Our Museum Feature this month is a brilliant, ruby-colored cordial produced by the New Martinsville Glass Company. This Radiance-Ruby cordial stands 2 5/8-inches tall with a convex bowl that curves in at the top, and a raised “Meadow-wreath” design on the bowl. Ruby was just one of several colors produced in New Martinsville’s Radiance pattern, which started production in 1937 and was produced in ruby until just before World War II. New Martinsville literature from 1936 described its new “Radiance” line as “an unusual design in table glassware, radiant with highlights and glitter. Appealing to the discriminating, but not radical, Radiance is the glassware every buyer will want to see. Each piece of Radiance glassware is decorative in tone, but it will also take decoration… see it and marvel!” There were many different piece types produced in the Radiance pattern, including vases, console sets, candelabras, relishes, cake salvers, butter dishes, punch bowls, and many more.
Ruby-colored glass was first made by glassmakers during the Roman Empire, but the method for producing ruby glass was lost sometime during the Dark Ages. It wasn’t until the late seventeenth century, when Swedish chemist Johann Kunckel developed a process for making ruby glass by adding gold chloride during the normal glass-making process that ruby-colored glass began to be produced again. Using Kunckel’s method, glassmakers in Europe continued producing ruby glass throughout the eighteenth century, but the skill and extra labor required to produce the proper color made ruby-colored pieces rare and expensive during this time. Ruby glass found its way to the American market in the mid eighteenth century, arriving with craftsmen who emigrated from Europe. In the early twentieth century, a process of producing ruby glass using selenium in place of gold was developed, making the color easier and cheaper to produce in mold-blown or hand-pressed glass. (Gold was still used to create the lighter red color known as cranberry glass, and in the production of blown wares). When glass manufacturers started pressing ruby glass during the Great Depression, the selenium formula proved unsatisfactory, and the ruby color was created using copper instead. Ruby glass was first made by New Martinsville as early as 1906, and they combined their ruby products with gold decoration in many of their earlier lines.
New Martinsville Glass Manufacturing Company started in 1900, and operated as such until 1938, when it was sold and reorganized as New Martinsville Glass Company. In 1944, New Martinsville Glass Company became the Viking Glass Company, which operated through the mid-1980s. New Martinsville first distinguished itself in the glassware market by producing a Murano-style glass known as Peachblow. Almost all the glass produced by New Martinsville was pressed ware, made in a variety of transparent and opaque colors in the elegant, refined shapes popular during the 1920s and early 1930s. Starting in the 1930s, however, New Martinsville broke from traditional, simple designs with patterns such as Moondrops and Radiance . These patterns were produced in new colors, and included a variety of piece types during the Depression years, including tableware, vanity sets, molasses cans, lamps, crystal animals, and, of course, cordials.
The term “cordial” is derived from the Latin word for “heart” ( cordialis). Cordials date back to 1600s, when they were used to administer different alcohol-based concoctions believed to be good for one’s general health, and especially good for the heart. Over time, cordials began to be used more for recreation than treatment. Today, cordials are used to serve liqueurs like schnapps and other sweet, dessert-like after-dinner drinks. Because modern crystal manufacturers have decreased production of such pieces, crystal cordials have become highly collectible and rare. Crystal cordials are often miniature versions of a given water goblet pattern, which is another reason for collector interest. The process to retain all the intricacies of a large water goblet in a miniature crystal replica requires a degree of adroitness and craftsmanship that adds to the collectability of these pieces.
The cordial collection at Replacements, Ltd. features more than 670 patterns from manufacturers like Cambridge, Heisey, Imperial, Tiffin, Seneca, Bryce, Morgantown, Noritake, and Fostoria. One large group of cordials by Tiffin Glass features 212 different patterns. We also feature cordials in 175 Fostoria patterns, 25 Imperial patterns, and 55 Heisey patterns. These pieces were produced in a variety of colors and were meant to be mixed and matched in much the same way as Homer Laughlin’s Fiesta dinnerware.
The New Martinsville Radiance-Ruby cordial is available for purchase in our inventory, and Replacements, Ltd. also carries a wide selection of New Martinsville items in other patterns that are available for purchase; 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 retail store 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 retail store and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!