of Bellaire, OH, in 1899, along with eighteen other glass-making plants. An able businessman, relatively young at age 55, wealthy, and evidently still fascinated with the glassware industry, Muhleman contacted the Bellaire Board of Trade, a group of businessmen seeking to attract industry to their city on the banks of the Ohio River. Muhleman struck a deal with Bellaire investors to construct what would be billed at the time as “the largest factory in this part of the Ohio Valley.”
For a variety of reasons construction lagged. It was not until 1904 that the huge Imperial Glass Company plant began production. According to the “Imperial Glass Encyclopedia, Volume I,” the company’s first catalog was more than sixty pages long – “In addition to all manner of bottles, tumblers, and electric and gas shades, the catalog listed no fewer than fifteen lines of tableware, an impressive beginning indeed.” Over the years, the company would go on to produce a fantastic array of clear, colored, acid-etched, deep-etched, iridescent, gold, silver, or burnished tumblers, vases, pitchers, figurines, platters, relish dishes, ash trays, cake stands, candlesticks, goblets, perfume bottles, bells, hurricane lamps, punch bowls, salt and pepper shakers, candy boxes, and more, in an amazing variety of shapes and designs, many of them sold in the leading department stores of the day.
In 1973 the Imperial Glass Company was purchased by Lenox, and over time, the company’s emphasis on glassware changed to giftware. Competition was keen in this product area, and the company’s market share dwindled. Ultimately, the Imperial Glass Company was forced into bankruptcy. Its last full catalog was released to the trade in January 1982.
The Imperial Glass Cape Cod decanter in our museum is not for sale, but it is available for purchase in our inventory. Replacements, Ltd. also carries many popular Imperial Glass patterns, including Candlewick, Old Williamsburg, Provincial, and of course, Cape Cod. We also have a number of patterns from American manufacturers like Tiffin/Franciscan, Heisey, Duncan & Miller, and Viking, that may be purchased, along with patterns from a wide array of other glassware producers. Be sure to browse our web site. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you’ll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles! Our 500,000-square-foot facilities hold more than 12 million individual pieces in more than 400,000 patterns! Our showroom and museum are open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm ET, 7 days (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm ET, 7 days. The showroom and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!