This month we are featuring, from our museum, three limited edition vases from Waterford Crystal. Each vase was cut and signed by the famed Waterford artist, Thomas A. Hayes. The 1971 vase is simply entitled The Magi and features a beautiful etched depiction of the three magi bearing their gifts for the Christ child. This particular vase has been inscribed “94/250 – 1971 – Thomas A. Hayes - Waterford.” The 1972 vase features an etched depiction of Moses carrying the stone tablets for The Ten Commandments . The vase is inscribed “69/250 – 1972 - Thomas A. Hayes – Waterford.” The third vase in our collection features Noah , the ark, and a variety of animals. This piece is inscribed “119/250 – 1973 - Thomas A. Hayes – Waterford.” Each of these pieces come from an annual collection of limited edition cut crystal vases, are hand blown, and are hand cut and engraved using a copper wheel. In 1783, George and William Penrose opened a glass company in Ireland called Flint Glass Works. Although glassmaking had been popular throughout England and Ireland for a number of decades, high tax rates and a number of onerous acts of Parliament made it nearly impossible to open a profitable glasshouse. The Parliamentary Act of 1780 finally allowed free trade to flourish with the Emerald Isle, thus the Penrose brothers were able to get their factory going, though it would remain open for less than one hundred years.
Why Flint Glass works was forced to shut down, only to reopen in the 20th century, is an interesting story. During its inital successful run, Flint Glass Works had been the only successful manufacturer of crystal in Ireland, with the company representing the industrial revolution to the Irish people. Flint Glass Work’s product was in fact very much sought after by European aristocracy due to it’s very high quality, and the port of Waterford did a brisk business in merchant ships sailing regularly with cargos of "Waterford" crystal bound for Spain, New England, and the West Indies.
During the 19th century, nearly half of Ireland’s population would immigrate to the United States. With them, they brought stories of Ireland’s famed glassmaker. Up until this point, no backstamps or "signatures" were used on crystal. As a result, it became vogue for Americans to refer to their crystal as Waterford, even though the name of the company that had produced it was not actually named that. The Irish told stories of Waterford crystal having the clearest ring of all glass. At dinner parties, people began tapping their crystal with their silver to hear what type of ring it would produce. Another myth that developed around Waterford was that "it was so clear, that it was blue." Consequently, blue glassware in the United States began being referred to as Waterford.
Today, Waterford employs more than 3,000 people. The apprenticeship program that was instituted in 1951 to ensure the employment of Irishmen remains. Their crystal stemware can be found on tables throughout the world and Waterford chandeliers hang in buildings such as Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey, and the Kennedy Center. Waterford to this day is one of the most prestigious manufacturers of crystal in the world. The three vases that are featured from our museum this month are highly collectible, and a testament to the legacy in fine crystal that Waterford has created. If you'd like to see more, click here to browse our extensive list of Waterford patterns.
Want to know more about Waterford Crystal? Click here for an informative history.