Since the Heisey Glass Co. special exhibit in our Replacements, Ltd. museum will be taken down on April 25, we thought we’d give you a look at another selection from the exhibit. And if your travel plans permit, please stop by to see the special exhibit – you’re always welcome!
Our museum feature, the Heisey Glass Co. mold figurines, are not only interesting aesthetically, but historically as well. Glass figurines of animals, fish, and birds were extremely popular during World War II and in postwar America. Several U.S. manufacturers, including Viking, Heisey, Duncan, Imperial, and Tiffin, produced glass figurine animals, capitalizing on their popularity. Figurine fervor only increased when Tennessee Williams’ play, “The Glass Menagerie,” opened in 1945 on Broadway in New York. In the play, a collection of glass figurines symbolized the fragile, sometimes broken, lives of the characters.
In spite of successful product development, sometimes charismatic and often effective corporate leadership, and innovation in design and production, glass makers in America in the 20th century seemed to be constantly in turmoil. The experience of the United States Glass Company (USGC) is emblematic. 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 upon natural gas rather than coal as the chief fuel for manufacturing. Yet with major design successes and international distribution, USGC continued to suffer operating losses. By 1963 USGC had gone into bankruptcy.
In 1895 A. H. Heisey, with years of experience both in the manufacturing and sales sides of the glass-making business, began building a factory in Newark, OH. (Heisey’s previous employer, Duncan and Sons, where he also served on the board of directors, joined the USGC conglomerate in 1893.) The factory produced its first line of glassware in April 1896. In 1900 the company began using its famous trademark, an “H” placed in the center of a diamond. Yet even with patterns extremely successful in the popular market, the Heisey Glass Co. locked its doors for the final time on Christmas day, 1957.
When the Heisey Glass Co. went bankrupt, its figurine molds were sold to Imperial Glass Co. Molds are valuable assets – they require experience, skill, and knowledge to be manufactured correctly; they require the use of specialized materials; and they are extremely large and heavy, making them difficult to store or to transport. Under the terms of purchase, Imperial agreed not to manufacture figurines from the molds in any of the original Heisey colors.
Like Heisey’s, the history of the Imperial Glass Co. begins at the turn of the 20th century, in 1901, when Edward Muhleman, a riverboat captain and financier, ended his relationship with the National Glass Company of Pittsburgh, PA. An able businessman, relatively young at age 55, wealthy, and evidently still fascinated with the glassware industry, Muhleman contacted the Bellaire, OH, Board of Trade. 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.”
In 1904 the huge Imperial Glass Co. plant began production. Imperial produced a fantastic array of products in all manner of shapes and colors, many of them sold in the leading department stores of the day, and managed to survive the Great Depression. In 1973 Imperial 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 Co. was forced into bankruptcy.
When Imperial Glass Co. went bankrupt in 1984, it sold the Heisey molds to the Heisey Collectors of America. As was the case in the Imperial Glass Co. purchase of the molds, the Heisey Collectors of America agreed not to manufacture figurines in any of the original Heisey or Imperial colors.
Founded in 1971 by enthusiasts of Heisey glass, the Heisey Collectors of America founded the National Heisey Glass Museum in 1974 in downtown Newark, OH. Housed in a Greek Revival style historic home, the museum maintains a significant collection of Heisey glass, as well as displays showing the company's manufacturing processes. The museum also features a media center, company archives with many original molds, a library, and a gift shop. The Heisey Collectors of America organization occasionally reproduces pieces from original molds.
In our museum collection, the ruby-colored goose figurine with uplifted wings is marked at the base with the raised letters “HCA 99,” indicating that the figurine was produced for the Heisey Collectors of America in 1999. The amethyst-colored goose figurine, with outstretched neck and lowered wings, bears the mark “HCA 93,” again indicating the organization’s participation and the year of production by Dalzell-Viking Glass Co. The clear glass goose figurine was originally manufactured by the Heisey Glass Co. itself.
While the Heisey Glass Co. mold figurines in our museum are not for sale, Replacements, Ltd. carries many Heisey patterns, as well as patterns from American manufacturers like Tiffin/Franciscan, Duncan & Miller, Imperial, and Viking, to name a few, 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 find a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles! Our showroom and museum are open from 9:00am to 7:00pm ET, 7 days a week (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00am to 6:00pm ET, 7 days a week. 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!