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Museum Feature

Museum Feature – Tiffin/Franciscan Wistaria Giftware

For our Museum Feature this month, we’re featuring a gorgeous float bowl (reference #6260) and a distinctive cornucopia vase (reference #6041) in the Wistaria pattern by Tiffin/Franciscan. The unique “Wistaria” color was developed around 1948 by Tiffin’s Ellsworth Beebe. Beebe worked with chemists from India to create the formula, which he committed to memory. When Beebe died in 1963, Tiffin was never able to replicate the subtle and exquisite color! The crystal was marketed in conjunction with the appearance of actress Helen Hayes in a Broadway play entitled, “The Wisteria Trees” (the alternate spelling for “Wistaria” crystal was by design.) This beautiful crystal is highly sought-after by collectors. Tiffin produced a variety of stemware pieces in the Wistaria pattern, including cordials, oyster cocktail glasses, parfaits, wine glasses, and more, along with around 100 different Wistaria giftware pieces.

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 (like the cornucopia vase and float bowl featured here). 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 the stylish “Swedish Line” of hand-blown glassware. In spite of these successful innovations, the Tiffin plant was the only USGC operation remaining in 1951. By 1963, the company had gone into bankruptcy. A year later, C.W. Carlson, Jr. and several other Tiffin employees (including Ellsworth Beebe) 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 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.

Although the Tiffin/Franciscan Wistaria pieces featured here are not for sale, we do have many wonderful Wistaria items in our inventory; be sure to browse our web site. Replacements, Ltd. also carries a wide selection of Tiffin/Franciscan pieces that are available for purchase.

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 9:00 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 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!

Click here to view our Featured Museum Pieces Archive!

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