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Museum Feature

Museum Feature – Tiffin Flower Basket, “Empress” Line

For our museum feature this month, we’re featuring a gorgeous hand-fashioned, free-form flower basket from the stylish “Empress” line of giftware by Tiffin/Franciscan. Tiffin produced this series of modern forms and bold shapes for only four years, from 1959 to early 1963. Despite this limited production span, the line included a large variety of giftware pieces such as jugs, vases, rose bowls, hurricane lamps, centerpieces, and more. In addition to the Ruby & Crystal color of the featured basket, “Empress” items were also produced in color combinations like Emerald Green & Crystal, Sapphire Blue & Crystal, Smoke & Crystal, Twilight & Smoke, and, the rarest color combination, Twilight & Green (believed to have only been produced briefly in late 1959). Today, these beautiful items are highly sought-after by collectors.

This classic American crystal was crafted by Tiffin/Franciscan, a firm whose roots can be traced back to 1888, when the A.J. Beatty & Sons Glass Factory in Steubenville, Ohio, near Pittsburgh, announced that it would be moving its facilities across the state to Tiffin, Ohio. At the time, Beatty & Sons was the largest manufacturer of pressed glass in the world. The move was prompted by the availability of abundant natural gas in the area that could be used as fuel for firing, an offer of free land by the city, and a $35,000 cash incentive. The new plant began production in 1889. Just three years later, A.J. Beatty & Sons merged into the United States Glass Company.

USGC was the combination of as many as 18 independent glass companies operating in Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. From its company headquarters in Pittsburgh, USGC sought to strengthen its operations in the face of serious labor unrest, competition from manufacturers abroad, and an increasing dependence on natural gas rather than coal as the chief fuel for manufacturing. As time passed, some of the original USGC operating plants passed out of existence, and others were added. In the 1920s and 1930s, USGC added decorating shops and sales offices throughout the United States, and overseas sales offices in Mexico, Cuba, Australia, and England. In spite of these developments, USGC continued to suffer operating losses. By 1938, in an effort to consolidate, USGC moved its general offices from Pittsburgh to Tiffin.

Under the USGC umbrella, the Tiffin operation was designated “Factory R,” and produced mostly barware and tumblers. In 1893, only two years after the USGC merger, Factory R was destroyed by fire. Following the fire, citizens of Tiffin offered two additional years of free natural gas as an incentive for the company to remain in the city. The strategy worked, and the plant was rebuilt. According to Bob Page and Dale Frederiksen in their book, “Tiffin Is Forever: A Stemware Identification Guide,” Tiffin’s production had expanded to include cut glass designs and lighter weight stemware by the early 1900s. Tiffin’s product line continued to expand during the 1910s and 1920s to include blown, cut, and etched dinnerware and stemware patterns in clear and colored crystal. These handmade pieces included cake plates, cracker sets, jugs, candy jars, and many more distinctive piece types. Tiffin’s “Flanders” line, which was produced between 1914 and 1935, included over 70 different pieces. In 1937, responding to ongoing financial difficulties, USGC management discontinued manufacturing its less expensive glassware and concentrated on the production of high-quality stemware and designer pieces. Tiffin excelled in this designer arena, having always been known for quality production, and Tiffin glass began to be promoted as “America’s Prestige Crystal.”

C. W. Carlson, Sr. became president of USGC in 1938. Under his charismatic leadership, and that of his son, C. W. Carlson, Jr., the company introduced a variety of new shapes and new colors. The company also introduced a variety of stylish and modern lines of hand-crafted giftware, including the “Empress” line. In spite of these successful innovations, the company had gone into bankruptcy by 1963. A year later, C.W. Carlson, Jr. and several other Tiffin employees started the Tiffin Art Glass firm, reviving the company's tradition of quality stemware. Just two years later, Tiffin Art Glass was acquired by the Continental Can Company and was officially renamed the “Tiffin Glass Company.” When Tiffin became a division of the Interpace Corporation (makers of Franciscan china) in 1968, “Franciscan” stemware lines like “Madeira,” “Jubilation,” “Cabaret,” and others were introduced in a variety of colors to coordinate with Franciscan dinnerware patterns.

In 1979, Leonard Silver Manufacturing Company, a division of Towle Silver, purchased the glassworks. Tiffin Glass Company remained in that company's hands until closing its doors in 1984. 

The Tiffin flower basket in our museum is not for sale, but we do have a variety of other Tiffin/Franciscan items available for purchase in our inventory; 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.

 

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